Since I mentioned this novel recently — and because I still don’t have any new reviews written, you get this.
Raw Feed (1998): Final Blackout, L. Ron Hubbard, 1940, 2991.
Algis Budry’s “Introduction” is somewhat incredulous about Hubbard’s purported accomplishments but has interesting things to say about this novel’s importance. Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941 (March through May I believe), this novel is remarkable. It’s not just a novel of future war. They existed before this novel. Budrys finds the novel original in its political sophistication. He explicitly compares it to George Orwell’s 1984 which was to come years later. (Though he doesn’t specifically mention it, both feature worlds under the thumb of constantly warring totalitarian states.) It was also one of the first (maybe the first) US novel to feature US Marines suppressing the “hero”.
Hubbard’s own “Preface” is for the 1948 postwar edition of his novel. (Unfortunately, I don’t know how it varies from the magazine edition.) Hubbard’s account of the controversy around the novel (he was called a Fascist and a Communist) is true. But the preface is a bit too fulsome and coy. Still, as Hubbard points out, when he wrote this novel Britain banned its publication and was not Socialist (as it became post war) and Russia was sitting out the war. It also predicted (no great trick) civilian casualties and atomic warfare (H. G. Wells did that first). His most awkward moment is when he thinks most of the novel’s critics were Communists.
This novel stands, I suspect, at the fount of modern military science fiction. There were certainly future war stories before. H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds springs to mind immediately. But the modern incarnation of military men in science fiction, the no-nonsense mercenaries of David Drake and Jerry Pournelle immediately come to mind, probably all go back to Hubbard’s Lieutenant. (He is never called anything else.)
The battle scenes of this novel and its geography are sometimes confusing and are certainly not up to Drake or Pournelle’s works. However, the grim background and tone are interesting and compelling.
The world the Lieutenant was born into has been ruined, much like the beginning of H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, by a war known variously as the War of Books, the War of Creeds, the War Which Ended War, or “World Wars two, three, four, and five”. The countries fighting the war constantly convulse with new governments (Russia gets a king, Britain goes Commie).
Atomic weapons or guided missiles (I’d really like to know if this feature was in the original edition) destroy industrial civilization. Nations lose the ability to build complex weapons like airplanes; the manufacture of artillery shells stops as does the replacement of worn-out artillery pieces. Warfare reverts back to the old mode of organized looting for future supplies. Germ warfare kills millions and also destroys crops. The British Expeditionary Force is forbidden to return to England lest it bring the plague.
The upper staff command is incompetent. All this is prologue.
The Lieutenant is called back to HQ as part of a purge to remove certain potentially troublesome officers. He resists, takes over HQ, and fashions a large army from the shattered, roving bands of soldiers (from many countries) in Europe. (The engagements between bands of soldiers are almost chivalrous in their attempts to avoid spilling unnecessary blood and the respect the officers’ accords with each other.)
When the Lieutenant finds out a vaccine now exists in England for the dreaded “soldier’s disease”, it’s off to England. First his growing army travels through a blasted Europe and a trap laid by peasants. The peasants’ women and supplies are looted though some instinctively respect him as a strong man.
In England, the Lieutenant sets up a depressingly plausible feudal state. Hubbard states explicitly that this is not fascisim since there is no link of business and state. He’s right. This is plain old warlordism
All veterans are to be revered. The Lieutenant sets them up as an aristocracy selected by surviving war. His feudal England is allegedly happy as it attempts to rebuild.
Then, in a surprising development, Imperialistic Americans show up. America, the first nation to use nukes (again, I’d like to know if this was in the original edition), withdrew from the war early and sat it out unscathed. Its superiority in technology preserved (it’s gone Socialist), it wants, it says, to help rebuild Mother England. Actually, it just needs to relieve its population problem, and the Lieutenant arranges as good a treaty as he can given his weak position, then resigns and kills the American representatives before being killed. However, it seems slightly improbable that, whatever the legality of the treaty, America would not take vengeance on England for the Lieutenant’s act.