Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Four By Hubbard

One of the interesting things the Country Inn & Suites chain does is stock a "lobby library" with "read and return" books. Lots of kids books, a few current or near-current best-sellers, that kind of thing. The last Country Inn I stayed at (outside Columbus OH several months back) had the David Lodge novella I reviewed in a previous post, and four entries in the L. Ron Hubbard Stories From The Golden Age series of pulp reprints. Since each one was a different genre, I decided to grab copies of all four and finally give ol' L-Ron a fair shake. Here's what I thought:

Book 48: Spy Killer by L.Ron Hubbard, isbn 9781592123025, 121 pages, Galaxy Press, $9.95

An American sailor on a ship in Shanghai Harbor is accused of a crime he didn't commit. He manages to escape and gets caught up in a spy-and-criminal plot involving tensions between the Chinese and Japanese and two beautiful women: an American ingenue and a Russian femme fatale. This was my least favorite. I struggled with Hubbard's tendency to refer to every character by their full name every time they appear. It's always Kurt Reid, Varinka Savischna, Anne Carsten, Lin Wang. Even when they refer to each other, it's by full names and never just first names. It was so distracting that it's all I can remember of the story -- I know tensions mount and all comes out well in the end for Our Hero, but at this point I can't even tell you if he ends up with either of the women. I was actually afraid, having read this one first, to continue on to the others.

Book 49: Under The Black Ensign by L.Ron Hubbard, isbn 9781592123391, 121 pages, Galaxy Press, $9.95

Thankfully, the effort to crack the cover on this one was worth it. This is classic pulp and without the over-stiff writing of Spy Killer. Tom Bristol is an American press-ganged into service on a British Man O'War in the 1600s Caribbean, the heyday of pirates. Threatened with disciplinary action by a cruel captain and provincial governor, Bristol gladly jumps to the pirate side of things when the Man O'War is attacked. There is a love-interest that for a few fleeting moments seemed like it might be an actual gay romance but of course turns out to be a woman disguised as a young boy. The dialogue is classically Pulp but also a bit snappy. I had fun reading this one.

Book 50: Six-Gun Caballero by L.Ron Hubbard, isbn 9781592122998, 121 pages, Galaxy Press, $9.95

Half-Irish, Half-Mexican Michael Patrick Obanon finds his ranch in the New Mexico territory slipping out from under him when the border with Mexico shifts and all Spanish Land Grants are nullified. Desperadoes move in and try to take over the ranch, not realizing "don Michael" is actually the property's owner. He plays a fun Zorro-like game with them (without ever donning an mask and costume) that puts not just his own life but the lives of his tenants at risk if everything doesn't play out just right. Another fun outing. I could see a young Antonio Banderas as Michael Patrick. There are certain plot similarities with Black Ensign, which just shows that Hubbard was cranking these things out by formula (and either hoping, or not caring, that no-one would notice if the same basic plot showed up in different genres).

Book 51: If I Were You by L.Ron Hubbard, isbn 9781592123599, 121 pages, Galaxy Press, $9.95

This is an odd little fantasy story. A cadaverous fortune-teller leaves all of his books of arcane lore to the circus' midget, who discovers the ability to "transsubstantiate" his consciousness into other people's bodies. Many many complications arise, as he discovers that being someone else is not so much better than being himself. This one actually tries to impart a moral of sorts. I liked the concept, but would rank this third out of four if I had to put these books in order of enjoyment.

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