I first came across Battlefield Earth when I was about 14 or 15, so around 1985. I had a paper round and the newsagent where I worked also sold books, stacked in a great wall down one side of the shop. I bought several Science fiction books from that place.. Gene Wolfe, Julian May, a few others I’ve forgotten. But none grabbed my attention quite like Battlefield Earth. For a start, it was the thickest book I had ever seen. It was like a brick, 1100 pages. It was sure to be good value on the page-count alone! Secondly, that amazing cover. I’ve heard some people disparage the cover of Battlefield Earth, but to me it’s perfect. The hero of the story, clad in a bear-skin (with claw marks across his chest for his trouble) firing two stolen purple blastguns. In the background, hulking Psychlos, the alien dominators of Earth, herding humans in the ruined remains of Denver. The title alone was enough to get me interested! I had never heard of L Ron Hubbard at that stage, and I knew nothing of his made up religion. I didn’t learn about that until one teacher saw me reading the book at school and pulled me aside, and asked about my interest in Hubbard. She seemed relieved when I told her I knew nothing about him, except he wrote this kick-ass science fiction tale. She would be pleased to know that many years after that conversation, I have not succumbed to Scientology, or any other religion for that matter.
The cover of my copy states “Soon to be two major motion pictures!”. That was part of my interest in the book It’s a shame those movies were never produced. I know Travolta had a crack at it, but I never saw that movie and I’m not sure I want to. But Netflix or HBO should definitely make a 10 part series out of it, as long as the Scientologists stay right away. Another intriguing aspect is that apparently there was a soundtrack of the book composed and recorded, and was offered for sale via a pull-out voucher. I have never heard the music, or know of anyone who has. In fact I have never even heard it mentioned before in any other reviews of the book. Does it even exist?
The story itself, is an absolute blast. It is the year 3000. Earth is an industrial backwater, a mining colony on the far edge of galactic civilization. The monstrous Psychlos, 10 ft tall hairy purple bureaucrats, rule the planet with an iron fist. The few humans that remain live in the mountains in small bands of a dozen of so people. They have been reduced to a stone age existence, and have long forgotten that Humanity was once a thriving, technological race.
The hero of the story, Johnnie Goodboy Tyler, leaves his village in search of a better place to live, and is promptly captured by Terl, the Psychlo security chief who has his own secret ambitions beyond what his post requires. Terl wants two things, to get rich and to leave this planet far behind. He hatches a plan to make the last remaining humans mine gold for him. Terl is an intriguing character; brutal, self centered, clever. Even his fellow Psychlos don’t like him and don’t trust him. The Psychlos themselves are a pretty amazing creation, their culture, habits and pastimes are pretty well defined. Johnnie is not nearly as interesting a character, but his arc from stone age barbarian to savior of humanity is quite a trip.
OK the book does sag in the middle…how could it not over 1100 pages? But if you can push through, the ending is so worth it. Things that were set up in the beginning a thousand pages ago are paid off spectacularly. In fact, it is so well plotted and the writing is so juicy that I suspect that it wasn’t written by Hubbard at all, but ghost written by one of his contemporaries. I have no proof of this, and no idea who could have written such a thing. But like the Shakespeare question it’s fun to guess.
I still have my copy from 1985, and am currently giving it another read. Best damn value book I ever bought!