Monday, July 4, 2011

Beginnings of a Pulp Fiction Writer

Every great science fiction or fantasy writer has to get his or her start somewhere. Jules Verne, the "father" of science fiction, first exercised his literary talent as co-author of a comic opera libretto, Colin-Millard, in 1848, and saw his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, published in 1863.

Stephen King's earliest stories were presented in his brother's mimeographed periodical, Dave's Rag, leading to the serialized, "I Was a Teenage Grave Robber," published over several issues of the 1965 fanzine Comics Review. His first novel, Carrie, released in 1974, was an international best seller. Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the bestselling Mists of Avalon, got her start with the publication of "Falcons of Narabedia" in the May 1957 issue of Other Worlds. Inauspicious as they were, these maiden publications marked the beginnings for some of the most successful and popular writers in the history of science fiction writing.

And so it was with L. Ron Hubbard, whose first published work, Tah, appeared in the school newspaper of George Washington University in 1932. A tale of military adventure, more akin to Rudyard Kipling than Jules Verne, it is the story of Tah, a 12-year-old soldier in the Chinese army, forced to undertake a grueling march to a terrifying battle site at which the young combatant loses his life in grisly fashion. In what is clearly an early work, the seeds of Hubbard's brilliance for characterization can clearly be seen, as the author takes pains to delve into the psyche of the young man, exploring his hopes for a future as a general, his compassion regarding friends whose families have been torn apart by the war, and his excruciating pain as he is forced to march without respite to a site that will eventually claim his life.

The ending particularly, in which Hubbard details Tah's last moments - "A huge face leered in back of a bayonet. The bayonet was coming nearer, nearer. The bayonet was long, a thousand miles long. There was red on the end. Tah felt the icy, burning steel rasp against the bones in his chest..." - is particularly effective, demonstrating Hubbard's talent for making a fictional moment real, and drawing the reader inexorably into the action on the page.

Hubbard first entered the field of pulp publishing, the field in which he would make his most indelible mark in the world of fiction, with the tale of The Green God, which saw print in the February 1934 issue of Thrilling Adventures magazine. This story, which could well have served as the inspiration for both Indiana Jones and James Bond, sees Naval Intelligence Agent Bill Malone in a desperate quest to recover a sacred idol - the Green God of the title - and avert a cataclysmic disaster that threatens to overwhelm the Chinese city of Tientsin. A rip-roaring adventure yarn, it's a page-turner from beginning to end.

Although largely remembered as a science fiction author, Hubbard tended to concentrate on Adventure and Western stories during his earliest years as a writer, with the occasional Mystery/ Detective tale thrown in for good measure. In April 1936, however, Hubbard turned to the fantasy genre, contributing the short story "The Death Flyer" to the pages of Fantasy Magazine, a haunting ghost story about a man who inexplicably finds himself aboard a spectral locomotive. Although Hubbard's contributions to the horror genre were minimal; this bone-chilling tale is a top-notch thriller.

In July 1938, in Astounding Science Fiction, Hubbard entered the sci-fi genre with the fascinating short story, "The Dangerous Dimension." In this imaginative story, Professor Henry Mudge discovers "Equation C," a mathematical formula that allows for instantaneous teleportation with the merest thought. Unfortunately, Mudge discovers he has no control over the process, teleporting uncontrollably to Paris, the surface of the Moon, and even the water-filled canals of Mars before struggling to discover "Equation D," which will allow him to stop the frequent unwanted travels that have come to bedevil his life. Light-hearted and fun, the story reveals Hubbard's talent for exploring the fringes of reality and the effect those fringes could have on regular human beings. Mudge is not a superman, or a great interplanetary warrior, but a simple professor who stumbles onto a great secret with spectacular results. Hubbard emphasizes Mudge's humanity, and invites the reader to share in his terror and uncertainty in the face of a power he is unable to control.

Fortunately for lovers of great storytelling everywhere, Galaxy Press has committed to bringing all of Hubbard's pulp short stories and novellas - from Tah onward - to print in a handsome series of paperbacks and an impressive series of fully-produced audio dramas. Hubbard was a writer comfortable in a wide variety of genres, so there's something for everyone in this welcome series. Whether you're a fan of science fiction, fantasy, adventure, mysteries, Westerns, or any other pulp genre, you owe it to yourself to acquaint yourself with master wordsmith L. Ron Hubbard.

John E. Petty is working to reintroduce Stories from the Golden Age, a line of 80 books and multi-cast, unabridged audio books, featuring 153 stories written by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1930s and 1940s. Click here to view the "Spy Killer trailer;

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