L Ron Hubbard’s Late Fiction – The Ultimate Vanity Publications?

hubbard quillBefore he founded the Church of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard wrote short stories (for as little as a penny a word) for various pulp fiction magazines.

Hubbard was never a first-rate pulp author. He made a living because he could be relied upon to fill empty space – often on short notice. His stories would likely be remembered only by a few enthusiasts if they had not been collected  in books published by Author Services Inc – an entity wholly owned by the Church of Scientology.

One such vanity publication is “Science Fiction Short Stories Vol One”.  Published in 1993 in a limited edition of only 2,500 copies, it  boasts a gilt-edged flexible blue leather binding. Buyers may be disappointed, however, to find that it contains only three short stories (one of them very short indeed).

These are:

240,000 Miles Straight Up, Thrilling Wonder Stories December 1948
The Were-Human, The Fantasy Book, Issue One, October 1981
He Found God, Meta SF, Issue One, September 1982

All these stories were previously published in Science Fiction Magazines – so readers might get the impression  that Hubbard had enjoyed a long, successful career in that field.

However there is something very strange about the claims made for the first magazine publication of the two most recent stories.

He Found God (1982)

meta_sfHubbard’s  story, “He Found God” | Download as .pdf (which was probably the last he ever wrote) first appeared in the magazine “Meta SF” in September 1982 – which is a very curious publication.

The contents of this magazine include an article offering “some glimpses into future issues”, and a “Scoreboard” where readers could “rate the stories and art”.  Despite giving the distinct impression that it was here to stay, only one issue  of “Meta SF” was ever actually published.

The editors of this short-lived periodical were prolific science fiction author John Dalmas and Paul Becker. John Dalmas is  a routine but workmanlike SF writer  – but also turns out to be a  ‘Celebrity  Scientologist‘.

When  a prominent Scientologist is offered an opportunity to publish fiction by L Ron Hubbard, he would not dare decline it (and might even feel honoured) so Hubbard’s story got a free pass into this obscure magazine

It seems odd that L Ron Hubbard himself (whom the Church of Scientology presents as a world-renowned author) could not have secured publication in a more high-profile magazine (for example “Asimov’s Science Fiction“).

The Were-Human (1981)

Fantasy-Book-October-1981-Vol-1-No-1The first appearance of “The Were-Human” was in issue No 1 of  “The Fantasy Book” for October 1981.

“The Fantasy Book” is a very obscure semi-professional magazine. It published only 23 quarterly  issues between  October 1981 and March 1987.

What’s a semi-professional magazine? Well… The Hugo Awards organisation (which presents  prestigious trophies for varies endeavours associated with Science Fiction every year) includes a category for semi-professional magazines (AKA Semiprozines). To qualify, a publication must pay its staff  – but this must total less than one-quarter of their income. This definition is generally accepted.

Semi-professional magazines typically have a small budget and attract beginning authors who are more interested in publication than pay.

Online listings reveal that the first issue of “The Fantasy Book” was a relatively low-budget effort, consisting of 80  9¾” x 12″ pages secured with staples. Hubbard’s story only occupied pages 42-44 (which included several illustrations) so is a very short story indeed.

Once again, it  seems odd that L Ron Hubbard himself could not have secured publication in a more high-profile magazine. To understand why, we should examine the background to the oldest of the three stories collected in “Science Fiction Short Stories Vol One”.

40,000 Miles Straight Upthrilling_wonder_stories_194812

“40,000 Miles Straight Up” first appeared in the July 1948 issue of “Thrilling Wonder Stories“.

By 1948, the mass market pulp industry that had previously provided Hubbard with a precarious living had been in steep decline for some time.  Consequently, the rates that magazines paid to their authors were at rock bottom.

In August 1948 Hubbard was arrested and fined on a charge of petty theft, for attempting to pass a fraudulent cheque.

This financial pressure probably part-motivated his new creation “Dianetics”, which was both published as a book, and serialised in “Astounding Science Fiction” in 1950. This marked the beginning of Hubbard’s lucrative new career as a pseudo-scientist and (later) founder of a new ‘religion’.

After the money began to roll in, Hubbard did not write fiction again for almost 30 years.

Why Did Hubbard’s Publisher Have to Cheat?

It was not until circa 1980 that Hubbard resumed writing. By this time:

  1. He was in hiding, and his physical and mental state had deteriorated significantly
  2. He had enjoyed the status of guru for long enough to lose any sense of perspective about his real abilities
  3. He was socially isolated – and the only people he associated with would not dare offer even constructive criticism
  4. There was a much smaller, and  more discerning, market for science fiction stories – the standard was higher than it had been in the heyday of the pulp magazines

Hubbard’s ‘new’ stories were simply not good enough for publication in the 1980s.

This presented his publisher with a problem. Almost all science fiction short stories are written for magazines, and only collected when the author has enough to fill a book. The details of the first publication of each story are typically listed after the book’s title page, for copyright reasons. Stories which had not been previously published in a magazine would lack credibility – and mainstream science fiction magazines are not under the control of the Church of Scientology.

Since Hubbard’s stories were not good enough for mainstream magazines to accept, the Church of Scientology had to insure magazine publication by other means –  it is even possible that “Meta SF” was created specifically for this purpose.

What Else Did Hubbard Write in This Period?

It should be noted that, at the same time as writing “The Were-Human” and “He Found God” (between 1980 and 1982) Hubbard was also producing  “Battlefield Earth”  and the 10-volume series “Mission Earth”.

“Mission Earth” was published between 1985 and 1987. No commercial publisher would have touched it – but Hubbard did not have to convince a publisher that it was saleable, not submit it to editing.  He controlled “Bridge Publications” through the Church of Scientology and used it to execute a massive vanity publishing project.

The first volume of “Battlefield Earth” (“The Invader’s Plan”) attracted a famously negative review from the New York Times (the last review on this page) which included the following passage:

In his introduction, Mr. Hubbard assures us that what follows is satire, a form of literature whose origins he carefully explains in what I take to be a satire on ponderous, self-serving pseudoscholarship. What actually follows is a paralyzingly slow-moving adventure enlivened by interludes of kinky sex, sendups of effeminate homosexuals and a disregard of conventional grammar so global as to suggest a satire on the possibility of communication through language.

It really was that bad.

Conclusion

Before he wrote “Dianetics”, Hubbard’s short stories were at least published on their own merits.

This is not true of the material he wrote in the 1980s. In particular, “The Were-Human” and “He Found God” were so bad that the church of Scientology had to cheat in order to place them in a magazine – in fact, it is possible that “Meta SF” was created specifically for this purpose.

The other material that Hubbard wrote in this period  (please see the appendix below) was  just as bad – and was only published as part of a massive vanity project begun by Hubbard himself, and continued to this day by the Church of Scientology.

 

 


 

Appendix – L Ron Hubbard’s Fiction Output Between 1976 and 1982

Screenplays

Revolt in the Stars, full-length science fiction screenplay written 1976-77, Unpublished
Unnamed movie plot synopsis of a mystery-detective movie, written June 1979, Unpublished
Ai! Pedrito!, full-length comedy screenplay, written 1981 published June 1998
A Very Strange Trip, full-length time-travel comedy screenplay, written 1981 published June 1999

Novels

Battlefield Earth, science fiction, written 1980 published 1982
Mission Earth (10 volumes), science fiction, written 1981-82 published 1985-87

Short Stories

The Were-Human, fantasy, published October 1981
He Found God, science fiction, published September 1982


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