Saturday, 1 September 2012

Fear & Typewriter in the Sky

L. Ron Hubbard Fear & Typewriter in the Sky (1940)

Yes, I know. I can't even remember how the conversation came about but at some point someone suggested I might like to circumnavigate my prejudice and investigate Typewriter in the Sky on the grounds of it being a darn good read. Naturally I was intrigued, and spent some time trying to find a decent paperback edition in preference to the huge more readily available and recent hardcover because I simply prefer traditional paperback dimensions. This proved surprisingly difficult, presumably due to Hubbard's innumerable fans snapping up his works like sacred texts, which I suppose in some senses they might be, but Bud Webster at last pointed me in the right direction.

I'm disinclined to get into Hubbard's later activities as it's pretty likely that everyone reading this will already have formed an opinion matching my own, but I tend to support Robert Heinlein's assertion that the man lacked a working moral compass, to put it in the most diplomatic terms, although that isn't to say that he wasn't an interesting character in himself. Received wisdom tends to view Hubbard through the lens of later activities, dismissing him as a third rate science-fiction hack who formed his own religion and got lucky.

For all the frowning this may inspire, the first part is actually and surprisingly untrue, at least on the strength of these two novellas. L. Ron Hubbard, as a writer, was pretty solid back in 1940, producing tightly plotted stories that felt more literature than pulp, and with some very strong ideas: Typewriter in the Sky is a tale of seventeenth century Caribbean pirates wherein the bad guy realises he's merely a character in a story; and Fear is hallucinatory weird fiction that must certainly have in part inspired The Twilight Zone and reads like the work of an earlier incarnation of Philip K. Dick or even Grant Morrison. Even given that both stories are quite clearly preoccupied with ideas that seem typical of an author who would go on to join Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis and to found dianetics, they are of quality sufficient to survive association with Hubbard's more recent activity.


  1. Thanks for that. I've often heard it said that "Fear" is the main evidence that LRH had some real talent.

  2. Definitely. I think of his church had been founded on some story a bit more like that rather than the thing with the DC10s and volcanoes well...