Literature: Battlefield Earth
In an even more professorial voice, already deep and roaring enough, Terl repeated his thought. "Man is an endangered species."
Char glowered at him. "What in the name of diseased crap are Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000
— Battlefield Earth, Part 1, Chapter 1
is a 1982 science fiction novel written by L. Ron Hubbard
about Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, one of the last humans left on Earth after an Alien Invasion
by the sadistic, corporate
Psychlos. After growing frustrated with life in his miserable mountain village, Jonnie strikes on his own only to be captured by Terl, a "clever, not intelligent
" Psychlo with a scheme to get rich by having human slaves mine gold for him. Jonnie is taught the Psychlos' language and masters the aliens' technology, but when the time comes to capture more workers he convinces them to help overthrow the aliens and liberate the planet. With the aid of this band of warrior Scots
, Jonnie leads a daring attack that simultaneously strikes at the Psychlo homeworld even as it crushes the alien occupiers.
That's the first third or so of the book. After that Jonnie has to deal with Psychlo POWs, a bitter political rival allied with Terl and a neo-neo-Nazi
, other extraterrestrial forces eager to swoop in on a vulnerable Earth, and alien debt collectors trying to repossess the planet, all while cracking the secrets of Psychlo mathematics.Battlefield Earth
made it to the top of numerous bestseller listsnote
, but critical response was less than enthusiastic, citing the novel's length
, and characters
. Nevertheless, the idea of making a movie
persisted until finally being realized in the year 2000, starring John Travolta
(who personally bankrolled the project), Forest Whitaker
, and Barry Pepper. It was a pretty spectacular bomb, but you can read about its tropes here
if you're after some Snark Bait
The novel contains examples of:
- After the End: Mankind's cities are in ruins, and there are only scattered bands of humanity left.
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated: The Psychlos create no art nor do they have a sense of aesthetics, but they do appreciate others' art in the most commercial sense - they kept the Chinkos around partially to sell off their paintings. Played straight later when other alien diplomats pay good spacebucks for a Chinese family's paintings and knickknacks.
- Alien Invasion: Once by the Psychlos in the backstory, while over the course of the book the heroes have to deal with a host of other alien races having a go at Earth.
- Alternative Number System: The Psychlos use a base-11 system.
- Alternate Universe: Psychlo is in another universe where natural laws are slightly different from ours. That alone meant the book made a little more sense than the film.
- Always Chaotic Evil: We're supposed to view the Psychlo race as such, but keep reading...
- Author Appeal: You get the sense this was L. Ron's attempt to write an Animal Farm exposing the imminent dangers of psychiatry.
- Author Avatar: The earliest covers portrayed Jonny Goodboy Tyler as having a close physical resemblance to none other than L. Ron Hubbard himself. Later editions have Jonnie more closely resembling Barry Bostwick in the film Megaforce, with just a hint of Chuck Norris.
- Author Tract:The evil "Psychlos" controlled by a "medical scientist cult" called the "catrists" are straightforward enough, but they even had a human doctor condescend about human psychiatry, which he described as some sort of cult that had existed in Earth before the coming of the Psychlos.
- Berserk Button: Ask a Psychlo about learning their mathematics and the males are conditioned to go into a homicidal rage before killing themselves, while females just slip into a coma.
- Beta Couple: Pattie and Bittie MacLeod, also Puppy Love.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The Psychlo are famous for the "breathe-gas" they respire and its explosive reaction to radiation, but that's only the start. They don't have lips or eyelids, but "mouthbones" and "eyebones." The top half of their skull is mostly bone, leaving their brains squished down against their spinal column, and their hearts aren't behind their ribcage, but down towards their belt buckles. Also, they are composed of viruses.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: Terl spends at least two whole sections of the book coming up with "leverage" over his coworkers.
- Braids, Beads and Buckskins: The everyday clothing of Jonnie and his tribe.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Terl at one point thanks "the evil gods," the sole mention of Psychlo theology.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Little Bittie gets Little Pattie a locket with "To my future wife" inscribed on it.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Terl in particular and the Psychlos in general, to the point that you may wonder how their society functions at all.
- City in a Bottle: Jonnie's miserable home village, holed up in an irradiated mountain valley that keeps them safe from alien attack while slowly killing them.
- Concept Album: L. Ron Hubbard composed a companion music album called Space Jazz: The Soundtrack of the Book "Battlefield Earth" in 1982, billed as "the only original sound track ever produced for a book before it becomes a movie."
- Cool Horse: Windsplitter, Jonnie's faithful steed. He even gets a Psychlo kill or two!
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: A trait of Terl and other Psychlo business executives, but averted with the Selachee bankers, whose hat is banking with absolute honesty. It is nothing personal, "banking is banking. And business is business."
- Curb-Stomp Battle: In the backstory, the most resistance the humans put up during the Psychlo invasion was a bunch of Air Force cadets who held out for three hours.
- Custom Uniform: For his meeting with representatives from other planets, Jonnie's Chinese chamberlain whips up a black and silver outfit complete with a shiny dragon helmet, which combined with his new Sir Francis Drake haircut and some cheesy theatrics manages to awe the alien diplomats into taking him seriously.
- Deflector Shields: The Psychlos use something they call "atmosphere armor," which is not a force field, but something that aligns the atoms in the air into an impenetrable barrier. Unfortunately for them, they do not use these things enough.
- Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The humans lace their ammunition with radioactive material, since the "breathe-gas" Psychlos use for air explodes if it encounters so much as a "single isotope" of uranium.
- Depopulation Bomb: In the backstory, a single Psychlo gas drone was able to wipe out most of humanity. Terl's back-up plan involves getting the same gas drone to finish the job.
- Deus Ex Nukina: When your enemy has a ridiculous vulnerability to radiation, what else are you gonna try to sneak onto their home planet?
- Doorstopper: The hardcover edition clocks in at a whopping 1,083 pages, making just finishing the book a feat in itself.
- The Dung Ages: Jonnie's tribe in particular has forgotten how to work metal. The Scots at least know how to make swords, and make allusions to some sort of "underground" university.
- Earth Is a Battlefield: You'd think so, given the title, but no. The great uprising against the Psychlos consists of a one-sided ground assault against the main mining base and fifteen planes splitting up to strafe the other fifteen bases. When other aliens invade later, fighting is centered around bases in Africa, Russia and Scotland, and is primarily an air war.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Humanity wins the war by teleporting nuclear "planet buster" bombs to the Psychlo homeworld. Since the greedy Psychlo have mined their home planet to the extent that its riddled with abandoned shafts and tunnels, this results in a chain reaction that turns the planet into an immense fireball. Jonnie wonders if he's turned the planet into a new star.
- Explosive Leash: Not on Jonnie or the other workers, but for the hostages, Chrissie and Pattie.
- Final Speech: Bittie is able to linger on despite being almost bisected by machinegun fire, while Jonnie spends time cutting down Brigantes by the score, just so he can give his hero some anguished last words.
- Government Drug Enforcement: The catrists implant all Psychlo pups with a device that either drives them to suicide or puts them in a coma if they try to reveal technological secrets. As a side effect it warps their brains to stimulate pleasure centers when they do evil deeds, but the catrists are fine with that.
- False Reassurance: Terl tries, bless him, but pulling this off right requires subtlety and charisma, while Terl may as well have told his would-be victims "the present I just gave you is a bomb."
- The Greys: The Selachees are a sharky version.
- Happily Ever After: Complete with castle. At least, for a while.
- Heel-Face Turn: Ker as well as other Psychlos, once Jonnie figures out how to extract the mind-control devices.
- Heroic Sacrifice: One of the Scottish pilots makes a kamikaze run on an alien carrier, but in a subversion, actually causes as much trouble as he ends after the doomed ship crashes near the humans' base and threatens its generators.
- Heroic Willpower: Jonnie attributes his recovery from brain damage to this.
- Hide Your Children: We never see Psychlo "pups," since Psychlos sent offworld to work are sterilized first. And of course because Jonnie killed the rest of them when he blew up planet Psychlo.
- Humans Are Morons: Most Psychlo workers aren't convinced the near-extinct humans are even sentient, and Terl's constant underestimation of his captives' capabilities has disastrous consequences for his race.
- Humans Are Special: In sixteen universes and hundreds of thousands of years of history, no other race managed to defeat the Psychlos and crack their technology, then go on to usurp them as rulers of the universes. All in two years or so, no less.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Brigantes, a mongrel tribe of former mercenaries sent to Africa Just Before the End, have an innovative approach to food shortages, paychecks, and burials.
- Invincible Hero: Ah, Jonnie. Best pilot on the planet. Strong enough to bludgeon a bear to death with a gun and toss Psychlos around three at a time. Tactical and technical genius. Any setbacks he encounters are due to conditions beyond his control, and only temporary.
- In Working Order: Averted, as it takes Jonnie and his followers months of training before they can use Psychlo equipment effectively.
- Just Between You and Me: Credit where it is due, Terl waits until an enemy is in his coffin to gloat and make self-incriminating statements for Jonnie to record.
- Kid Sidekick: Bittie MacLeod desperately wants to be Jonnie's squire, while Chrissie's little sister Pattie (eight years old) tags along when Chrissie ventures into the wilderness in search of Jonnie.
- Low Culture, High Tech: The Psychlo's and the humans.
- Made of Explodium: The "breathe-gas" Psychlos respire has an extreme reaction to even minute amounts of radiation.
- Mass Teleportation: In the wake of the gas drone attack, the Psychlos teleported tanks and infantry to mop up the survivors.
- Meaningful Funeral: At the start of the book, the lack of one for Jonnie's father is what tips us off that his fellow villagers are hopelessly passive, while Jonnie's efforts to get one show how he is a man of action. Also unfortunately an Establishing Character Moment where we see him coldly bully his family and neighbors into doing what he wants.
- Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: In all fairness, Jonnie wasn't trying to destroy every planet in the Psychlo Empire with a nuclear chain reaction. He just wanted to nuke the hell out of the teleporter site on Psychlo and got more boom than was expected.
- MST: a spork right here http://battlefieldspork.blogspot.com/
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Soft. We know that Psychlo teleportation works by swapping two patches of space, but not how a control console manages to bring this about.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Ker, the non-evil Psychlo. Turns out he was rescued after being left to die as a pup, and thus never got those catrist implants.
- National Stereotypes: The Scots are all claymore-wielding kilt-wearing Bravehearts, Russians drink vodka and still hang onto old Soviet traditions, Swiss-Germans are all master craftsmen or bankers (in a post-apocalyptic world where most tribes have not yet rediscovered metal!), the Frenchman faints at the sight of even a dead Psychlo, the Chinese family are experts on protocol and courtly manners who have been waiting for a new emperor to serve for a thousand years, and the mongrel tribe from Africa is a bunch of primitive cannibals.
- Never Found the Body: Terl dies off-screen in a teleporter accident, when he attempts to teleport into what is now a sun, so there really shouldn't be any body. Thankfully, he doesn't make a miraculous reappearance and stays good and dead for the rest of the book.
- Not Always Evil: Turns out if you remove a Psychlos' mind control implants, they can be pretty amiable. Unfortunately, Jonnie only figures out how to do this after exterminating the majority of the race and dooming the sterilized survivors to extinction.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Psychlos are constantly screwing each other over with obscure rules, and after some blunders by Terl the company's home office just ignores any further missives from him.
- One-Man Army:
- Jonnie cuts down about two dozen Brigantes in a single ambush, receiving only superficial wounds in return, and they were ambushing him.
- Because teleportation aircraft are superior to reaction aircraft, able to instantly accelerate to their desired speed and alter heading, even mediocre pilots can shoot down dozens of enemy planes. All the human pilots rack up kill counts well beyond their own numbers.
- Peace Through Superior Firepower: Jonnie combines the knowledge of the Psychlos' "ultimate bomb" and teleportation to threaten any alien aggressors with annihilation. After a few token complaints, they decide they are fine with this.
- Pistol-Whipping: Jonnie clubs an attacking bear to death with Terl's blaster, and at no point attempts to fire the thing. Justifiable, as he grew up as an illiterate hunter whose weapon-of-choice (even LONG after he's introduced to guns and alien tech) were his "kill-clubs". He's spent his whole life bashing things, not shooting them, so it's naturally his first instinct.
- Planet Looters: The Psychlos actually searched Earth's ruins on foot, prying out every last gold filling from the corpses littering the ground.
- Planet of Hats: The Psychlos have a racial mining fetish, to the point that their number system has a mining motif, their mass transit is set up like minecarts, and their entire existence is based around selling resources to fund the next invasion to capture more resources. The Selachee have a banking empire spread across the universes, the Tolneps are rapacious slavers, and the dearly departed Chinko were professional simpering slaves.
- Posthumous Character: We only learn about the sinister catrists at the very end of the story, long, long after Jonnie's unknowingly killed them.
- Private Military Contractors: The Brigantes' ancestors were a multinational paramilitary force sent to Africa just before the end to overthrow some post-colonial governments on behalf of international banking interests. They were overlooked during the apocalypse, interbred with the locals, and over a thousand years regressed to a bunch of cannibals still waiting for someone to give them a paycheck.
- Psychic Powers: Terl believes Jonnie and "his mate" share a psychic bond, when in reality Jonnie just has some men checking on Chrissie's condition.
- Punch Clock Villain: Though the Psychlos are an evil race (thanks to the Catrists) all the ones on Earth (except for Terl) are just blue-collar miners working a dig site. They have no interest in humanity or ruling/oppressing the planet.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: A library Jonnie visits was preserved by Chinko sociologists for study, and the Tommy guns he outfits his men with had been sealed in grease and buried for a millennium. Yet the humans find books and scraps of paper in other places, are able to renovate ruins that should have crumbled away centuries ago, and spruce up tactical nukes from an old bunker without too much trouble.
- Riding into the Sunset: In the end, after overthrowing the Psychlos, being hailed as the hero of multiple universes, and becoming obscenely rich, Jonnie escapes into the frontier with his family in search of a simpler life.
- Rival Turned Evil: Brown Limper Staffor, Jonnie's bitterly jealous neighbor, tries to usurp Earth's new government, and keeps trying to kill Jonnie over imagined slights. For his part, Jonnie puts Brown Limper pretty low on his list of priorities.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Many aliens described are humanoid, with a few animal-like characteristics or missing/rearranged facial features.
- Space Jews: Besides the Selachee, a race of shark-descended bankers who try to repossess the planet, we are also introduced to the Chinkos, a race of effeminate, intelligent, subservient aliens enslaved, and subsequently exterminated by the Psychlos.
- Stealth Pun: The Selachee, the race of gray-skinned extreme omnivores, are the universe's premier bankers. They are literally loan sharks.
- Subspace Ansible: Averted, with disastrous consequences for the Psychlo Empire. Communications and cargo can only be exchanged with a teleporter, and the rules of teleportation means that each Psychlo base only has a few scheduled hours each year to make contact with the capital. So when Jonnie blows up the Psychlo homeworld, every other Psychlo planet, one after another, tries to open a teleporter link into what is effectively a sun.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Turns out in a thousand years, the only person on the planet who remembers Hitler thinks he was a military genius and God's chosen instrument to usher in an era of peace and righteousness.
- Too Dumb to Live: The Chinkos. Yeah, if you're enslaved by an empire that regularly wipes out planetary populations in the name of loot, trying to go on strike is a bad idea.
- Translation Convention: A footnote mentions that all units of measurement have been converted into Earth standards.
- Unusual Euphemism: The Psychlos use "crunch" or "crunching" as an expletive.
- Upgrade Artifact: The Psychlos have technology that beams pure knowledge into your brain via your skin, allowing Jonnie to become an Instant Expert.
- Villain Ball: As early as the first chapter it is made clear that Terl is ambitious, scheming, and well-educated, but still a dumbass, which other characters point out to him.
- Villain Team-Up: Brown Limper allies himself with Terl, a Swedish neo-neo-Nazi, and the Brigantes in order to get some payback against Jonnie.
- Villainous Breakdown: Not to imply that Terl had much to fall from, but he begins to lose his sanity from paranoia when he becomes convinced that a government agent has infiltrated the workforce while investigating him. Turns out the guy was on the run and had no idea what was going on.
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: The Psychlo have drone mining devices to operate in extreme conditions, but are apparently too cheap to use them on a planet with irradiated areas, thus allowing the plot to happen.
- We Will Use WikiWords In The Future: Gems such as "man-animal," "kill-club," "breathe-gas," "picto-camera," "compo-gradients," "crap-lousy" and "rat-brain" will hurt the same the first and five hundredth time you read them.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: Averted. Gold is highly-valued in all sixteen known universes, so once the Psychlos nabbed the Voyager probe and noticed that the coordinates to Earth were on a gold-plated disc, the promise of shiny yellow rocks was worth funding a planetary invasion.
- You Have Waited Long Enough: The threat of this happening helps spur Chrissie into setting out in search of Jonnie even before the year of waiting is up.
- You No Take Candle: The Brigantes' accent.
Rifftrax: "Man is an endangered species?" The popularity of this novel indicates that this could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.