A Blast to the Past! Battlefield Earth

A Blast to the past! Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Battlefield Earth: a saga of the year 3000

by L. Ron Hubbard

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

A quick summary:

Our hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is sure there is something wrong in his village. The people aren’t populating, and when they do happen to have babies, they are born deformed. He doesn’t believe in the monsters the villagers claim are out there. He decides to go find another place for them to live. While he’s at it, he thinks he will also search for one of the ancient cities he has heard exists.

In the meantime, one of the inhabiting aliens, a Psychlo named Terl, has discovered a vein of gold that is inaccessible to the Psychlos. But, if he had some humans, he could train them, get that gold, and be very rich. He goes hunting in the ancient man city.

It is there that Terl captures Jonnie. And it is there where Jonnie realizes his people were right… The monsters do exist!

Really cool stuff about the author and this book!!

  • L Ron Hubbard started writing Science Fiction around 1938 – at the dawn of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”
    • After writing for 50 years, he decided that he wanted to write a “PURE”  Science Fiction noveL.
    • Battlefield Earth is his attempt at writing that pure Sci Fi novel.
    • Battlefield Earth is the only book he ever wrote just “to amuse himself.”  (xxi)  It is one of the best-selling Sci Fi books of all times.

The setup of the book

Battlefield Earth was written in the early 1980s. As it was published, in 1982, it is 1050 pages. It’s a wonderfully satisfying read with only a few cons. That being said, some readers – but definitely not this one! – might find that length to be daunting. Had it been written/published today, I believe that it would have been set out as a trilogy. The following chart is how I could see it divided.

1st Third – The beginning of the adventure. Our introduction to the hero and the villain. Most of the action takes
place in the Psychlo compound. It is fast paced, full of action, and introduces the reader to things of the
past and things of possibility, ie: Sci Fi.
2nd Third – In this part, the action begins with our hero in the African Rainforest. Most of the story happens here,
but the final part of this section ends in Scotland and the dubbing of a Knight. It is slower paced, very
likely a technique the author used to demonstrate how difficult it was for Jonnie and his gang to
progress through the rain forest. Its feel is more serious and heavy than the first third of the novel.
Last Third – This final part of the book focuses on Earth’s outer atmosphere and begins with the planet under
surveillance. It is action packed, not as fast paced as the first third, and because it is a little slower, it fills
the reader that sense of urgency our hero must feel. This section contains many funny moments – I
know that this reader laughed aloud a number of times.

L Ron Hubbard’s thoughts on Science Fiction:

  • The science/inventions in a story occurs before  a scientific discovery, development, or invention exists.
  • The fiction part of Sci Fi is the actual tale being told; however, the science part is only partly fictional – ie:  to be credible, some degree of plausibility has to exist.
  • Science Fiction can be used to tell any type of story except Fantasy. 
    • Fantasy is its own genre and is different from Sci Fi.
    •  A Sci Fi story could be enclosed in a story of adventure, economics, air war, detective, spy, medicine, love, sociology – and that’s precisely what he tried to make Battlefield include  … ALL OF THOSE types of stories. …

It is not prophecy … It is the dream that precedes the dawn when the inventor or scientist awakens and goes to his books or his lab saying ‘I wonder whether I could make that dream come true in the world of real science.’ ”   

L Ron Hubbard p xvi

… Did he succeed?

Using the L Ron’s previous list of stories that could support Science Fiction, I will now touch on each alphabetically:

  • Adventure:  Absolutely!  This book is full of action.  The action did slow down a little in the 2nd 1/3 of the book when the good guy, main character,  Jonnie Goodboy Tyler was traipsing the rainforest of Africa at an extremely slow pace. Mostly though, the story had me turning the pages quickly.   What I do want to say, however, is that moving through the rainforest is a laborious job with the thick jungle plants, the wetness, and the need to be alert to one’s surroundings.  The fact that this section seemed to slow down to a point that I had to re-read some paragraphs and pages to re-determine what was happening, makes it feel like this was an intentional device he used so the reader could feel Jonnie’s frustration – because, if you didn’t realize already, the progress through the rain forest was so slow.
  • Air War:     YEP… many types of aircrafts and flying machines were used throughout the entire story from beginning to end.  They included aircraft that was real from the “past”  such as Russian MIGs to aircrafts that were inventions of the author.
  • Detective/Spy:   another YEP.   …
    • The bad guy – TERL, the Psycho’s Security Agent on planet Earth used the skills a detective uses to manipulate people/Psychlos, such as using/paying informants and using hidden cameras.   He also used blackmail, lies, and torture both mental and physical.  
    • The difference in the two’s useage of many of the same techniques was that one used some deception in order to blackmail others into cooperating so that evil/bad could happen and the other used deception in order to protect the greater good.  …
    • The good guy – Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, used many detective skills also.  His goal was to figure out what Terl was up to, so he could get to other members of the planet in order to get them organized so humankind could fight against the Psychlo regime.  … Jonnie used informants and hidden cameras.  He also used listening devices and cloak and dagger strategies to con Terl into thinking one thing was happening when it wasn’t.  
  • Economics:  Although there are some  mentions of Intergalactic credits and the value of ores and gold in the first 2/3 of the book, it is the last third of the book deals much with economics… from minting new money to deflation and setting up values for money. 
    • The earth bankers McAdam and Baron von Roth play a huge role along with Dries Gloton, of the Selachee Alien race , who is the Branch Manager of the Galactic Bank and Lord Voraz, the Central Director, CEO and overlord of the Galactic Bank who is also a Selachee.  
    • Together, they bring about an interesting twist in the way the battle for earth plays out in the end.
      • I would also like to touch on Mathematics at this time. 
        • Although this was not a “type” of book L Ron Hubbard said he wanted to write to show that it could be written as Science Fiction, he did include some interesting mathematical issues/concepts/concerns for the readers. 
        • The primary math concern was the use of Psychlo math, which is based on 11  (called the undenary system  as opposed to our decimal system which is based on 10)   …
        • Without spoiling the story and the mathematical moment of discovery for the reader, as well as an interesting complementary concept, I will just say that Jonnie needs to discover how to work Psychlo math in order to learn how to rig motors for Psychlo vehicles as well as for transshipment rigs. 
  •  Love:  L Ron Hubbard did have love running throughout this book, but I felt that the better example of love was of Jonnie to the planet and the people as a whole rather than as a love story.
    • The reader knows that Jonnie loves Chrissie, but his thoughts about her weren’t of the romantic type.  The author didn’t even mention if/when the two ever got married – though we assume they did by things stated in the latter end of the book
    • The regard for women in general as well as a woman’s viewpoint was lacking.  Did it hurt the story?  Not really.  However, I don’t think that L Ron Hubbard met this goal of writing a love story that  was Sci Fi very well.
  • Medicine:  Psychlo medicine was a theme in the last third of the book … It was interesting to discover how Jonnie and gang tried to figure out how to see inside a Psychlo as well as hear the earth doctor, MacKendrick, get excited over exploring their anatomy.
  • Sociology:   Well, this book is full of the exploration of other cultures… L Ron Hubbard definitely met his goal with this department. 

Sociology of the Aliens of Battlefield Earth

RACEPlanet/System of Origin
if given
Physical Description
if given
if given
blue colored, can breathe Psychlo breathe-gasare slaves on the planet Psychlo
BoxnardUniverse Sixsupposedly stole or invented teleportation, Psychlos destroyed them by the time of the story.
Boldodbigger than Psychlos, shapeless bodies, “hands” always in fistsStrong, considered stupid by the other races
Chatavorian5 feet all, flat heads, buck teeth, orange tan color, webbed handsfast nimble workers, best defense builders, work with stone, architects, eat wood.
ChinkoGalaxy Twoas tall as Psychlos, but “thread thin and delicate,” air breathers, old race, cheap, knew the cultural arts, were the recorders of information, wiped out by the Psychlos by the time of the story.
HawvinDuraleb Systemoval head, ear antennae, long noseless face, no teeth but are blade-gummed
HocknerDuraleb SystemNo nosesRumored that Psychlos defeated & wiped them out a couple hundred years ago.
Jambitchowgold scales, eyes where the mouth would be expected to be.
SelacheeSelachee Systemsmall grey people, rough grey skin, dull gray-blue eyes like the sea, heavy eyelids, round hairless heads, upturned noses, gills for ears, 4 fingers & thumb on each handBankers of the universes, can eat anything – and lots of it!
Tolnep1/2 the size of a Psychlo, body density like iron, fangs, bad eyesight: see in infrared only.Pirates & Slave Traders, deadly poison in fangs which takes 6 days to regenerate after biting, immune to Psychlo breath gas, enjoy interrogating, blind when subjected to short wavelength light, can only be killed with ultraviolet weapons, have mastered time control & can hold it frozen.

But what’s a Psychlo?

Psychlo Sociology
Physical Description: height: 8-9 feet tall width: about 3 1/2 feet wide weight: about 1000 pounds
* Body is covered in hair.
* Have eye bones – not eyelids, brow bones, and lip bones.
* Have amber colored eyes.
* Have 6 digits on one hand, 5 digits on the other, (hence the use of the undery – base 11 – system of mathematics) * Have talons at the end of the digits on their hands.
* Their brain is located low and in the back of their head.
* Life span of about 190 years.
* When they get old, their hair turns blue.
* When they die, they do not suffer from rigor mortis.
* Cannot breathe air. They breathe what they themselves term as “breath gas.”
* Uranium is deadly to their breathe gas – even a few bits of its dust would explode the breathe gas.
* They have green blood
* Are composed of viral strands – they have viral metabolism, not cellular like humans. This makes their body
denser than humans.
* Cannot eat cows/horses/ or animals with that kind of metabolism
* Along with whatever food they do eat, they chew or drink a substance called Kerbango which affects them like
alcohol consumption does to a human.
* The female births a litter of babies, usually 3 or 4 at a time.

Other information
* They are from the planet Psychlo
* They are sadistic, vicious, and enjoy being cruel, though there is no word for cruelty in the Psychlo Language.
* The Psychlo Language is actually a conglomerate from many other languages around the universes.
* They have a monopoly on Transhipment consoles and on the motors of many vehicles. They refuse to share their
technology for making them with others – so much so that if someone tries to take apart and examine any of the
aforementioned items, the console/motor is rendered incapacitated.
* Although their math is based on the number 11, it is not logical. Other races have tried for years to understand
how it works. None have been successful. If a Psychlo is asked about their math, the Psychlo goes into a coma
called ‘lapsin.’ It is illegal to cure lapsin, and the Psychlo suffering from it dies or is euthanized.
* Psychlo females are not taught math.
* The Psychlos have wiped out many races.

Man is an endangered species.”

Terl p 1.

The Villain: Terl

  • Terl is the epitome of a Psychlo as listed above.
  • He is on a 10-year tour of duty to earth
  • He is greedy, cruel, always looking for “leverage” so he can manipulate others.
  • He is the Psychlo Chief of Minesite Security for the Inter Galactic Mining Company to Planet Earth.
  • He is obsessed with getting off the planet and going back to Psychlo as a rich Psychlo.
  • He calls humans “animals.”
  • He is rather insane – and gets more mad as the book progresses.
  • He has a weapon which will totally destroy a planet. He plans to use this weapon on Earth when he leaves so all his devious deeds are not discovered.
  • He never calls Jonnie by name.
  • He is an all round BAD GUY!

The Hero: Jonnie Goodboy Tyler

  • 6 feet tall, 20 years old, bronzed skin, yellow corn-colored hair and beard, ice blue eyes.
  • Jonnie lives in a place called High Peak … what was Colorado in the years of the 2000s.
    • Jonnie is sure there is something wrong with the place where his people live;  The animals above and below his village mate, but the people don’t.
    • Not only are the people not populating, but when they do have babies, many are born deformed. 
    • Deformed babies are tossed out as the people are afraid of monsters, though Jonnie muses that he has never seen a monster.
    • When Jonnie’s dad died, his dad’s bones were crumbling away.  Jonnie insisted on having a proper burial.
  • Jonnie rides an extremely well-trained horse named Windsplitter.
  • He uses pointed rocks b/c there are no knives
  • He uses a kill club – there are no rifles.
    • He has slain a puma and wears its pelt.
    • Even after he learns to use modern weapons, Jonnie still keeps his kill club handy.
  • Has a girlfriend named Chrissie
    • Chrissie is 18
    • She has a sister age 7 named Pattie
  • Jonnie is intelligent.
  • He is patient.
  • He is charismatic, a true leader.

You can’t go very wrong putting your chips on Jonnie.”

Baron von Roth p 976

So … What about the story? Pros & Cons …

I love this book! This is about the 4th time I have read it over the past 20 years. That being said, I do have a couple of cons which is what makes this only a 9 out of 10 for me. (I used Paige’s rating scheme so that you would have consistency here on the blog.)

  • PROS
    • It’s 1050 pages. I love that I am able to visit these characters and their lives from the start of the story to the finish.
    • Most of the characters are extremely well developed. The good guy is one we love from the moment of the start of the book, and the bad guy is one we love to hate.
    • Although the ending is a little cheesy, the story is wrapped up in the end.
    • I loved the little hints, clues, and cues given throughout the book that were like puzzles that we could guess towards as we were reading. Especially fun were the little descriptions of items Jonnie didn’t understand which are daily items of our time.
    • I also loved the juxtaposition of the things that were from the year 3000.
    • I liked that we are introduced to some of the Psychlos who we like and that even though they are a cruel people, we find some who don’t fit the mold.
  • CONS
    • It’s 1050 pages. Although this is one of the pros for me, I can see that for a not so avid reader, this would be a daunting undertaking.
    • Above, I said that most of the characters are well developed. One of the things that niggles at me is that Chrissie and Pattie are pretty much cardboard popups when they appear. We could give a list of many of the characteristics about many of the other characters, even ones who don’t stay in the story very long, these two remain pretty much unknown to us.
    • The ending is cheesy. It works. The story is wrapped up in the end, but I would have been more satisfied without it being a ‘legend’ type ending. All the way through the book Jonnie is real to me and in the end I feel like now L Ron Hubbard doesn’t really have a satisfactory way to finish Jonnie’s story so he ends it abruptly. (To be fair, maybe he was just finished and didn’t want to explore any more.)
    • Without spoiling some of the specific things that happen, I wonder why the author didn’t explore cloning. The process was being explored by the time he wrote this book and just 2 years later Dolly the sheep was ‘born’ out of that process. With this thought and the cheesy ending being fleshed out, so to say, we could have had a 4th part of the book and another 250 more pages to read!!

The version of the Book I used was Battlefield Earth: A saga of the year 3000 by L Ron Hubbard (c) 1982 Published by Bridge Publications Inc.

Here is an excellent, thorough, and fairly spoiler-free website I found.