A Pulp Magazine Genius for all Seasons is profiled by Thomas McNulty…
Although L. Ron Hubbard is best known as the author of the science fiction classics Battlefield Earth, Final Blackout, and To the Stars, his literary output included a wide range of genres. Little known among these fantastic tales are his many stories of the French Foreign Legion, his Westerns, and his air-adventure tales. So prolific was Hubbard during the heyday of the pulp fiction era that he utilized over fifteen pen names, which resulted in the occasional magazine carrying more than one of his stories in the same month.
Among his French Foreign Legion stories are numerous memorable characters, plenty of action, strong images, and even a dollop or two of romance. Stories such as “Hell’s Legionnaire,” “The Barbarians,” and “The Squad That Never Came Back” feature characters that are cut from the cloth of the American experience. Tales of the French Foreign Legion were once commonplace in the magazine market, and Hubbard swiftly proved that he could write a rousing tale that kept readers on the edge of their seats. L. Ron Hubbard, himself a barnstorming pilot, wrote from experience and produced a wealth of exciting air-adventure tales. In fact, Hubbard sometimes used strong female characters in the male-oriented pulp magazine industry. One such character, Pam Craig in “The Sky-Crasher,” is a feisty lady and equally as talented at the controls of a plane as Caution Jones, the daredevil pilot who takes her on as copilot in a round-the-world air race with agents from a rival company trying to sabotage their every move. This riveting, fast-paced classic from 1936 is sure to please fans of aviation’s daring women pilots.
In “Sky Bird’s Dare,” Breeze Callahan meets Patty Donegan who is typical of Hubbard’s heroines: intelligent, charismatic, and determined to stand by her man. Equally fascinating in “Sky Bird’s Dare” is Hubbard’s love of flying. It comes across on every page of this story: “He was the sailing ship of the sky and even the frigate birds which skimmed along with him, staring at him with beady eyes and wondering what right this thing had taking up their especial function and their special air, were moved to awed admiration.” There are numerous such passages where Hubbard makes it clear that flying was a pure joy for him.
Hubbard’s Westerns are another matter. His contribution to Horse Operas was substantial and included over 30 major stories of varying length, from short tales to novelettes, and several full-length novels. His Westerns range from traditional action stories, such as “Branded Outlaw,” to humorous romances such as “When Gilhooly Was in Flower” and “Tinhorn’s Daughter,” to hard-boiled stories like “Devil’s Manhunt” and “Shadows from Boot Hill”; the latter story includes a fusion of fantasy that today is labeled by its sub-genre title of “Weird Western.” With genre writing as his bread and butter, Hubbard not only mastered a wide range of genres, but he sometimes fused them, anticipating some literary trends by half a century.
In Spy Killer, a 1936 espionage thriller, readers will encounter this line involving the mysterious Russian woman Varinka Savischna: “The steam which rose from her cup of tea was not less elusive than the quality of her eyes.” Mere pages later in “Spy Killer,” when readers encounter the evil Lin Wang, Hubbard renders him thus: “Several great wrinkles lay like old scars against the cruel visage like ravines in a relief map.” The immediacy of his prose pulled readers into the story and demonstrates Hubbard’s deft handling of character development.
Hubbard’s popularity elicited a fan letter from a young Isaac Asimov who took personal delight in Hubbard’s tales. Indeed, many writers including Stephen King, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, Neil Gaiman, David Farland, Frederick Pohl, and Roger Zelazny, to name but a few, have acknowledged Hubbard’s immense talent. Hubbard’s many stories offer a timeless appeal that resonates today. His clipped, imagistic prose, exotic locales, and powerful sense for dramatic situations, make L. Ron Hubbard’s stories unique in all of adventure fiction.
The titles alone will whet the appetite of fiction fans looking for an escape into Hubbard’s fantastic world of adventure: “The Phantom Patrol,” “Twenty Fathoms Down,” “Arctic Wings,” “Tomb of the Ten Thousand Dead,” “Forbidden Gold,” and “The Carnival of Death” are among his many sophisticated, escapist tales. Jam-packed with tough guys and heroes, femmes fatales and voluptuous damsels, L. Ron Hubbard’s amazing worlds are a testament to his dedication to the art of storytelling.