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Making Sense of Wonder
The Cult Of Unreason:
L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology
by Andrew Darlington
If you never got to see the movie Battlefield Earth - and box-office receipts suggest you didn't, then as sci-fi blockbusters go, it promised all the right ingredients. You want cosmic mayhem, cool gadgets, visual dazzle, and eye-ripping special effects? Well - no, none of the above, but there is John Travolta as Terl the eight-feet tall 'balls-to-the-wall-wicked' lead alien in towering dreadlocks, twin nasal-exhausts and stack-heeled fascistoid jackboots. Check, even though his comically inept over-the-top caricature is matched to makeup effects that would shame Kirk-era Star Trek. In this 'Saga Of The Year 3000' Earth has been enslaved for a millennium - following a nine-minute war, by Klingons-on-a-bad-hair-day nasties called the Psychlos. And "man is an endangered species," until Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) is caught up in the heroic-human fight back from deep in the ruined wasteland of Denver. Routine schlock pulp (science) fiction? - yeah, but there's a subliminal subtext to this movie. And it's Scientology. The bullet-points are this: Lafayette Ron Hubbard is a prolific hack spinning inconsequential 1940's fantasies. Then he invents Dianetics and its ominous offspring, the techno-babble sci-fi speak 'Church of Scientology'. It mushrooms into the most controversial and sometime fastest growing religion in the world; current estimates reckon eight million worldwide disciples, 150,000 in Britain alone - marginally behind the Mormons, but way ahead of Jehovah's Witnesses. They transfigure L. Ron into an obscenely wealthy messiah. Then - oddly, immediately prior to his death in 1986, the uber-Scientologist returns to SF, producing the novel on which Battlefield Earth is based. Rent for the video, if you must. At least video has a stop-button.
But does this preamble mean Hubbard first marketed SF as pulp, then as religion? He was a writer, sure. But even messiahs must eat. Jesus was a carpenter. A useful metaphor, but we don't judge Catholicism by the spiritual veracity of tongue-and-groove or dovetail joints. So why judge Scientology as SF? Nevertheless, the career-overlaps do suggest seductive clues worth exploring. And it was probably such potentially damaging connections that led Hubbard's quasi-totalitarian organisation to make sporadic attempts at suppressing examples of his 'pre-Clear' work. For decades novels like Death's Deputy (1940) and vintage 'double-backs' like Fear (1940) - which Stephen King once called "a classic of its genre," were virtually unobtainable through libraries and the normal channels of research, available - if at all, only through specialist shops. The best of them, the playful mind-teaser Typewriter In The Sky, is a sophisticated jest on the craft of fiction itself, in which a professional pianist gets magically inserted into a piracy-adventure being written by his author-friend. As the Lord High Admiral of the Spanish fleet he then gets embroiled in blood-drenched rip-roaring battles and impossible romantic intrigues with an English heiress. But, in a postmodern twist, he knows how such yarns usually end, so must double-guess the outcome of the story being choreographed by that great 'Typewriter In The Sky'! Hubbard's own real-life must also, in some ways, have seemed like a product of fiction. Indeed, he frequently re-wrote it that way himself. But it's the spectre of Hubbard's sky-borne typewriter dictating elements of other people's lives that's far more disturbing. Another of his stories, Final Blackout - described by no less an authority than Robert (Starship Troopers) Heinlein as "the perfect science fiction story," was originally serialised during 1940. It supposes that the new hostilities then igniting far-off Europe would degenerate into civilisation's collapse around the time of World War 33, a plotline that succeeds in doing for WWII what H.G. Wells' Things To Come did for WWI. Yet - according to one version of events, it was that same war that inadvertently provides the key catalyst for Hubbard's messiah-hood. While coincidentally, John W. Campbell, who published the story in his market-leading Astounding SF magazine, was destined to become an enthusiastic advocate of Dianetics. As around the same time, fellow SF writer A.E. Van Vogt was abandoning writing to run a West Coast Dianetics Institute. During the decades that follow, jazz keyboard player Chick Corea would take it further, plus a couple of members of the Incredible String Band, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Priscilla and Lisa-Marie Presley. While Van Morrison and literary guru William Burroughs also acknowledged the cult's influence. It plays a part in the garbled inputs influencing Charles Manson too. And Edgar Winter even records an album - Mission Earth Rocks, of eight songs supposedly co-written by Hubbard and 'inspired by' his novels, with tracks such as Joy City, Cry Out and the 'socially aware' Anthem. And then there's L. Ron's highest-profile poster-boy, John Travolta... This is the real terrain of L Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth, and these are the real participants, along with me, and - potentially, you too...
My own involvement with Scientology kicks in at their old 68 Tottenham Court Road 'recruiting centre', near the Goodge Street Tube Station in London. It's raining. Me and Pete Charteris - all black oil-slick hair and heavy thick-rim glasses, have nothing better to do. And hey - be open to everything, but believe nothing, right? It'll be a laugh. Pursuing this attitude we ink-in the required questionnaire made up of sociologically-orientated questions of the type familiar to the personnel department of any large company - 'Do you smile much?' ... 'Are you a slow eater?' ... "Unless they're multi-level questions, evaluating responses to anticipated norms of response?" suggests Pete dubiously. The forms get fed through a computer that prints out fairly accurate, but considering the opacity of the questions, fairly inevitable personality graphs. It's then pointed out to us how Scientology can develop the personality 'low areas' on the graph - targeting my introversive tendencies and Pete's loser-class low self-esteem, by editing out the engrams responsible while monitoring the unkinking of our psyches with an E-meter - a needle-dial wired up to two metal handsets that record the presence of said engrams (a Mark Super-VII E-Meter was recently advertised in Auditor magazine for �2.600!). We argue for half-an-hour, subsequently attend the odd lecture and wade through the 'New Era' literature they inundate us with. But simultaneously, for those - like me, unwilling to divulge the full and exorbitant initiation fee for all of their cosmic wisdom (initial courses begin at just �50, but extend indefinitely), Cyril Vosper - a senior Scientology officer for 14 years, had already written his intriguingly disillusioned crash-course on the cult he named The Mind Benders. Don Atyeo, reviewing Vospers' book, derides Scientology devotees as "living out their Doctor Who fantasies." To Atyeo "L. Ron Hubbard is the Charles Atlas of religion. Struggle along to him a puny mental weakling and, just six months later, you'll emerge as Superman, a Thetan, able to wander the universe free from your body, living Nirvana. And all for as little as �1,500." Richard Ingrams, meanwhile, was soon reporting on Scientology's sinister attempts to hush up Simon Berthon's more recent Channel Four's Secret Lives TV-expose on the cult. Declaring unequivocally that, "Mr Hubbard was long ago exposed as an incorrigible conman, liar and sadistic bully. Anyone who wants to know more should read Russell Miller's admirable biography Barefaced Messiah" (1987). I had. And I was already beginning to reach similar conclusions. I ducked out. But was sufficiently ensnared to begin compiling a dossier. This dossier you are now reading. Pete stayed, and so far as I know, he's still there...
L. Ron was born in Tilden, Nebraska in 1911. Beyond this point, frequent re-writes, fiction-falsifications and wish-fulfilment elaborations make fact and claim difficult to untangle. He was raised on a 35,000 square-mile Montana cattle ranch as blood brother to the local Blackfoot Indians. Dubious. He communed with bandits and studied ancient wisdoms in Tibet at the age of 14, and attended the first course in nuclear physics given in the US. Probably not... As a nuclear physicist he was capable of defusing an H-bomb by mental powers alone, and of travelling into outer space minus his body to explore the Van Allen radiation belt. Draw your own conclusions. Photos betray few secrets. Posed frequently in his US Naval Commander's peaked cap, as though to add heroic stature, he smiles enigmatically. An icon, or a 1940s' movie villain... To fellow SF writer Frederik Pohl, Hubbard was "a flamboyant character... the kind of person who expects, and without fail gets, the instant, total attention of everyone in any room he enters" (The Way The Future Was by Frederik Pohl, Gollancz 1978), yet this charismatic ability to inspire belief was devastatingly combined with a total inability to tell the truth. 'New Era' spin-doctoring reports that he returned to the USA in 1929 after a world-travelling period of spiritual quest, to commence a writing career producing seven-million words 'for a penny a word' - as well as several Hollywood screenplays. But while reported conversations in which he confides, "I'm going to invent a religion that's going to make me a fortune" (Harlan Ellison, in Time Out #332) are beguiling, they're impossible to substantiate. Better authenticated is a letter to his first wife, Polly, in which he announces, "I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form." His first step at conniving this destiny arrives in 1948, when military service intervenes. It's here, while serving as a naval officer on escort vessels, that he 'dies' for eight minutes from war wounds. And during this period of death the veil of Thetan forgetfulness is lifted revealing the secrets of life and infinity to him. He heals his war wounds by mental powers alone. Then "he sat at his typewriter for six days and nights and nothing came out - then Excalibur: The Dark Sword emerged." This book forms the genesis of Scientology, a book - he claims, "that turns the world on its ear." On its pages he reveals to us that life is an energy form with "no mass, no motion, no wavelength, no location in space and time." This energy is called Theta, and human beings are Thetans trapped into temporal bodies, immortal souls caught on the mortal wheel of Karmic reincarnation. There are bits of Reich's 'orgone energy' and Bergson's 'élan vitale' here, something of George Lucas' 'The Force' too. Hubbard claims that at a point in prehistory variously stated as 76 trillion, 142 trillion, or 320 trillion years ago, the godlike Thetans "hurled a few planets around" to create the universe. Then they dissolve into their toy, perhaps as a way of frittering away subjective moments of eternity, perhaps in a cosmic version of the Mao-ist "alignment with the people," or the experimental limiting of power - to experience the concept of mortal death, or just divine slumming. But once tied by 'meat' bodies to their material creation, and in a kind of deliberate somnambulistic amnesia they reject the state of total knowingness and perpetual satori to accept the full implications of 'life'. Or, as Leon Russell and Joe Cocker phrase it in the song Space Captain - "we've all forgotten how to fly." We, the Thetans in human form, are living lives below our full potential.
Kingsley Amis, for one, was unimpressed. He lists Hubbard as one of the "cranks who seem bent on getting science fiction a bad name," claiming that a Scientology tract "too dangerous to publish" bears the legend that "four of the first 15 people to read it went insane" (New Maps Of Hell by Kingsley Amis, Gollancz 1961). The volume in question - of course, is the gold-bound locked edition of 'Excalibur', available only to selected readers at an astronomical fee. However, as a result of its mind-scrambling effect, it was withdrawn from the public domain. Instead, feelers were extended through a first tentative feature Terra Incognita: The Human Mind, published - oddly for a work of supposed philosophical enquiry, in the Explorers Club Journal (1949-50), followed by a well-received article in Astounding SF (May 1950). Only then was Excalibur replaced in hardback by Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health (9th May 1950), opening with a watered-down version of its first sections 'The Original Thesis/ The Dynamics of Life'. In this form it sold, and sold... and still sells. Even returning to the best-sellers list decades later, in September 1986, to begin a second run. The reasons for its success are far from obvious.
Dianetics is a provider of Big Happy Solutions. Pretty much like the then-trendy school of accentuate-the-positive self-help manuals. But it stands intellectual parity with How To Win Friends And Influence People or How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The luring press ad proclaims "Worried about your confidence in yourself and your abilities? Discover the techniques you can use to improve your success." But investigation reveals only a random conglomeration of pre-existing mainstream psychological theory, lip-glossed with some doubtful fringe ideas, then coded with pop-jargon and mild hypnotism. Hubbard starts with the 'divided self', but renames the loosely Freudian conscious the 'analytical mind'. From there he diverges from Freud by providing the initially seductive bonus of absolving individuals from responsibility for their own faults. These, he claims, are often generated by traumas occurring before birth, 'ancestral memories' imprinted in the neuronic patterns of the 'reactive' subconscious as the inhibiting blocked synaptic pathways that Hubbard calls 'engrams'. These can be therapied by Dianetic regression designed to recall and 'audit' them. Finally, when all such 'engrams' are purged, the subject not only achieves perfect sanity as a 'clear', freed from the distorting interfering traumas of 'hidden and false data', but is granted perfect memory too. But "knowledge is only valuable if it is true or if it works" according to Hubbard's manifesto. "There is no enforced belief" confirms the official website, "rather... only those things which one finds true for himself are true." And at this level it's harmless, perhaps even benevolent at a psychosomatic level. Yet if the imminent SF apocalypses he'd dabbled in as a hack tend to tap into a collective public unease, it can't have escaped Hubbard's attention that his new discipline of technology-derived cerebral aerobics, operates within that same sphere of vague foreboding, while offering the credulous correspondingly instamatic phoney certainties.
And suitably strange developments follow the immediate success of 'Dianetics'. When a New Jersey Dianetics Foundation fails to qualify for tax-free status, and begins accumulating debts, the next step - pseudo-science into quasi-mysticism, becomes inevitable. Religions are tax-exempt. So, shifting centre to Arizona, the doctrine becomes 'The Church of Scientology' - "knowing how to know." The opening of Scientology: A History Of Man announces itself as a "cold-blooded and factual account of your last 60 trillion years..." combining the 'have you lived before this life? A scientific survey' appeal of the Rosicrucian ads found on the back page of pulp magazines, with the implied depth of Scientology: The Fundamentals Of Thought, which aspires to sounding as portentous as something Sartre might have written. But soon it's the mid-1960s and headline horror quasi-religious cults, shady New Age beliefs, sham shamans, mad gurus, sex-magick swamis, and unorthodox Eastern faiths are growth business. In the years following the Beatles' media tryst with the Maharishi, 16,000 such movements erupt in the West, and whichever way you look at it, Scientology is one of the era's most lucrative exercises in ambiguity. "There are now five million scientologists roaming the world" claimed Don Atyeo (in International Times #154) "and if just one percent complete their training and processing course, Scientology makes �175,000,000. As it is, over the next few years eight to ten percent of Ron's followers will be 'cleared', netting the Church of Scientology an incredible �2,000,000,000." But the 'Church' was already prone to schisms and secessions. Hubbard's second wife, and ironically his first 'clear', had already sued for divorce on the grounds of 'extreme cruelty (and) mental suffering' "brought on by his insanity" (Los Angeles Examiner, 24 April 1951). Then the 'Church' attempts to ban Cyril Vosper's The Mind Benders through the British courts, and fails. While - ironically, Hubbard himself becomes the subject of numerous prosecutions that outlaw Scientology in large areas of the world. Home Secretary James Callaghan bans him from Britain in 1968, resulting in the cult's much-publicised exodus to the 'Sea Org' anchored just outside territorial waters. Then L. Ron's eldest son changes his name from Hubbard to DeWolf, claiming "99 percent of what my father has written about his own life is false" while suing him as "one of the biggest con men of the century" prone to cocaine-addiction and paranoia, and Scientology itself as a 'sham'. Hubbard's second son then suicides rather than let his father learn of his gay sexuality.
Yet weirder things were to come. Including Hubbard's return to his original SF vocation. By now living as a Howard Hughes-ian recluse in one of his five yachts in the Mediterranean, or moving restlessly between California and the Caribbean to avoid inconvenient legal heat, Battlefield Earth - an immense turgid 1050-page epic of anti-intellectual 'coelocanthine prose-style', is self-published in 1982 to celebrate his 50th year as a pro-writer. To the movie director of its eventual celluloid incarnation "Hubbard wanted to write a fast-paced Pulp Fiction-style tale of villains and heroes with the archetypal hero's journey at its heart. A fast-paced comicstrip with an ironic side to it." (SF librarian Andy Sawyer, in a letter to The Observer, 4 June 2000.) But to the SF community "the novel... is embarrassingly inferior to Hubbard's earlier, inventive fiction for John W. Campbell's magazine", and even includes a character named Roof Arsebogger (!). Yet it endures 32 weeks on the American bestsellers chart. And is followed by nothing less than a dekalogy - the 1.2 million-word, ten-novel Mission Earth cycle running from Invader's Plan (1985) through to The Doomed Planet (1987) chronicling the satiric adventures of square-jawed hero Jettero Heller, Soltan Gris who uses Bugs Bunny as a guru, and Countess Krak, while the non-existent 'Earth' (Blito-P3) has been expunged from galactic records by the historians of the Voltarian Confederacy. Yet - published exclusively by Scientology's New Era imprint, and with sales driven by its marketing machinery, even the superlatives listed on the book-jackets can't hide the fact that Hubbard's second-breath success has little to do with mainstream SF acceptance, and everything to do with the cult he founded. As Forrest Ackerman - a noted SF academic who was at one time Hubbard's literary agent, points out, "his current literary representatives, with unlimited funds, have performed miracles" even if - "it must be emotionally difficult to consider that the man who founded your religion is in fact an awful writer" (The Guardian, 3 June 2000). But even to produce such a ten-novel cycle in just two years raises questions. Did Hubbard actually write, or just - like the late Barbara Cartland, merely recite the text for others to transcribe, edit and assemble into print? Or even - the method allegedly used by a former candidate for London Mayor, just outline his plots for ghostwriters to actually write? Whatever - overcoming their initial reticence at connecting the two diverse strands of Hubbard's career, New Era now began reissuing his earlier novels through the imprint. Carefully skirting mention of Scientology directly while promoting the fiction, and avoiding the SF in their more supposedly 'serious' books. And then, inconveniently in the midst of this renewed flurry of literary activity - on the 24th January 1986, L. Ron became discorporate...
Hubbard began writing for pulp magazines at a penny a word in those "days of bad and alarming literature that teaches violence and fantasy to our young" (The Invaders Plan, 1985). But hey - even messiahs must eat. And his output was prolific, his name already familiar to readers of general pulp magazines such as Argosy and Thrilling Western through nautical yarns, far-east travel tales, detective mysteries and cowboy fiction after the Zane Grey pattern, even before entering the SF field. Then - aged just 27, rejecting 'ray-guns and rockets' to 'write about people and the human potential', he sold an amusing fantasy called The Dangerous Dimension to Astounding SF (May 1938), concerning a henpecked philosopher who discovers a form of personal teleportation in which he can 'wish' himself anywhere ("space was nothing but an idea, a viewpoint"), it was followed by a novel, The Tramp (1938) involving the healing power of telepathy. Perhaps now they could be read as hinting at the possibilities of untapped mental powers? Inevitably it's tempting to see Hubbard's later themes glimpsed, in embryo form, in his other 'pre-clear' writings, for - despite the emphasis on 'science' in Scientology, there's a strong affection for the irrational and the mythic too. In the preface to his Arabian Nights fantasy Slaves Of Sleep, Hubbard even quotes a lengthy passage from Washington Irving pleading for tolerance in accepting paranormal ideas, while the novel itself argues for the authenticity of the Jinn - "there is every reason to suppose that they (Genies) existed in historical time" (Unknown, July 1939).
Yet Forrest J. Ackerman - for one, "never considered the majority of his stories more than adequate diversions. Hubbard never wrote a classic science fiction masterpiece of erudite philosophy and social responsibility, a blueprint for a better tomorrow. He simply wrote some entertaining stories." Contracted to write novels for serialisation in Campbell's second title - Unknown, Hubbard rapidly moves in to colonise this futuristic territory, where his sins include The Indigestible Triton and works in the fantasy vein like The Case Of The Friendly Corpse - a re-animation mix-up romp using John D. Clarke's idea of a 'College of Unholy Names', and 'The Ultimate Adventure' - built around the Sprague De Camp/ Fletcher Pratt concept of a 'multiverse' of dimensions and planes of existence. Another, Fear was reissued in 1970, when Anthony Boucher described it as "a nearly perfect psychological terror novel" and "Hubbard's masterpiece" (in Oracle, July 1970). An arrogant young Atworthy College academic James Lowry - dismissed for writing an article deriding devilry and demons, hunts for the 'four lost hours' during which he's been taken literally through a graphically and effectively described vision of Hell. As such, Fear fails to qualify as SF at all through its device of using two 'punishing' Imps.
Elsewhere, in the entertaining seven-story arc collected into Ole Doc Methuselah - written under the guise of Rene Lafayette, Hubbard guides his 700-year-old 'Soldier of Light' Methuselah through the planetary politics of a galaxy of 173-trillion humans on lost and devolved Earth colonies. In a kind of 'Divine Light Mission' meets the intergalactic paramedic ER aboard the USS Enterprise, Hubbard's interstellar physician is accompanied around the universe by his six-armed alien companion. Overtones of Dianetic elitism - even in this apparently benevolent form, are inescapable, in the same way that the rabid anti-Soviet opinion fulminating beneath the fictional glaze of 240,000 Miles Straight Up (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948) traces through into its right-wing bias. Here, a Russian General becomes world dictator through his strategic use of lunar-based missiles, but American 'Jonnie Goodboy'-style freedom fighters led by US Air Force Lieutenant Cannon Gray regains the upper hand by adding hallucinogenics to the cigarette tobacco they must supply as Soviet-tribute. Then the 'Angel' and his companions finish off those who fail to succumb to the drug by destroying Russian machines on the Moon itself. In this story, as with Final Blackout, where an anonymous Lieutenant rises to power in a world ravaged by perpetual war, the emphasis is on individual character development, evolving the strength that is synonymous with leadership through the will to power. The same right-wing values will find even clearer expression in the post-Psychlon reconstruction phase of Battlefield Earth where Hubbard clumsily envisages an 'ideal world' run by competent technologists, freed from taxation, governmental interference and intellectual elitism, adhering to Neolithically-defined gender roles and crude frontier values.
But in truth, Hubbard's early-period work is neither outstandingly good nor bad, merely of its period - one which saw American writers re-running human expansion into space as covered wagons opening up new western frontiers, eliminating the occasional troublesome or inconvenient redskin. A near-racist viewpoint most clearly expressed in Battle Of Wizards (1949), in which Angus McBain, the human protagonist ruthlessly exploits the rigid and traditionally structured Doitoid society in order to wrest mineral rights from what he considers to be a primitive species. His exploitation is cynically carried out beneath the guise of bringing the benefits of 'civilisation' to the world, but there's little to suggest that Hubbard finds this attitude repellent, and much evidence to argue that this is his view of the mechanics of historical development. The strong flourish, the weak go to the wall. And although, through such stories, L. Ron Hubbard became a substantial contributor to what nostalgics insist on calling the 'Golden Age of SF', unlike Campbell's more heavyweight protégés - Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein or A.E. Van Vogt, he's left little of lasting worth and would probably be marginalised to obscurity by now.
Had it not been for Scientology... Yet for a cult - the very name of which espouses science as its basis, Hubbard's familiarity with the subject from the evidence of this bulk of fiction is not impressive. Commenting on the story To The Stars (1950), SF academic Peter Weston observes, "in one quaint passage it's clear that Hubbard's understanding of Einstein is limited, he thinks of the speed of light as some sort of arbitrary limit, like the 70mph restriction on a motorway." One of Hubbard's last works of the first phase of his SF career, it tells how Alan Corday and the crew of the starship 'Hound Of Heaven' become victims of the time-dilation effect that FTL-travel plays. A flight to Alpha Centauri takes six subjective weeks but due to relativistic paradox 80 years pass on Earth as their friends and family age and die. Left as dislocated outcasts from the rest of the humanity they eventually degenerate into piracy. Weston offers a representative quote, "'keep her at least 2,000 miles short of constant' he said, stifling a yawn. 'The Deuce has got hot atoms back there all of a sudden. She came up within a 1000 half an hour ago and I check-blasted back. I'm bored'." (Peter Weston, writing in Science Fiction Monthly, February 1976.) But the story touches on another of Scientology's prime motifs, that of interdependence and group spirit when Corday's privateer spaceship is used "as a symbol of manly togetherness - most noticeable when the crew of the Hound of Heaven, travelling at near light speed, bursts into its favourite chorus 'Viva la Hound, Viva la Hound, Viva la Company'" (Billion Year Spree, 1973). A sequence reprised in The Invader's Plan where the protagonists enthusiastically song-chant their ludicrous theme 'Spaceward Ho' - "space is a mistress,/ space is a whore,/ space is a spell,/ no spacer can ignore." And sure, it's tempting to suggest that ideas left over from Hubbard's SF period got fused into the Scientology mythos. And while it's amusing to imagine Hubbard agonising over whether to issue the story of his 'death and transfiguration' as his next SF novel or as 'straight' science, there are grounds for arguing that he never lived long enough to reach that decision. After all, through the lifted veil of Thetan forgetfulness aren't we all expected to accept 'ancestral memories' of past Earths subjected to regular waves of Lovecraftian alien occupation, each of them leaving 'engrams' to distort and precondition our subsequent behaviour? Perhaps this ties in with the cranky 'was god an astronaut' type books. Or else it's just a playfully elaborate metaphor culled from contemporary myth-forms as conceptual vehicles for his developments of basic Freudian concepts? Whatever - Hubbard's fourth prehistoric invasion, 10 to 20,000 years ago gave humanity its dual nature by splitting the race into two, the good and the bad, for contained warfare. Then a mere 2,000 years ago six-foot insects arrived by spaceship to induce a subsequent human fear of spiders and insects. There's also, according to A History Of Man, a humanoid civilisation called the Markab Confederacy in the Great Square of Pegasus intent on racial suicide through mass racing car auto-wrecks. While even late in his life, Hubbard continued to insist that flying saucers from a war-torn Galactic Federation are influencing Earth's population growth, social instability and paranoia by depositing political and mental undesirables, encased in ice-cubes into Earth's oceans! After all, Thetans can be contained in all manner of forms, devolved types taking cosmic slumming to its extreme by living as bugs. Are we really expected to take this seriously? Last time I saw Pete Charteris he was living in a sleazy Leeds bed-sit and talking volubly about visiting St Hill Castle in East Grinstead, an 18th Century Georgian West Sussex mansion once owned by the Maharajah of Jaipur, and by then the UK Scientology Centre for 'clearing'. Still showing all the symptoms of loser-class low self-esteem, he counters my question about gullibility with pagan Christopher Lee's eloquent riposte from The Wicker Man about the superstitious basis of Christianity - "a virgin, if I recall correctly, made pregnant by a ghost...?" And anyway - "didn't Albert Einstein say 'religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame?' So why is it even wrong to compare-and-contrast Hubbard's two incarnations?"
Earth has got to be "the ugliest crap-hole in the entire universe" announces Terl, the alien-on-stack-heel-stilts. And as for human-animals, they don't even "make very good eating." Yet it increasingly looks to be - not this "disgusting excuse for a planet," but John Travolta's career-judgement that was seriously under threat. The Battlefield Earth movie is "a load of old extra-terrestrial excrement which makes Blake's 7 look like The Empire Strikes Back," according to Jonathan Ross. His TV punditry savages its "devastating intellectual incompetence," tragic dialogue and an 'emotional emptiness' matched only by "plot devices too pedestrian to discuss." And yes, it begins as an old-fashioned post-apocalypse story of regressed human tribes with their myths of lost ancients augmented by McDonalds jokes ("caves with golden arches where food magically appeared"). Until a disgruntled Terl contravenes Psychlos 'home office' policy by taking Jonnie from the 'Human Processing Centre' and thought-educating him for use as a gold-mining slave to generate independent wealth for himself. This education includes a visit to the ruins of the Denver Library for a symbolic glimpse of the 'Declaration of Independence'. But Jonnie uses his newly-acquired skills to organise human resistance-fighters who re-arm, train in nuclear technology, and learn to fly jump-jets in a flight-simulator based in a derelict Fort Hood bunker (without electricity, yet fuelled and functional after 1,000 years!). They then use the alien's own teleportation system, plus the convenient fact that radiation reacts with the Psychlos' planetary atmosphere, to destroy their home world. Holding Terl (minus one arm) in an ironic vault of gold as 'leverage' against future incursions or reprisals from surviving colonies.
Yet actor-producer Travolta persists in calling this appalling mess "a small miracle, a Pulp Fiction in the year 3000, very dark, but also very funny in this bizarre, dark way." And in words that could have been choreographed by that great 'Typewriter in the Sky' he goes on to claim that the movie's source-novel is "probably the best science fiction book ever written" (Dreamwatch #68, April 2000), which begs the question just how much SF has Travolta actually read? And would he have bothered with this one if it had been written by anyone else. He'd been agitating to shoot the novel at least since 1982, originally imaging himself as Tyler, but 15 years later - linked up with Star Wars veteran Roger Christian (director) and J.D. Shapiro and Corey Mendell (script), he was too old. So he becomes Terl instead. Then - in two ghastly weeks, this 'risible self-indulgent' career-killer plunges Travolta's reputation back to where it had been before Pulp Fiction. Yet such was Travolta's alien-nation from reality that soon after its completion he was allegedly planning a sequel, buoyed solely on his conviction of his spiritual mentor's genius, and that even before hints of damage-limitation re-edits for the face-saving re-cut director's edition. Meanwhile, Ross - on Film 2000, declared "a minute's silence for John Travolta's second death."
L. Ron Hubbard once wrote, "the old must give way to the new, falsehood must become exposed by truth, and truth - though fought, always in the end prevails." I hope that makes things clearer. Or - indeed, Clear.
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