Recently a new edition was released by “Galaxy Press,” a publishing house that is wholly owned by the Church of Scientology. They also produced a long ‘dramatised’ audio book, based on the story, featuring a small cast of voice actors.
The promotional campaign has now made its way to the Scientology Org in Plymouth, in the UK. Both the book and its audio version are on display to staff there.
Strangely, these products are presented so that the covers can only be seen by the people inside. They have their backs turned to the window display and the buying public. (images below).
Subsequently, I went to all of the bookshops in the nearby shopping centre. Not a single copy of “Battlefield Earth” was on sale in any of them, and assistants had never heard of it. In fact, no Plymouth bookshop stocks it.
Turn Your Back on the Public – A Strange Way to Sell a Book
Hardback Copies of “Battlefield Earth”, boxed sets of CD’s comprising the audio book version and a small pile of promotional leaflets have been added to the shelf behind the window.
However, they face into the org. Neither the covers of the books, nor the audio boxed sets, can even be seen by passers-by. It seems that this book is being presented to staff and members, rather than sold to the public.
It’s likely that every Scientology org in the UK has been sent a consignment of books and audio presentations, and been told to sell them. If they fail, they will be disciplined, so the 25-odd Scientologists here will buy as many as they can themselves.
Even the church of Scientology does have sufficient confidence in this product to offer it to outsiders. To understand why, we need to examine the history of L Ron Hubbard’s fiction, and the Church of Scientology.
L Ron Hubbard and The Pulp Fiction Market
Before the financial success of dianetics in 1950, L Ron Hubbard made a living as a writer for a variety of ‘pulp’ magazines. These were disposable entertainment, made from the cheapest paper, which was recycled (hence ‘pulp’).
Hubbard’s pulp fiction is presented here in chronological order. It enjoys some strange titles, for example “Sea Fangs”. “Dead Men Kill”, “Yellow Loot”, “He Walked to War” and, best of all, “They Killed Him Dead” (no, really).
They were published monthly (sometimes every other month) and typically ran on a shoestring. They needed a lot of content, and paid as little as a penny a word. Consequently, stories were often carelessly written and included a lot of filler.
These magazines catered to a variety of genres. Some are unheard of today – for example Foreign Legion stories and ‘flight’ tales, in which pilots experience unlikely adventures. Science fiction was born in the pulps but, unlike many pulp genres, made the transition to book publishing. Today it is represented by many authors possessed of not imaginative power, but also literary quality.
L Ron Hubbard wrote for a variety of magazines under various pseudonyms. For example, to readers of westerns he was Winchester Remington Colt. His Foreign Legion Stories bore the name ‘Legionnaire 14830’.
The pulps also kick-started Hubbard’s career as a guru. He wrote science fiction stories for a magazine called “Astounding Science Fiction”. The editor, a remarkable man called John W Campbell, was captivated by a ‘new science’ which Hubbard had invented – the precursor to Scientology which he called dianetics. Campbell enthusiastically promoted it in the pages of his magazine and kick-started L Ron Hubbard’s career as a guru.
Dianetics failed. Undeterred, Hubbard invented Scientology. When this proved to be lucrative, he abandoned fiction and concentrated on writing about the doctrines and practice of Scientology. This material was all self-published and never edited.
For almost 30 years he wrote about Scientology in books, pamphlets, articles, periodicals, newsletters and many other forms. All of these texts are now considered by Scientologists to be holy writ.
“Revolt in the Stars” – Xenu Nearly Goes Public
In 1977 the Church of Scientology was subjected to coordinated raids by the FBI. Under Hubbard’s instructions Scientologists had been infiltrating US government offices, to obtain and alter confidential records in order to promote Scientology. Hubbard went into hiding (an operation code-named “Snow White”).
At about the same time, the first of the “Star Wars” films was released, and enjoyed great success. Hubbard had time on his hands, and now that space opera had gone mainstream he decided to cash in, writing a screenplay for a film entitled “Revolt in the Stars“.
Strangely, this used one of the the secret teachings of one of the highest levels of Scientology (OT3) as its plot – and Hubbard had warned Scientologists that, if they learned of this material before they were properly prepared, they would die of pneumonia.
This project died at the earliest stages of production. This was probably just as well for Hubbard, as the OT3 materials, which comprised the plot of “Revolt in the Stars”, became public knowledge went on to be widely satirised in the media (notably in the “South Park” episode “Trapped in the Closet”).
As a result of this failure, Hubbard seems to have resolved to revive his career as a science fiction writer, and establish his reputation as one of the great writers of the pulp fiction era. To this end, he wrote “Battlefield Earth”, and Scientologists set about promoting it by any means necessary.
“Battlefield Earth” A Pulp Fiction Story Lost in Time
Science fiction typically examines the influence of science and technology on social and individual life. It’s full of imagined innovations, clever, compelling ideas and strange (but plausible) situations.
In contrast “Mission Earth” is a crude, clumsily written, adventure story involving a revolt against the violent overthrow of an occupying force – a throwback to Hubbard’s pulp writing career. Hubbard totally missed the point of working in the SF genre.
Wikipedia publishes and accurate and detailed synopsis of the story so you can judge for yourself if you haven’t read the book.
In 1984, “The Economist” reviewed the book. This assessment was widely shared by professional literary critics. Highlights include:
”Battlefield Earth” is an unsubtle saga, atrociously written, windy and out of control. […]
What is missing is the most elementary shred of characterisation. The good guys are all selfless and courageous and the bad guys uniformly sadistic. The plot clanks along like a giant, lumbering engine and Mr Hubbard is most at home (tiresomely so)–in laboured description of mechanical processes.
Hubbard was still writing pulp fiction – but this time did not have the benefit of an editor.
Is There a Scientology Subtext?
Considering Hubbard had spent the last 30 years immersed in Scientology, there isn’t, really.
The only Scientology influence is as subtle as a game of charades. The alien villains of the piece are called “Psycholos” (sounds like psychiatrists) who are directed by the ruling “Catrists” (sounds like “psychiatrist”, too). The latter are “evil charlatans” who control their subjects with psycho-surgery.
I was a bit disgusted with the way the psychologists and brain surgeons mess people up so I wrote a fiction story based in part on the consequences that could occur if the shrinks continued to do it.
How the activities of psychiatrists are supposed to bring about an alien invasion is puzzling. However, Hubbard did have a vendetta against Scientific medicine (and psychiatry / psychology in particular) ever since his book “Dianetics” received uniformly terrible reviews from those professions.
Later, this proved functional. Psychiatrists became useful scapegoats for every failure of Scientology and were blamed by Hubbard for all the evil in the world, up to including the Nazi holocaust. Contemporary Scientologists have carried on this tradition, blaming “psychs” for the September 11 attacks on New York. They work hard to keep traumatised people out of the hands of councillors and psychiatrists after the terrorist attack on London on September the 11th 2001, as revealed in a BBC Radio undercover operation.
Eventually Scientology doctrine ‘explained’ that psychiatrists were evil aliens from the planet Farsec. This secret teaching is reserved for the elect.
Scientology still pursue a campaign against psychiatry under cover of a front group, the “Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) which includes leaflet campaigns and a long running ‘exhibition’.
Apart from this oddity (which does not take up much of the book) “Battlefield Earth” is a crude adventure story with a few science fiction trappings. Six-guns could be substituted for the Psyclo’s advanced weapons without making a significant difference.
Music too! Is There No Beginning to the Man’s Talents?
“Space Jazz” was an album, advertised as a ‘soundtrack’ to the book. It was recorded in 1982 and L Ron Hubbard is credited with writing the music and the lyrics. A version of compact cassette can be seen with the book in the image above right, and the LP cover is to the left.
Performers included the jazz musician Chick Corea (who is still a committed Scientologist) Stanley Clarke, Nicky Hopkins and Gayle Moran. It’s only claim to fame is that it was one of the first recordings to use the Fairlight CMI synthesiser a pioneering digital musical instrument.
On the one hand Hubbard’s long track record of plagiarism makes you wonder how much of this he actually wrote. On the other hand, the compositions are so bad that surely nobody would claim to have written them if they had not done so.
Even the most skilled performers could not make Hubbard’s compositions sound good. It’s hard to find professional reviews because nobody in the trade seems to have taken it seriously. However tracks from the album are posted online unedited because people cannot believe how bad they are. For example “Windsplitter“. Also, Amazon customer reviews treat the album as a joke. You can download “Space Jazz” here, and judge for yourself.
A Film Best Forgotten
Even after Hubbard’s death, Scientology’s humiliation at the hands of “Battlefield Earth was not complete. With the approval of the new leader, one David Miscavige, committed Scientologist John Travolta produced a film version of the book in 2000.
It has since passed into history as one of the worst films every made. The critical reception was terrible and it only appears in the media to be mocked.
It is satirised in “The Gauntlet“, a short animated film made in the same year by the creators of “South Park”. In this, an animated version of the character Travolta played in the film appears.
Even Miscavige disowned this terrible film.
The noted film critic Roger Ebert gave it 0.5 out of a possible 4 writing,
“Battlefield Earth” is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way.[…]
“Battlefield Earth” was written in 1980 by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. The film contains no evidence of Scientology or any other system of thought; it is shapeless and senseless, without a compelling plot or characters we care for in the slightest. The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.
Some movies run off the rails. This one is like the train crash in “The Fugitive.” I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies. There is a moment here when the Psychlos’ entire planet […] is blown to smithereens, without the slightest impact on any member of the audience (or, for that matter, the cast). If the film had been destroyed in a similar cataclysm, there might have been a standing ovation.
And Yet… “Battlefield Earth” (The Book) Made the “New York Times” Best-seller List
How did such a terrible book achieve this?
Basically, back in the days before electronic stock control, Scientologists were sent to shops whose sales were sampled in order to compile estimates for best-seller lists. They bought multiple copies which hugely inflated their sales figures, because the compliers assumed that the same numbers of books were being sold at shops all over the country.
Staff at many US bookshops were puzzled when new stock from the publisher (which is wholly owned by the Church of Scientology) turned up with their price sticker already affixed. Scientologists had been buying them by the armful and putting them right back into the publisher’s stock to be sold again.
This situation is explained by someone who participated, in the video below.
The Revival of “Battlefield Earth”?
This is presented in a substantial box containing multiple CDs. It runs for 47 hours and 32 minutes. The story is told by no less than 10 narrators and the whole thing costs £54.20.
On Amazon.co.uk, it is available as a free download with a trial of “Audible”, an audio book vendor. Consequently, this product will likely only be of interest to Scientologists who are encouraged to think of it as a prestige item.
At this price, and length, the chances of it making an audio book best-seller list are very slim indeed.
Why Battlefield Earth Won’t be a Bestseller Again
Scientology seems to be selling “Battlefield Earth” to Scientologists in this country. That’s understandable. Its poor critical reception is well established and it is associated not only with Scientology, but also with one of the worst films of all time.
Scientologists are gamely issuing five-star to reviews to Amazon and other online retailers, but critics (and real readers) are responding to these with reviews of their own. Sales to the general public are not going to be substantial. So – can British Scientologists elevate the book to best-seller status all on their own?
According to the 2011 British census, there are 2,418 self-declared Scientologists in England and Wales, including:
- Independent Scientologists
- People who are going through the motions of being a Scientologist, in order to avoid ‘disconnection’
- Minor children
- Foreign ‘students’ of Scientology, who happened to be in places like Saint Hill on census day
With all of the bad PR and defections that have befallen the Church of Scientology in the last 5 years the number of active members is now likely to be around 2,000 or less
If they all bought the book from the same outlet on the same day, during a slow week for book sales, they might get into some specialised lists for that week only, assuming they could find a copy . The two biggest chains in the UK are Waterstones and WH Smith. None of their shops in Plymouth stock it.
If Britain’s Scientologists all somehow managed 20 copies each (as US Scientologists are being urged to do) that’s 40,000 books… in a world where one “Harry Potter” book can sell more than three million and novels like “Forty Shades of grey” are not far behind.
What’s more, in the 21st century they can’t game the system by buying from bookshops that are ‘sampled’ to estimate sales. In the new world of electronic stock control, the big chains know exactly how many books they have sold in real time, and even know if the same person buys multiple copies of a book, raising suspicions of fraud.
My prediction is that “Mission Earth” is going to bomb. Again. This is a fate which it richly deserves.
Postscript, Three Days later (the 20th of July 2016)
“Battlefield Earth” – both the books and the audio presentation – have now completely disappeared from Scientology’s Plymouth Org.
Have Plymouth Scientologists bought all of the books sent them by head office?
Have they decided that displaying a book with a cover which portrays the only female character half naked and on all-fours might not enhance the reputation of their ‘religion’?
Are they about to give it pride of place in the window display?
I don’t know. I do know that neither the book nor the audio presentation is on sale in any Plymouth bookshop.