While at BEA, I met some representatives (by which I mean pirates, see picture below) from Galaxy Press, which is dedicated to republishing L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction in quality paperbacks and audiobooks. They offered to send me a copy of “The Great Secret” in exchange for an honest review.
When reading early pulp fiction, you’ll be disappointed if you expect masterpieces of literature with deep layers of meaning. Don’t go in with that expectation. Instead, you can look forward to reading grand adventures that are light-hearted and don’t take themselves too seriously. In this respect, Hubbard’s work calls to mind that of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
This collection contains four stories: The Great Secret, Space Can, The Beast, and The Slaver.
The Great Secret is the story of a man named Fanner Marston, an adventurer seeking riches and glory. Mankind has discovered space travel, but is limited by the fact that their ships can only safely make aquatic landings. However, an extinct civilization in the city of Parva had once possessed this knowledge, and Marston sets out across the dessert to uncover their greatest secrets. The ending of the story is quite satisfying.
The second story, Space Can, was my favorite in the collection. Americans have begun to pioneer space, and one of it’s ships is involved in an epic battle. Even though they’re outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned, the crew of the Menace will fight to the death to defend themselves.
My initial reaction to The Beast was that it reminded me vaguely of a shorter pulp fiction version of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” even though it’s far less serious in tone. The main character, Ginger Cranston, is an explorer on Venus. He’s set himself up as the ruler of a group of natives known as the blues. However, he loses their respect when a great Beast begins picking off people who were supposed to be under his protection. Angered and afraid, Ginger Cranston resolves to hunt and destroy the Beast.
The final story, The Slaver, is about a prince named Kree Lorin who is captured by slavers. He finds himself imprisoned alongside Dana, a peasant girl whom he had unsuccessfully tried to seduce. Neither is entirely comfortable with their fate, and so they stage a daring escape. I didn’t like this one quite as much as the others. I thought that it made light of a very serious topic. I also found myself thinking that Kree Lorin needed a lesson in humility and that a bit longer on the ship might have done him some good. He’s a bit of an arrogant ass, and I found myself rooting for Dana rather than for him.
This collection is enjoyable if you’re looking for something that isn’t too serious, but is definitely entertaining. Even though these stories were originally published in the early 1940s, they don’t feel dated and are still relevant to modern audiences. They make good bathtub reading. The audiobook version is also enjoyable and tries to mimic an old-fashioned radio show, but I found myself mostly sticking to the paperback because I discovered that I have a tendency to zone out when listening to audio books, no matter how interesting they may be.
I’d been curious about Hubbard’s writing ever since I learned that he was a sci-fi writer (let’s face it, the fact that he was a pulp fiction writer gets overshadowed by the fact that he founded Scientology), and I’m definitely glad that I decided to give his stories a chance.
To the right you can see me with a pirate from Galaxy Press. This photo is tiny, because I am not particularly photogenic at nine in the morning. Also, I look like a crazy bag lady. I promise I’m not like that all the time.