A New Strategy For Battlefield: Earth

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the grim darkness of the far future there’s only slavery – humanity having been enslaved by the evil economically-driven Psychlos, tall aliens who wear big stompy boots and dreadlocks. One day, Terl (John Travolta) – the Psychlo in charge of the security of their operations on Earth – decides to see if humans can be trained to mine gold, and he picks recently-captured chump Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) as his first test subject and begins subjecting him to vastly accelerated speed learning. This, of course, allows Tyler to realise humanity’s old accomplishments and hatch a plan to lead a daring revolution to overthrow the alien oppressors. It involves using that speed-learning tech to allow him and his pals to use some remarkably well-preserved fighter aircraft…

Battlefield Earth is a legendarily bad movie spawned from a legendarily bad book by L. Ron Hubbard, penned after he’d grown tired of cranking out Scientology material and decided to turn his hand to a bit of old school science fiction. I don’t really need to break down the deficiencies of the movie – that road’s been well-trod. For this article, I’d like to instead try out a little thought experiment: could there have been a route which would have led to the movie, if not actually being good, at least being entertainingly watchable?

Let’s put some restrictions on our thought experiment to make it interesting. Let’s say that we can’t just pirate the material – thus, like the actual filmmakers, we must still report back to David Miscavige, current God-Emperor of Scientology, and justify any changes to him. On the other hand, Miscavige is a weird tyrant, so let’s give ourselves a little advantage: let’s pretend we have an expert Miscavige-wrangler on hand who’s great at pitching ideas to him so that he will accept them, provided that some sound fiscal or doctrinal basis can be found.

Likewise, let’s assume that we have to stick to the actual story as penned by Hubbard; we are allowed to abridge and cut parts – the issued movie did, after all – but we can’t just abandon it completely.

With these restrictions in place, here’s what I reckon you could do.

Continue reading “A New Strategy For Battlefield: Earth”

Xenu Not Included

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It’s no secret that L. Ron Hubbard was an SF author before he invented Dianetics and Scientology – even the Church of Scientology is willing to admit that – but through a combination of his monstrous charlatan creation overtaking the rest of his life’s work in the public imagination, and his last major SF works being the utter disaster of Battlefield Earth and the downright illucid Mission Earth, the place of his early writing in the development of the genre has been glossed over a lot.

This presents a difficulty to anyone trying to piece together the history of the genre. Hubbard’s tendency to wildly overstate his qualifications and accomplishments in more or less every area he turned his hand to – a habit which the Church of Scientology continues on his behalf to this day – complicates any appraisal of his work, but even critical biographies like the hilarious Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller acknowledge that Hubbard was popular amongst his fellow authors, and after all it was through the connections he made in the field that he first promoted Dianetics. On top of that, although like many of his peers he penned a tremendous amount of material and wasn’t really one for finely polishing his works – the realities of the pulp market tended to preclude that – a few of his works do still earn praise from figures in the field, despite his later reputation.

Continue reading “Xenu Not Included”