Reviewed date: 2009 Aug 5
I'm a fan of L. Ron Hubbard, but I don't deify him. That's why Algis Budrys's introduction to this edition of Final Blackout tries my patience.
Apparently, Hubbard singlehandedly saved the struggling Astounding magazine by writing Final Blackout to be serialized in the magazine. Furthermore, he wrote this masterpiece of brilliant satire when he was only--only--28 years old. Budrys goes on:
The "young" "naive" L. Ron Hubbard had a disturbingly apt way of cutting through the pretensions of those who claimed to know best. ... Other writers in the field could write convincingly of "future war"; Hubbard's novel, however, had the extra ring of truth in countless details that none of his contemporaries could display. What's more, it was written from a level of political sophistication that was not hinted at again in speculative literature until George Orwell's postwar Nineteen Eighty-Four. ... The answer to how this "young" Hubbard was able to bring this off is that he was uncommonly sophisticated and sharply educated in the best senses of those terms.
But that's not all. Budrys writes about Hubbard himself:
Some of his fellow authors even wrote stories in which he figured as a leading character, under thin disguises. All of them speak of him as a commanding figure, magnetic and full of gusto, standing at center-stage wherever these writers gathered in what has become known as the "Golden Age" of science fiction. He was a proven veteran of what was called "fictioneering," while most of them were yet novices...and he was still in his twenties.
Verily, a god among men.
With that kind of introduction, not even Jesus could deliver. Hubbard doesn't stand a chance. Final Blackout is a hackneyed story crippled by uninteresting characters and a crude, sophomoric understanding of politics. Hubbard envisions Europe torn by decades of continual warfare. One man, the Lieutenant, rallies what is left of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Europe. He sails back to Britain and overthrows the cruel communist regime. The Lieutenant rules as a benevolent dictator who improves everything by getting rid of politics and politicians. *sigh* Then he sacrifices himself to secure Britain's independence when the Americans come nosing around in Europe.
So, Hubbard's "political sophistication" boils down to this: if we just got rid of politicians and politics, this world would work so much better. Um, yeah. Except, you know, not everybody agrees on everything. That's why we form factions and try to advance our preferred policies. It's impossible to have a human society without politics.
At no point did I enjoy Final Blackout.