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"One of the great embarassments of modern science fiction…"
That's how the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction described this lumbering, nearly unreadable mass of words…and this description is sorely accurate. The so-called "satire" is a thinly disguised commercial for Scientology, as author L. Ron Hubbard plunges us into a world where super-hero Jettero Heller has to save the Earth, and ultimately the entire galaxy, from a devious plot to take over the Galactic Empire. What is this plot? Why, a massive conspiracy to use drugs, psychology, and psychiatry to enslave the population…which just happens to be exactly what Scientology is raving about. The "satirical" world presented in this series is frighteningly close to the way Scientologists are taught to look at the REAL world, which does a lot to explain the fear and paranoia gripping the organization.
The entire first book takes place on the planet Voltar, whose ruling council decides that Earth is in danger of polluting itself to death, which will interrupt their master "schedule" of galactic conquest, as an invasion of Earth is planned some time in the future. So an expedition is launched to save the planet, headed by the shining, pure, perfectly good James Bond-like agent Jettero Heller. However, Heller's mission to save Earth will likely throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the evil Lombar Hisst, who has been using Earth as a base to supply him with narcotic drugs; Hisst has been using these drugs to slowly enslave the entire Voltarian aristocracy and seize the throne of the Emperor of Voltar for himself. So Hisst puts his own plan into motion to stop Heller's mission, and that plan is headed by the narrator of the series: the incompetent, bumbling, greedy, cowardly, sadistic Soltan Gris. (Gris and Hisst work for a secret Voltarian organization called the Coordinated Information Apparatus, which happens to be made up of criminals taken from prison in order to work for the government. "CIA" – get it? Made up entirely of criminals – get it? About as subtle as a sledgehammer – get it?!?)
Hubbard's idea of satire is to tell the story from the point of view of Gris, and it's interesting to see how Gris' actions mirror Hubbard's own ideals. For instance, the first thing Gris does to stop Heller is to investigate Heller's past and look for any crimes the lily-white officer has committed, to use as blackmail material. When he can't find any (because Heller is perfect), he then tries to manufacture his own evidence against Heller…but fortunately, Gris is such an idiot that all of his schemes backfire on him. This pattern continues through the entire series: Gris tries to stop Heller, Gris screws up; Gris tries to stop Heller, Gris screws up, again and again and again. It would be funny to see Gris making a fool of himself, if the situations Hubbard threw him into weren't so repulsive. In the first book, for instance, Gris obtains blackmail material on a Voltarian official by hiring a child prostitute to "seduce" a pedophile politician, then use mind control to force the kid to blame the official for being raped. (Rapes happen quite frequently in this series, be warned.)
We're introduced to such wonderful characters as the Widow Tayl, a rich nympho woman whose importance becomes more apparent in the final books of the series. Her name, "Tayl" (think "tail") is one of many blatant puns used by Hubbard in a nodding, wink-wink way to show us how much he hates women. (Wait until Book 3 of the series, The Enemy Within, when Gris meets his concubine named "Utanc.") For the entire series, women are portrayed as either absolute sluts who'll spread their legs for anything at the drop of a hat, or cold, conniving bitches who'd hate men from the bottom of their hearts. In this first book, Jettero Heller meets the evil Countess Krak ("Krak" – what a clever pun!) and proceeds to turn her from evil to good…but even as a good guy, the Countess Krak is still dangerous and (in Gris' eyes) not to be trusted.
Speaking of sex: whether it's straight sex, strange deviant sex, or simply repulsive sex (by book six, Death Quest, the series has given us necrophilia and more rapes than you can shake a stick at), the reader should be aware that the frequent and all-pervasive sex scene in this series is described by Hubbard in possibly the strangest, most confusing, and certainly least erotic style I've ever read. In this story, you'll know sex is taking place because nearby objects will burst and explode whenever orgasms take place. At the moment of orgasm we see beer cans explode, wine bottles burst open, mirrors in the next room shatter, and nearby persons hearing this action will cheer and salute. Apparently Hubbard never had the courage to simply write a straightforward sex scene; thus, his use of over-the-top symbolism to describe it.
And we can't forget the censorship. An important running joke of the series is that all of the "bad words" in the story are censored out with "[bleep]." There's a statement at the book's introduction by a robot censor saying how important it was to block out all of the profanities in the book, and this continues for all ten books of the series. This is a setup for the series' final joke, which is revealed in the final book The Doomed Planet: the idea that some information is so dangerous and corrupt, it is better for the public to lock it away and use well-meaning censors to keep it hidden forever. (That sounds suspiciously like Scientology's own efforts to keep the story of Xenu hidden from public view.)
The first book is meant to lay the groundwork for the story to follow, and Hubbard is good at making sure every detail is important. But it would certainly help if the book – indeed, the entire series – moved at a faster pace. The Invaders Plan is the longest of all the books of the series, and the fact that it takes 450 pages of plodding tedium before the characters take off for Earth shows us that we're in for a long, long ride…and a lot of it is going to be drawn-out to the extreme.
I pity the poor souls deluded by Scientology…but as for Hubbard's "satirical" look at the world, I can certainly see why Scientology embarked in a massive campaign to buy huge quantities of these books in order to propel them onto the best-seller lists. That's the only way they could ever survive this long, without being forgotten as poorly-written pulp fiction from an author whose limelight faded decades ago.