Hubbard, L Ron

Tagged: Author

(1911-1986) US writer in many genres, including sf and fantasy, and subsequent quasi-religious figure whose founding of Dianetics and in 1952 the Church of Scientology led to much controversy, which has continued into the twenty-first century. As a student in the School of Engineering at George Washington University from 1930, he became acquainted with Paul Linebarger (Cordwainer Smith), a fellow student, who as editor of the Literary Supplement of The Hatchet, the college paper, published Hubbard's first story, "Tah" (9 February 1932 The Hatchet: Literary Review Supplement); this was not sf. Hubbard began publishing sf with "The Dangerous Dimension" for Astounding in July 1938, and remained active until, more than a decade later, he transferred his creative gifts to the Religion he founded. He wrote under his own name and as Kurt von Rachen and Rene Lafayette; other names remain unrevealed. Though there is no hard and fast line, his fantasy, much of it published in Unknown, was frequently as by Hubbard, some of it – like The Case of the Friendly Corpse (August 1941 Unknown; 1991) having little crossover connection to sf – and his sf, mostly in Astounding, was frequently pseudonymous (although at least twelve items, some of them full-length novels, appeared in Astounding as by Hubbard). Certainly Hubbard was for John W Campbell Jr – then in the throes of creating his Golden Age of SF – a worthwhile and prolific contributor to the two journals, though he was not a member of that small group – L Sprague de Camp, Robert A Heinlein and Isaac Asimov being the prime movers – who were rewriting the rules of generic plausibility in terms which survived for many years; he should perhaps be linked with A E van Vogt as one of the two rogue members of the early Campbell pantheon. Retrospective attempts to elect Hubbard to a central role in the creation of modern sf are best seen as gestures of loyalty from those – like Algis Budrys – who were sympathetic to his later career.

His best-known early sf novel, Final Blackout (April-June 1940 Astounding; 1948), grimly describes a world devastated by many wars in which a young army officer becomes dictator of the UK, which he organizes to fend off a decadent USA. It cannot be denied that the book veers extremely close to the fascism its text explicitly disavows. But sf was clearly not Hubbard's forte, and most of his work in the genre reads as tendentious or laboured or both. As a writer of fantasy, however, he wrote with an occasionally pixillated fervour that is still pleasing, and sometimes reminiscent of the screwball comedies popular in the 1930s cinema. His best-known fantasy, Slaves of Sleep (July 1939 Unknown; 1948) – assembled with its sequel, "The Masters of Sleep" (October 1950 Fantastic Adventures), as Slaves of Sleep & The Masters of Sleep (coll of linked stories 1993) – is laid in the Arabian Nights environment set aside for him by Campbell as his exclusive bailiwick in Unknown magazine. The darkly Paranoid Fear: An Outstanding Psychological Science Fiction Novel (July 1940 Unknown; 1957) was perhaps rather stronger and more original, and demonstrated a powerful capacity to hook the reader into worlds where normal logic is distressingly maladaptive; it appeared also with "Typewriter in the Sky" (November-December 1940 Unknown) as one of the two novellas in Two Science Fantasy Novels by L Ron Hubbard: Typewriter in the Sky; Fear (1951; vt Fear; &, Typewriter in the Sky 1977) and with "The Ultimate Adventure" (April 1939 Unknown) as one of the two novellas in Fear & The Ultimate Adventure (coll 1970). "Typewriter in the Sky", a slyly effective self-referential Fabulation, may be his most permanently memorable work. Return to Tomorrow (February-March 1950 Astounding as "To the Stars"; 1954) is a remarkably ruthless Space Opera (> Social Darwinism). The Ole Doc Methuselah stories, as by Rene Lafayette, have been assembled as Ole Doc Methuselah (stories October 1947-January 1950 Astounding; coll of linked stories 1970). He wrote other series, too, notably the Conquest of Space series (as Lafayette): "Forbidden Voyage" (January 1949 Startling), "The Magnificent Failure" (March 1949 Startling), "The Incredible Destination" (May 1949 Startling), "The Unwilling Hero" (July 1949 Startling), "Beyond the Black Nebula" (September 1949 Startling), "The Emperor of the Universe" (November 1949 Startling) and "The Last Admiral" (January 1950 Startling). As Kurt von Rachen he wrote the Kilkenny Cats series: "The Idealist" (July 1940 Astounding), "The Kilkenny Cats" (September 1940 Astounding), "The Traitor" (January 1941 Astounding), "The Mutineers" (April 1941 Astounding) and "The Rebels" (February 1942 Astounding). In general his early work, though composed with delirious speed, often came to haunt his readership, and its canny utilization of Superman protagonists came to tantalize them with visions of transcendental power.

The vulnerability of the sf community – from Campbell and A E van Vogt down to the naivest teenage fans – to this lure of Transcendence may help account for the otherwise puzzling success first of Dianetics, then of Scientology itself, which gained many early recruits from sf; for, both as technique and as religion, these very American bodies of doctrine centrally posited a Technology of self-improvement, a set of instructions to follow in order to liberate the transcendent power within one (> Edisonade). Furthermore, much of the central doctrine of the Church of Scientology, which is not bruited outside its walls, contains highly melodramatic material seemingly derived from Space Opera: Forerunner species; Uplift; and so forth.

Hubbard became very wealthy on the proceeds of his intuition concerning "spiritual technology", and departed the sf field for many years, not to return until the publication of Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (1982), an enormously long space opera composed in an idiom that seemed embarrassingly archaic. This was followed by the Mission Earth "dekalogy", a ten-volume sequence whose farcical over-egging of a seriously thin narrative thread fails to disguise a tale that would have been more at home in the dawn of the Pulp magazines, though its length would not have been tolerated; it comprises The Invaders Plan (1985), Black Genesis (1986), The Enemy Within (1986), An Alien Affair (1986), Fortune of Fear (1986), Death Quest (1987), Voyage of Vengeance (1987), Disaster (1987), Villainy Victorious (1987) and The Doomed Planet (1987). The posthumous publication of some of these books has led to speculation as to their true authorship, though later volumes are not convincingly worse than the earlier ones. The sequence was released by Hubbard's own firm, Bridge Publications, and was heavily promoted, reflecting Hubbard's – and his intellectual heirs' – apparent desire to re-establish his reputation in the sf world. At the same time, he inaugurated the Writers of the Future Contest and the Writers of the Future workshops for new authors, many of whom have clearly benefited (> Algis Budrys for further discussion); the associated anthology series is L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. In the early 1990s, much of Hubbard's early work was scheduled for reissue from Bridge Publications (this project has proceeded only falteringly); and in 1992 it was announced that an underground crypt had been constructed near Petrolia, California, by an arm of the Church of Scientology known as the Church of Spiritual Technology, to house "the religious works of L Ron Hubbard and other key religious works of mankind". [JC/PN]

see also: Aliens; Astounding Science-Fiction; Cosmology; Faster Than Light; Future War; Horror in SF; Medicine; Messiahs; Music; Politics; Psi Powers; Psychology; Spaceships; Virtual Reality.

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard

born Tilden, Nebraska: 13 March 1911

died San Luis Obispo, California: 24 January 1986

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Mission Earth

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