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Battlefield Earth
Pastwatch
Temple of the Winds

Battlefield Earth
(written by L. Ron Hubbard)

THE DETAILS

No, I'm not talking about that atrocious John Travolta movie, I'm talking about the original L. Ron Hubbard novel upon which the movie was based. I'd heard nasty things said about the author and the associated Scientologists, but I decided to give the novel the benefit of the doubt early in the summer of 2000.

I finished reading B:E around the end of summer, (which should tell you something right off but I'm getting ahead of myself) despite all my misgivings and the fact that the novel is over 1000 pages long. For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, (you didn't miss a thing:() it's basically set in a post-apocalyptic year 3000, where human civilization has been dead for a millennium, destroyed by invading alien "Psychlos" (now THERE's a name to inspire fear in our hearts:P). The human race is an endangered species now, the few remaining populations struggling to eke out an existence in the furthest extremes of the planet, while the Psychlos strip-mine Earth for whatever mineral resources it has left.

Then along comes our hero, Johnny Goodboy Tyler (insert trumpets & whistles), who leaves his village (and girlfriend) hoping to find a better life. While exploring the millennium-old ruins of human civilization, he's captured by one of the Psychlos, Terl (insert Darth-Vader chord). Terl's the head of security for Earth, a position he considers a dead end job. He's ambitious and to that end, a total psychopath (no pun intended, at least not by me), unflinchingly willing to kill humans and his own people alike.

Anyway Terl comes up with an elaborate scheme to win money & power, but he needs humans to realize his ambition. Terl teaches Johnny some technological secrets, kidnaps Johnny's shallowly-portrayed damsel-in-distress girlfriend (but I'll get to that later) to exact leverage on Johnny, and sends him forth to recruit other humans for his secret project.

But our errant hero has his own agenda. After much time & subterfuge, he comes up with a rather farfetched plan to not only free Earth from the Psychlos, but to wipe out the Psychlo's home world so they'd never attack again. He marshals the humans he'd supposedly recruited for Terl's project and turns the tables on the Psychlos, wresting their control of the planet. But until he figures out how Psychlo technology works, he has no way of knowing whether his other plan to destroy Psychlo succeeded or not, and still faces invasion from the Psychlos' allies, and cloak & dagger manoeuvres from his own people.

For starters I wasn't too impressed by Hubbard's writing style, it was kinda juvenile with too unnecessary many "!" marks. Despite the annoying style, the first 1/3 of the novel had it all: it was very fast-paced, exciting, suspenseful, a believable main character - so much of a page-turner that I couldn't put it down. (Incidentally the first 1/3 of the book is also what the movie portrayed.)

But after that, my interest in the novel dropped so fast I gave myself the bends. The remaining 2/3's of the book were very boring and drawn out, with such a ludicrously complicated plot I felt like I was trying to decrypt NSA security programs with a VIC-20. Or ploughing through molasses with a snail-drawn sled. Nevertheless, I stuck it out. More's the pity. Good grief, I like attention to detail as much as the next person but the latter 2/3's of B:E I felt less like I was reading a story and more like a "How to fight an Intergalactic War" manual.

I'm not done complaining. All the characterization was centred around the hero for the first 1/3, after that practically nil for him or any of the secondary characters. Well actually that's not quite true, the middle of the book was mostly devoted to the cloak & dagger antagonist, a human named Brown Limper Staffor (who never appeared in the movie). I have no complaints about how he was portrayed, but Johnny's girlfriend and the other numerous secondary characters weren't characters at all - they were placeholders. I heard someone complaining that B:E was sexist, but I can't really agree since ALL the secondary characters, male and female alike, got no attention whatsoever. So I guess the novel really has equality there: everyone deserves to be ignored equally, regardless of sex, race, etc...

Don't get me wrong, B:E isn't THAT bad story, it's just badly written & paced. I was pleasantly surprised when Johnny discovered he had succeeded in destroying the Psychlo's home planet (I guess you'd call that Genocide or something), he actually felt some remorse for the billions of Psychlos he'd killed, even though they were his enemy. At the epilogue Johnny pulls the ultimate-legendary-hero's-cliché: he disappears without a trace. Not in the heat of battle or anything, he just vanishes, presumably to live out the rest of his days in the wilderness away from adulation. Yeah right, even though he has a wife and children by the end, he leaves them behind. Some hero.

The only thing I felt upon finishing this book was relief that the damn thing was FINALLY over. I'm tempted to say I wish Johnny & his allies had won the war in the BEGINNING of the book rather than the end, saving me the boring trip, but that's not fair. The first 1/3 is really good. So that's my book rant for B:E - read the first 1/3 then put it down. Nothing else that happens after that is worth the read.

[I] can't think of a single memorable quote/scene for post-script...

- Rishi Jagessar