I’m not sure why I put myself through it, this self torturing, literary masochism. Last year it was the four books of the Twilight series, and now I have finished reading The Invaders Plan, the first of L. Ron Hubbard’s 10 volume Mission Earth series. It’s a book that the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction described as "One of the great embarrassments of modern science fiction…" I’ve seen them in nearly every library I’ve ever visited. Now I have finally challenged myself to read them. I’m not sure I can do it.
To begin, The Invaders Plan opens with a ham fisted preface that explains in painfully dull detail the history of satire. Hubbard wants his readers to understand that this book – that this whole series is social commentary. But a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it and satire isn’t funny or cutting or striking if you have to explain it that it’s satire.
Having finished Hubbard’s preface we enter the story proper – which begins with a preface from Lord Invay, the Royal Historian, and Chairman of the Board of Censors on the planet Voltar. So we, the readers of The Invaders Plan have to imagine a Voltarian reader for this story – a fiction within a fiction. Invay emphatically tells us (or, rather, tells his Voltarian reader) that the planet Earth is sensationalist fiction of the lowest kind.
On the authority of every highly placed official in the land I can assure you utterly and finally, THERE IS NO PLANET EARTH! And that is final!Then there is a third preface by the (fictional) robot translator who explains that the Voltarian narrative has been translated into “Earth Language” (which is used to justify the abundance of earth clichés …) So we are now asked to imagine a Volatarian reader who is imagining an Earthling reader…
This could be an interesting concept but it isn’t handled well. It only confuses the story and serves to weaken the impact of the whole point – the point that has been hammered away in three prefaces – that this is satire.
And the poor writing doesn’t help either. I mentioned in my comments on Battlefield Earth that Hubbard needed to strike the word “had” from his vocabulary. The same holds true for The Invaders Plan. I don’t think that Hubbard ever met a passive verb that he didn’t love.
Outside, in the dimness of the hanger, I tried to move my arm. It was totally unresponsive. It would swing and dangle but the elbow and wrist would not bend at my command. The fingers would not flex. I felt I was done for!The story is told as first person narrative and is an account of the life and crimes of Solatan Gris. Gris tells his story from a cell in hopes of earning clemency for his crimes. Gris is an operative for the Coordinated Information Apparatus (CIA – get it?) charged with a mission on the planet Earth.
Considerations that the mission was again stalled, that I was under threat of death from Lombar, that I could lose my paychecks and be cashiered and wind up as a gutter bum in Slum City were all acute enough. But they momentarily took second place to this arm.
The Voltarian leaders plan to use earth as a supply base in their conquest of the universe. It has come to their attention, however, that the inhabitants of the planet Earth are too ignorant to take care of the place and are in the process of destroying the planet. Gris is charged to go to the planet Earth and to halt this self destruction so that the Volatarian fleet can, in the near future, occupy it.
But Gris is also charged by the Apparatus chief, Lombar Hiss with another secret mission. Lombar has been using his contacts on Earth to supply him with drugs and psychiatrists so that he can launch his own coup d’état and take control of the Voltarin confederation. (If there were two things Hubbard hated they were drugs and psychologists) Lombar wants Gris to protect his drug supply.
But Gris is a complete failure. He is bumbling at every turn, incompetent, cowardly, arrogant, rude, and lazy. How he could plausibly be given responsibility in any organization strains my ability to suspend disbelief. There is no invasion in The Invaders Plan. There is no plan in The Invaders Plan! Gris spends 556 pages trying to manipulate the members of his team into leaving the planet Voltar. There is very little movement in the plot but lots of meandering through irrelevant and pointless action.
I’m going to try to get through the other volumes of Mission Earth. This is my literary flagellation. This is my mortification. I will read bad books; I will wear them as a hair shirt. I will become a better writer.