Stealing Other People’s Homework: “Pipsqueak Prometheus”

Digging around on the excellent Tellers of Weird Tales, I found this article on L. Ron Hubbard from Bill Blackbeard who was, at one time, the world’s greatest collector of newspaper comic strips.

I was struck by this summation of Hubbard’s Final Blackout:

“Final Blackout” begins as a sketch, a vivid depiction of military life on the blackened battlefields of a world-wide war, rising in its early scenes to a graphic presentation of this kind of experience that has seldom been equaled in popular fiction, yet it bloats and fades in the middle into a pointless rambling odyssey in which a single man named simply the Lieutenant, plays God, and, wholly invincible, carves for himself out of the hulk of war-devastated England a throne upon which he can receive from the entire populace the same homage and worship he received from his men on the battlefield. This is not, of course, the avowed purpose of the Lieutenant, but it is subconsciously Hubbard’s, and its obsessive emergence ruins the body of the novel, logically and artistically. We can accept the invincibility — within limits — of the Lieutenant on the battlefield, where his survival after years of combat has proven him a capable soldier, but that this invincibility can be turned to the solution of any social problem, or the downing of any moral or economic obstacle, is, as presented, beyond the reader’s ability to swallow. It is Doc Savage; it is Superman; it is the pith helmet triumphant; but it is not effective fiction. This is a case where the development of a truly believable character of superior mental and moral endowment, rather than a soldier-savior-stereotype, would have made a fundamental difference and saved a potentially powerful novel, but such a character is beyond Hubbard’s ability to create—or understand. “Final Blackout” is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for Hubbard, nothing more.