May 1, 2007

Mitt Romney names his favorite novel: "Battlefield Earth."

Either he's really naming what actually is his favorite novel -- would a serious candidate do that? -- or there's some idea that it serves his interests, as a candidate who has to worry that some Americans will find his Mormon religion too weird, to associate himself with a religion Americans are likely to find even weirder.

Let's look at a summary of "Battlefield Earth" and see if it offers some insight into the candidate:
In the year 3000 AD, Earth has been ruled by an alien race, the Psychlos, for a millennium. Humanity has been reduced to a few scattered tribes in isolated parts of the world while the Psychlos strip the planet of its mineral wealth. Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, a member of one such tribe, lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He leaves his village to explore the lowlands and to disprove the superstitions long held by his people involving ancient gods and monsters. However, he is captured in the ruins of Denver by Terl, the Psychlo chief of security. The Psychlos, hairy 9-foot high, 1000-pound sociopaths, originate from a planet with an atmosphere very different from that of earth. Their "breath-gas" explodes on contact with even trace amounts of radioactive metals, such as uranium. From the very beginning, the reader learns that Terl has discovered a lode of gold up in the Rocky Mountains that he wants to get his hands on "off the company books" but is surrounded by uranium deposits that make Psychlo mining impossible. Terl captures Jonnie by accident while searching for "man-animals" to train to mine where he himself cannot.

After a time, Terl captures Jonnie's girlfriend and her little sister and uses the threat of their deaths to ensure cooperation from Jonnie. Jonnie is afterwards free to move around the mining area. Shortly thereafter, Terl and Jonnie travel to Scotland and recruit 83 Scottish youth to help with the mining. Jonnie, however, has different plans. Due to the fact that Terl does not understand English, Jonnie is able to convince the Scots to help him overthrow the Psychlo rule on Earth.

During the next several months, Jonnie and the Scots try to mine the gold as well as develop a means of defeating not only the Psychlos on Earth, but also nullify the threat of counterattack that could come from the Psychlo (the Psychlo's home planet). During the semi-annual teleportation of personnel, goods, and coffins (all dead Psychlos are shipped home for burial on Psychlo) back to Psychlo, Jonnie and the Scots manage to pack several of the huge coffins with nuclear dirty bombs and "planet busters" in hopes of destroying the Psychlo's home planet. After the teleportation firing, the humans use the Psychlo's own war planes, tanks, and weapons against them and regain control of Earth.

This is, however, not the end of the story. Unsure as to whether the bombs sent even reached Psychlo and under the imminent threat of counterattack, Jonnie must now defend his newly-retaken planet against the predatory interests of several other interstellar races, including a race of intergalactic bankers seeking to repossess the Earth in lieu of unpaid debts, as well as a newly-emerging group of humans seeking to wrest control of Earth from him. He must also accomplish what no other race in 300,000 years has been able to do: uncover the secret of Psychlo mathematics and teleportation if the human race is to have a future in a galaxy full of hostile races...
Romney is quoted as saying it's "a very fun science-fiction book," but mining, banking, coffins... Hard to tell from that summary what the fun is (unless it's the sheer childishness of it all).

109 comments:

Matt Brown said...

Maybe he's just trying to win John Travolta's vote.

George said...

"The Cat in the Hat" is much, much, much, much, much, much...MUCH better.

Especially at the end these little teeny eeny weeny tiny cats come out of the hat, and there's Thing #1 and Thing #2, and the cat drives this carmobile that has a sledamajig and spiky wheel, and the mother is not home, and the fish, he gets out of his bowl, and it is so good, so good.

Is there any more of that twisty cheesaronis?

Kevin Lomax said...

Yes, I hear once you got John, you've got half of California. California won = President.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Actually it's a pretty good book. I'm not following the 'childishness' comment. It is a sci-fi book and while probably not considered 'hard science' like Pournelle or Niven, it is an enjoyable book.

I read it back in high school and probably 3 times since then. It's a tome more than a book, over 1000 pages so the summary, IMHO, doesn't really do it justice as it is pretty detailed with numerous sub-plots.

Just as an aside, I don't know really anything about Scientology so if Battlefield Earth had components of it in there, it was lost on me. If anything, it was pretty much a different view on an old theme: Aliens take over the Earth, Earthlings try and take it back. That's what I got out of it.

Read Dune if you want weird.

Oligonicella said...

Perhaps it's the shoot 'em up, bang, bang aspect of breaking free of suppression?

In any event, BE is as scientifically (and SFly) retarded as Hubbard. Which is perhaps why he created a religion only retards would believe.

Hold on, I've gotta bat off some Thetans here.

AllenS said...

See ya later, Mitt.

Matt Brown said...

I was going to write that it's interesting that he picked the Bible as his favorite book, but it's really not that interesting. Many people would pick it as a favorite book, even those who aren't particularly beholden to Christianity. He probably figures that picking the Bible gives him a broader appeal than, say, picking the Book of Mormon as his favorite book - but of course, we know that he IS a Mormon.

Peter Palladas said...

In the year 3000 AD, Earth has been ruled by an alien race, the Psychlos, for a millennium.

Over here we call them 'New Labour'. They've only been in power for a decade - it just seems longer.

Ann Althouse said...

What's childish? A big, big, biggest fight in the whole big universe between the goodestest guys and the giant, huge, horrible eeeeevvvviiiiillllll guys. Let's blow everything up! And get all the money!

Hoosier Daddy said...

What's childish? A big, big, biggest fight in the whole big universe between the goodestest guys and the giant, huge, horrible eeeeevvvviiiiillllll guys. Let's blow everything up! And get all the money!

Hdhouse and AL will probably think you're referring to the war in Iraq.

Well I have to respectfully disagree Professor. There was a bit more to it than that but opinions vary. I won't say it was my favorite book as Pournelle is my sci-fi writer of choice but it was a fun read.

MadisonMan said...

I wonder why the book resonates with him. Some of my favorite novels are favorites because of what was happening when I read them. So, the book might not have been all that great (Poldark), but I was reading it during a relaxing train ride in England. So it's a favorite. I don't know what the favorite book would be.

eric said...

Ann, Battlefield Earth is an excellent choice. Like Hoosier, I've read the book multiple times. My father gave it to me to read when I was in high school and it blew me away. Of course, it's mostly trash, but so was Gone with the Wind and Titanic. Just a different gernre. It's an absolute must-read for anyone looking for an epic tale. And it supposedly has nothing to do with scientology. Hubbard was quoted as saying that it was the only book he ever wrote where he had no agenda, he was merely trying to write something fun. And it is. Whether it's "childish" or not depends upon the reader. One might label your "boob" comment from years past childish, others would find it sufficiently ironic. It all depends upon your point of view.

Ann Althouse said...

My comment is based on reading the summary. If you've read the book and can explain why it isn't ridiculous garbage, please say why.

Ann Althouse said...

A must-read for anyone looking for an epic tale? Care to say why? There are a lot of great epics in world literature. How many must we read?

George said...

Eric, Prof.--

Re: Gone With the Wind....

I heard Tom Wolfe speak recently, and he referred to it as the best novel ever written by an American, saying that its artistic merit and cultural impact outranked Uncle Tom's Cabin (and presumably Huck Finn and Moby Dick).

"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." (from the movie)

Damn, what a woman!

eric said...

Ann, there's no way for me to intelligently summarize or explain the book's appeal here. It's 1000 pages for goodness sake. What I can say is that it isn't some "shoot-em-up" sci-fi action book. The protagonist solves problems and "fights the bad guys" using his brain. There are twists and unexpected turns. There are great lines. It's everything you want in an epic. And, unlike most of these books, it continues past the point where the good guys come out on top - the second half of the book resembles an intro to an international relations class. It's just a book you have to read if you like epics. But don't take my word for it, take Mr. Romeny's...

George - I just don't see it. "Gone" seems like a soap opera to me, which is fine. I just didn't see the artistic or literary merit. Then again, I'm not a writer or English Professor...

the Rising Jurist said...

Dune is much better, and far more relevant. Romney might as well claim Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought is his favorite book.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the tie between the book and Scientology is all that really matters. As I have read thousands of sci-fi and fantasy books over the decade, I think that I read it under its original title. Nevertheless, by the time that it was rereleased, now by the Scientologists, I refused to buy the book and in any way aid the cult.

I became avidly anti-Scientology over a decade ago when they were running around the country abusing copyright law and pre-trial discovery. Allegedly looking for evidence of someone having stolen their sacred scriptures, they would get ex parte writs of search and seizure to grab their critics' computers. Then, in express violation of the orders, they would dig throgh all the rest of the files and email on the seized computers looking for more critics, and this would be repeated. At one time, they had pissed off judges from coast to coast.

Part of what they would do though was spend huge amounts of money going after their opponents in court. Indeed, my memory is that they managed to run the Cult Awareness Network out of business, and then took over the Network's phone numbers. So, when someone would call up to complain about some cult, they would get a Scientology pitch.

DaveL said...

"Battlefield Earth" is the sort of book people are thinking about when they say "science fiction is junk." I hope Mitt Romney read it when he was 12; if he read it more recently it says rather bad things about his critical faculties.

JimM47 said...

Fountainhead Earth....

Mike said...

Do I detect a bit of snobbery, Ann? It might be good. Might not.

I've not read the book, but I might give it a try. How far into the 1000 pages I get will depend on how well it's written. You can't tell that from the summary.

As to why Romney thought this was a good answer to give, beats me. Doesn't seem wise.

Roost on the Moon said...

Luckily, the first chapter is freely available from the publisher, and you don't need to read very far to get a feel for Hubbard's tin ear:


"Man," said Terl, "is an endangered species."

The hairy paws of the Chamco brothers hung suspended above the broad keys of the laser-bash game. The cliffs of Char's eyebones drew down over his yellow orbs as he looked up in mystery. Even the steward, who had been padding quietly about picking up her saucepans, lumbered to a halt and stared.

Terl could not have produced a more profound effect had he thrown a meat-girl naked into the middle of the room.

The clear dome of the Intergalactic Mining Company employee recreation hall shone black around and above them, silvered at its crossbars by the pale glow of the Earth's single moon, half-full on this late summer night.

Terl lifted his large amber eyes from the tome that rested minutely in his massive claws and looked around the room. He was suddenly aware of the effect he had produced, and it amused him. Anything to relieve the humdrum monotony of a ten-year* duty tour in this gods-abandoned mining camp, way out here on the edge of a minor galaxy.

In an even more professorial voice, already deep and roaring enough, Terl repeated his thought. "Man is an endangered species."

Char glowered at him. "What in the name of diseased crap are you reading?"


Indeed.

Hoosier Daddy said...

My comment is based on reading the summary. If you've read the book and can explain why it isn't ridiculous garbage, please say why.

I guess it's simply a matter of opinion or a matter of a crappy written summary. Like anything else, movies or novels, I suppose you have to read/see it for yourself to have an informed opinion. I thought Stephen King's The Stand was his best novel whereas my wife, a devout King fan thought it was the dumbest thing she ever read by him (2 weeks she'll never get back were her exact words).

Ann if you're not a fantasy/sci fi fan then perhaps pretty much any summary of that genre might come across as silly or childish. There is a whole lot more suspension of disbelief that goes with that genre than say, with a Grisham or Clancy novel.

Ann Althouse said...

Roost: That's hilarious. "The cliffs of Char's eyebones drew down over his yellow orbs as he looked up in mystery." You could write a whole essay on the utter badness of that sentence.

This is like the way a 13 year old tries to do a creative writing assignment.

By the way, I refuse to read any work of fiction where the author uses the word "padding" instead of "walking."

Ann Althouse said...

Hoosier: I've read some sci-fi and fantasy that I thought was good. There is good and bad, even in genre fiction. I don't think Hubbard rates very high among sci-fi writers.

Oligonicella said...

Uh, Ann, I think BE is crap, but from a SF perspective. It was once said that Star Wars ignored science and Stark Trek shredded it. BE ignored most of it and shredded the rest.

That said, your continued use of "childish" seems, well childish. Just what is wrong with childish that bugs you so? I indulge in childish with great frequency and feel that those who do not or cannot are kind of emotionally crippled.

Get on past it, you're no more adult that those who have enjoyed the book.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Hoosier: I've read some sci-fi and fantasy that I thought was good. There is good and bad, even in genre fiction. I don't think Hubbard rates very high among sci-fi writers.

I agree. Actually BF is the only book of his I ever read and I simply thought it was pretty good. It was a fun read as opposed to say, Dune or 2001 Space Odyssey which is just hard to plow through. Is there better stuff? Absolutely. My favorite sci-fi writers are Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and H. Beam Piper whose stuff is more 'chewy' and has more 'hard science' in it but is still a fun read.

Robert said...

Wow. That is some truly terrible taste. Not only is Hubbard's fiction closely associated with his wacky Hollywood cult - it's also terribly written. There is better sci-fi out there. There is even better far-future "science fantasy" out there. Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" books come to mind. Wolfe's work is difficult, but it's also rich, subtle, and well respected in and outside of the genre. Likewise, Wolfe's devout Catholicism is probably much more palatable to Romney's base than Hubbard's creepy con job of a religion.

Jeff said...

Some of the best writing in English is to be found in "genre" fiction; I'm thinking of Patricia Highsmith and Philip K. Dick. "Battlefield Earth" is altogether another story. I read it when I was 12, I think, and even then I understood that I was reading a huge book by an old "pulp" writer who had started an odd organization.

I ddin't confuse it with real sci-fi- it was more of a pulp-style adventure story set in a sci-fi milieu; it was obviously a Star Wars cash-in, of which there were many at the time. Hubbard's pulp pedigree is obvious in his the purpleness of the prose quoted earlier. Try reading a "Shadow" or "Doc Samson" reprint for context.

The main thing that I remember about the book after 25 years is that some benign aliens made a pretty accurate critique of cheap glass-walled "modern" architecture. I agreed then and I agree even more now.

George said...

Ann--

Dickens was the Stephen King of his day. People rioted on the NY docks when new installments of his tear-jerker novels arrived.

Shakespeare...lots of eye gougings, stabbings, and filthy, filthy jokes. Hello, Quentin Tarentino...

War & Peace, Iliad & the Odyssey...epic tales of, er, war and peace....

No question that "Gone With the Wind" is one of the most popular, if not influential, works in American literature and film.

What other work of fiction comes close to embracing the momentousness of the Civil War? (Red Badge of Courage is beautiful, but slender thematically and not nearly as influential.)

What other American novel has iconic lovers like Rhett and Scarlett? (The creation of Scarlett alone puts the book in the top rank of American novels. What a force of nature!)

And what other novel remains as controversial 75+ years after its publication?

Sounds like great art to me.

Roost on the Moon said...

Well, so: What to make of it?

Given that we're in an unpopular war (with other humans)and the extant reservations of the religious right, It's hard to imagine a worse choice politically.

Was this a completely unreflective answer?

Or does he know something we don't?

Or has the Romney campaign hired David Foster Wallace?

George said...

Jeff--

By chance I just finished reading (actually skimming) a Doc Savage novel from 1935...

Some random sentences...

She caught up her light skirts, and her trim legs flashed with silk as she ran. The clinging snow was more than ankle deep.

The woman’s white face was like a dim flower in the alley darkness.

Her hand sought her purse as she moved. Now she had the slightly comforting feel of her small, but efficient, automatic.

A greasy hand was clamped over her mouth.

"Why, you dirty rat!" rapped out one of the riot-gun coppers.

Excitement and danger were her greatest and only loves.

The dirigible was a falling mass of flames

The pistol blossomed a stream of fire.

Scram for them hills above the tombs.

We are in the passage of the shadow death.

The cavern of the death chamber was filled with fallen rock.

Pat was being abducted again. It seemed to have become somewhat of a habit with Pat.

Ooo-eee! That thar's some writin'!

Beth said...

I am a sci-fi and fantasy reader (and instructor; nothing makes me happier than when I get a special topics in sci-fi course). L.Ron is hands down the worst writer in the history of the genre. That's what makes Scientology's success so surprising; it's not like the founder was a master storyteller.

Hasn't anyone ever told Mitt about Orson Scott Card?

Anthony said...

I'm not sure I see the relevance of one's "favorite" anything and its supposed "quality". Sometimes a book or a piece of music just resonates with you at a particular time in your life and it becomes your favorite, not because it's the be-all and end-all of its genre.

I still love love love "The Thorn Birds" despite its cheesiness. It ain't Shakespeare but it's a comfort.

Balfegor said...

Actually it's a pretty good book. I'm not following the 'childishness' comment. It is a sci-fi book and while probably not considered 'hard science' like Pournelle or Niven, it is an enjoyable book.

Maybe. I've never read it, and the excerpt posted here does not awaken in me any burning desire to read it. But look -- the book will never escape the stink of the movie. Bigods that was a horrible movie!

We don't vote for candidates for their taste in novels, I suppose, but for me, just my visceral reaction here, this is even more disqualifying than funny Mormon underwear or whatever it was everyone was making a fuss about before.

And re:

It was a fun read as opposed to say, Dune or 2001 Space Odyssey which is just hard to plow through.

I find that kind of odd. I suppose if one's tastes run to Niven and Pournelle (both of whom I have read and enjoyed), then Dune would be a rather different matter. But between those choices, I preferred Dune much more -- a more interesting milieu than I've seen in most of Niven, and a real attempt to depict a society radically different from ours, rather than playing the usual SF/Fantasy trick of taking modern characters, with modern attitudes, and plopping them in an environment with aliens and whatnot.

That said, my vote for good science fiction goes with Gene Wolfe, whose New Sun tetralogy was enjoyable not just as science fiction, but as literature -- like Borges spun out to novel length. Philip K. Dick is fun too, but in smaller doses. I did think Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was really good, though.

Re: Anthony:

I still love love love "The Thorn Birds" despite its cheesiness. It ain't Shakespeare but it's a comfort.

Fair enough. I read Wodehouse for comfort regularly, and he's certainly no Shakespeare.

Beth said...

refuse to read any work of fiction where the author uses the word "padding" instead of "walking."

Ha! That's one of my peeves, too.

Richard Dolan said...

I've never read Hubbard's book(s), and doubt I ever will. But I can appreciate Hoosier Dad's comment that it's just a "fun read." No big deal that Romney finds his "fun" in a different place than I do.

Although the sci fi/fantasy genre is generally not to my taste, the little I've read of it makes me think of it as a print version of a video game. I'm not much interested in video games either. I suspect that both of those diversions (sci fi/fantasy and video games) appeal to the same demographic -- mostly male, with the print version being aimed at the older, more educated end of that audience.

When I read this article, I couldn't understand why a candidate of Romney's sophistication and experience wanted to mention a book by Hubbard. Surely, for the reason Ann states, he must have been aware that anything suggesting a shared outlook with Hubbard and Scientology was potentially toxic for a politician, and especially for him. Did he just blurt it out in an excess of candor, or was he trying to create a cultural bond -- a "just us normal guys doing our middlebrow thing" sort of reference -- aimed at that demographic? Perhaps it was a little of both. In all events, for those who don't know the book but do know a bit about Hubbard, he was stepping all over his own message. I don't have a problem when candidates, intentionally (like McCain) or otherwise (perhaps Romney here), engaging in an excess of candor. But he could have picked a better topic if that's what this was about.

Jeff said...

In defense of the book, it's ONE BILLION times better than the movie.

After seeing the film, which is literally the worst two hours of my life, I read the novel out of morbid curiosity and was shocked at how... okay it was. Juvinile and campy, but still a decent read.

The best part was how almost all of the really, REALLY stupid plot holes of the movie (smelted gold! 1000-year-old working jet fighters!) weren't in the book. It's like Travolta took a cherished, nearly holy novel and decided to make it as bad as humanly possible.

eric said...

Well, if you haven't read the book, you can't really dismiss it. It's fun. If fun is childish, then adults suck. Its that simple. Dune is probably my favorite book, if only because there's a lot of substance there, but BE is a top 3, because its the most entertaining thing I've ever read. No one is saying L. Ron should be winning prose awards - the story he wrote is just fantastic. Like Star Wars, which someone mentioned, the dialogue/prose isn't the hook - the story is. And it's fantastic. Mitt's comment won't influence me one way or the other about whether he'd make a good president, but I do think it is nice that he obviously wasn't making a politically-calculated comment when he named BE.

One final thought - I don't pretend to be a professorial-type elite. I'm a 27 year old attorney who enjoys video games and science fiction. But my father is in the Althouse/Romney class of intellectually accomplished people. He loves the book for the same reasons I do. The bad prose (which is really only there during the alien scenes - which may suggest something) can easily be ignored for the sake of the story. If you like epics and have no particular aversion to sci-fi, I would be incredibly surprised if you wouldn't enjoy this book. That's what makes it such a great choice. Kudos to Mitt...

Revenant said...

Hoosier, I think Battlefield Earth could fairly be called childish. It is written at about fifth-grade level and features a plot that George Lucas would have been embarrassed by. I guess it is a fun read, but at 1100 pages the fun wears off long before the end.

My reaction to a person who cites "Battlefield Earth" as their favorite book is "this person doesn't read much".

Joel said...

If a candidate's choice of favorite book makes him ineligible for your vote, I think there's something wrong with your priorities. I understand the potential for this statement to say something about his judgement, but come on... At least he gave an honest answer. I'd prefer than to some politically-driven or patently safe answer.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Padding" for "walking" makes me think of footed pajamas.

Roost on the Moon said...

A puzzling and hilarious new wrinkle:
Mitt Romney was an English Major.

Cedarford said...

Jeff - Hubbard's pulp pedigree is obvious in his the purpleness of the prose quoted earlier. Try reading a "Shadow" or "Doc Samson" reprint for context.

I think you mean Doc Savage unless there was a Jewish version...

It is refreshing to me that Romney has the balls to say what novel he read really entertained him, instead of having to come off all high-brow "deep-thinking" and say he "agonized" between "War and Peace", "The Golden Bough",the "Illiad" or "Crime and Punishment" as the best and most enjoyable and uplifting novel he ever read. Romney doesn't have to prove he has a little brainpower, unlike many of the other candidates.

Battlefield Earth was a great read. Many people enjoy escapist pulp now and then, and that includes women. In fact, if you look at who buys junk novels, women buy more. Us guys have sports and video games..

Joel said...

I don't purport to be the intellectual equal of anyone on here, I hold but a mere bachelor's degree in finance (actually from Mr. Romney's alma mater), but I can unequivocally say that War in Peace is one of the best, most enjoyable books I've ever read. Much better than Tolstoy's obnoxious monstrosity, Anna Karenina.

Jeff said...

Padding is usually used to describe silent walking; I'm in favor of using different words as long as the usage is correct.

Wodehouse was a master craftsman who excelled in several different genres and formats. I recommend Piccadilly Jim from 1917. For any fans of true pupls, I recommend this cool site: Well Told Tales (pulp-fiction podcasts!).

For truly entertaining pulp sci-fi fun, there can be only one: Edgar Rice Burroughs. No less than Gore Vidal and Ray Bradbury rate him as a favorite author and non-guilty pleasure.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Hoosier, I think Battlefield Earth could fairly be called childish. It is written at about fifth-grade level and features a plot that George Lucas would have been embarrassed by.

Well considering for example that Lucas scrapped the original idea that Endor was populated by ferocious Wookies and instead replaced them with 3 foot teddy bears armed with spears who wiped out the Emperor's elite troops, that's kind of a stretch isn't it?

Joel said...
If a candidate's choice of favorite book makes him ineligible for your vote, I think there's something wrong with your priorities.


Then again, isn't the very question of what's your favorite book something you ask Ms. America rather than the future President? Why not ask what's on his Ipod?

Jeff said...

D'oh! I combined Doc Savage with Brock Samson!

Thorley Winston said...

Mitt's comment won't influence me one way or the other about whether he'd make a good president, but I do think it is nice that he obviously wasn't making a politically-calculated comment when he named BE.

I’m in the same boat (although Governor Romney has been at the top of a very short list for a while). I’ve never read BE largely because there were always books by authors I already knew I loved (Niven, Pournelle, Weber, Brin, etc.) that I hadn’t finished reading yet. Others who have read the book have emphasized that it’s an epic story, the protagonist relies on his brains more than brawn to defeat the enemy, and the second half deals with the aftermath of defeating the invaders. I did see the movie which I didn’t care for but I also saw the Postman and Starship Troopers which were both terrible movies based on pretty good books written by other eccentric authors.

Thorley Winston said...

A puzzling and hilarious new wrinkle: Mitt Romney was an English Major.

So how is that “puzzling and hilarious”? My English teacher collected old ERB novels and I gave him a copy of the Lensman series (now there’s writing!) for his birthday.

Thorley Winston said...

Then again, isn't the very question of what's your favorite book something you ask Ms. America rather than the future President? Why not ask what's on his Ipod?

Kind of like telling Captain America that even though he socked Hitler in the jaw, he’s unfit to be a hero because he doesn’t know who won “American Idol.”

Sorry, I just wanted to fit that in there somewhere ;)

Seriously though you make a good point, while it might be interesting to learn a little bit about the personal aspects of Presidential candidates, we’ve kind of gone of track now that candidates are expected to appear on the Daily Show, Oprah, Letterman, and Leno in order to “connect with the American people.” A pretty poor way to pick the next leader of the free world.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Well considering for example that Lucas scrapped the original idea that Endor was populated by ferocious Wookies and instead replaced them with 3 foot teddy bears armed with spears who wiped out the Emperor's elite troops, that's kind of a stretch isn't it?

If the Ewoks had also been responsible for destroying the Death Star, toppling the Empire, and setting themselves up as the new de facto rulers of the Galaxy, Lucas would have managed to achieve the level of ridiculousness Hubbard managed in "Battlefield Earth". As it stands, "Return of the Jedi" was merely fairly to moderately dippy.

And let's not even get into the idea of a planetary atmosphere that explodes on contact with radioactive materials. That ranks up there with M. Night Shyamalan's brilliant plan to have the Earth be invaded by aliens whose skin burns on contact with water.

Thorley Winston said...

And let's not even get into the idea of a planetary atmosphere that explodes on contact with radioactive materials. That ranks up there with M. Night Shyamalan's brilliant plan to have the Earth be invaded by aliens whose skin burns on contact with water.

That’s almost as dumb as alien invaders who get defeated by the common cold.

Roost on the Moon said...

I'm sure we can find plenty of English teachers like Sci-Fi. I'm not making digs at genre fiction.

But go find another Valedictorian English major who is also a champion of L. Ron Hubbard's writing.

It's hard to reconcile those two sets, and their intersection may consist of just one man.

To me, that's funny.

Jeff said...

That’s almost as dumb as alien invaders who get defeated by the common cold.

No dumber than the indians getting decimated by smallpox.

The thing with the WotW aliens is that Mars was a totally sterile environment, and the Martians didn't even bother to think that Earth would be full of all sorts of invisible crawly things that like to fly up your nose and try to kill you.

Oligonicella said...

Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars.

Thorley -- Don't think so, for a couple of reasons. First is when it was written. Bacteriology was pretty new then. Second, there's not a small chance that microbes on an alien planet would eat an Earthman's lunch, were he exposed. Presuming carbon based life.

booger said...

No matter what his favorite book is, someone would criticize it...either too childish, to snobbish, to boring, etc.

The single important point here is that he gave an honest answer. No political consultant would have provided BE as a 'canned' response, and its too obscure to just pull out of a hat. This must actually be his honest-to-goodness 'favorite book'. Don't ya'll find that sort of honesty refreshing???

Ed said...

It's really not that bad a book. I read, and enjoyed it. It has nothing at all to do with the movie of the same name - the movie was horrid.

Some of the book's plot devices are improbable, but on the whole, it's not a bad read.

I am hearing literary snobbery here.

Now, if you want tiresome reading, I suggest Faulkner...

Balfegor said...

Re: Joel
I don't purport to be the intellectual equal of anyone on here, I hold but a mere bachelor's degree in finance (actually from Mr. Romney's alma mater), but I can unequivocally say that War in Peace is one of the best, most enjoyable books I've ever read. Much better than Tolstoy's obnoxious monstrosity, Anna Karenina.

I thought both War and Peace and Anna Karenina were okay, but Resurrection was really good.

Frost said...

After seeing the film, which is literally the worst two hours of my life

Ah, so you've never seen Freddie Got Fingered.

Thorley Winston said...

The thing with the WotW aliens is that Mars was a totally sterile environment, and the Martians didn't even bother to think that Earth would be full of all sorts of invisible crawly things that like to fly up your nose and try to kill you.

So a culture that was advanced enough to discover interplanetary travel, that came with the intention of ingesting human blood (which if filled with all sorts of nasty bugs) into their bodies as a food source (after presumably first finding out that it was safe to do so), and used biological weapons didn’t have any concept of microbiology?

I suppose it all depends on how far you’re willing to suspend disbelief. Although it does seem to me that the Psychlos were better prepared for occupying Earth than the Martians if the only dangerous substance were relatively rare radioactive elements that combusted their alien atmosphere rather than common microbes that they breathed without any sort of filters.

Thorley Winston said...

The single important point here is that he gave an honest answer. No political consultant would have provided BE as a 'canned' response, and its too obscure to just pull out of a hat. This must actually be his honest-to-goodness 'favorite book'. Don't ya'll find that sort of honesty refreshing???

Well in fairness to the candidate (we’ll have to wait for a transcript to be sure), he doesn’t actually call it his “favorite novel” – he just said it was a “very fun science-fiction book.” NRO did an interview with him last year and he gave a list of his “current favorites” that he was reading at the moment. Not surprising though as many voracious readers can give you many different answers as to what their “favorite” book is especially when you’re constantly reading new ones.

That’s one of the great things about reading – you’re allowed to have many favorites ;)

Balfegor said...

Re: Ed
I am hearing literary snobbery here.

Well, here -- Roost on the Moon, above, has kindly given us an excerpt from the first chapter. Read that aloud. What I hear is just painful. I mean, so bad that I want to record myself reading it aloud, just to make a mockery of it. Heavens.

Space opera and light entertainment are all well and good -- it's just that you don't want to lard it up with all those adjectives and adverbs: "yellow orbs," "large amber eyes," "looked up in mystery," "minutely in his massive claws." This is bad writing plain and simple. And it's not even the purpleness of it -- Lovecraft can be fun in small amounts after all. It's the super-Lovecraftian flabbiness of the writing. Awkward or uninspired plotting can be got around. Not every enjoyable work of literature has to be tightly plotted. But at least, the prose shouldn't grate every other word.

Ed said...

Hey, I think American Idol and Dancing with the Stars is painful (and anything by MTV) - but those seem to be pretty popular.

Maybe it's a matter of taste? Perhaps BE is the "Fast and the Furious" of literature to you, but not everyone else...

Ed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed said...

Oh yes, "Freddy got Fingered" is bad, but the worst movie of all time is "Intersection" with Sharon Stone and Richard Gere.

Ben said...

Battlefield Earth was a fun book to read. Sure, it was no masterpiece, but it was meant to be. It has nothing to do with Scientology, and it was written before Star Wars so it wasn't cashing in on that. Everyone who is knocking it without having read it ought to keep their mouths shut.

Jeremy said...

It actually is a decent book. It's really part of the "Space Opera" genre of science fiction, thus the rather black and white nature of the conflict, and over the top science.

blake said...

Althouse,

You're trying too hard to hate it. The Psychlos "pad" rather than "walk" because they are catlike. The yellow-orbs for eyes, and elsewhere their claws and so on make that obvious.

MadisonMan said...

blake, I also share a distaste for 'padding' when 'walking' is a perfectly fine word. To paraphrase Calvin (Watterson's), I don't like nouns that are verbed.

Jeff said...

Wikipedia states that Battlefield Earth was published in 1982. . A lot of stuff came out in "Star Wars" wake which might not have seen the light of day if it weren't for Lucas reinvigorating the market for sci-fi.
And I did enjoy reading it in 7th grade. I also thought Henlein's "Number of the Beast" was one of the greatest books ever written. A recent attempt at re-reading suggests that my 12-year old self was more deranged than remembered.

Kevin said...

It's a decent romp, all right; competent and fun. Not at all like the horrid movie. But "favorite novel"? Tells me he doesn't read much, or his fiction taste runs strictly to the mindless.

Now, if he'd said "Snow Crash", I'd be impressed. Or even "Pandora's Star" as a better space opera.

But at least he didn't say "UBIK"

Revenant said...

it was written before Star Wars so it wasn't cashing in on that.

"Battlefield Earth" was published in 1982, five years after "Star Wars" and shortly before "Return of the Jedi". Hubbard may claim to have written it prior to 1977 (and it is up to you whether or not you believe him), but it was edited and published well afterwards.

So a culture that was advanced enough to discover interplanetary travel, that came with the intention of ingesting human blood (which if filled with all sorts of nasty bugs) into their bodies as a food source (after presumably first finding out that it was safe to do so), and used biological weapons didn’t have any concept of microbiology?

How is that any dumber than the notion that a race whose entire planet will be destroyed if any radioactive elements contact the atmosphere (a) could exist in the first place and (b) don't bother checking shipments to their homeworld for such materials?

With the Martians, at least, you could use the argument that they had been living microbe-free for so long that they didn't consider the threat. The Psychlos were clearly aware of the threat and simply didn't do anything to prevent it. Plus, of course, the Martian scenario is at least hypothetically possible -- the exploding atmosphere idea is well past science fiction, far beyond fantasy, and well into the realm of "this is one of the stupidest ideas for an alien race I have ever heard of".

But, as noted earlier, it is STILL smarter than the idea that aliens would invade a planet whose surface and atmosphere are largely composed of a highly toxic substance and not even bother with envirosuits.

Foobarista said...

I never thought I'd defend anything to do with L. Ron Hubbard, but one's choice of reading material need not be "High Literature". After all, trash sells because it's fun and easy to read. Would you have been more impressed if his favorite novel had been James Joyce, Updike, or some other author that nobody reads outside of lit classes?

This is frankly the first sign to me that Romney may not be a typical "suit" running for President.

Fen said...

the Rising Jurist: Dune is much better, and far more relevant

Agreed. I read all seven a dozen times each, and even incorporated some of Herbert's philosophy into my own life. The Dune series is one of those rare books that changes you forever.

Jacob said...

... the Emperor's elite troops ...
Well, given that those guys never apperently got a lesson in basic markmanship I can see why they got thrashed by some teddy bears.

Beth said...

Would you have been more impressed if his favorite novel had been James Joyce, Updike, or some other author that nobody reads outside of lit classes?

No need for high art fanciness, just a better sci-fi writer. It's not elitist to note that L.Ron just plain writes bad prose, and would be a lousy writer in any genre, to my taste. I'm no snob about literature; nothing amuses me more than someone like Jonathan Franzen having a hissy fit when his "high art" prose is exposed to the slobbering masses on Oprah. But even within the marginalized genre of sci-fi, L.Ron stands apart as a juvenile, artless writer.

I wonder if Romney's even read it. Maybe the title just sounds good, macho and patriotic. Like varmint huntin'.

Oligonicella said...

Ah, so you've never seen...

Damn you Frost. I'd just purged that abomination from my memory.

Oligonicella said...

A recommendation of good SF:

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge

Mike said...

Beth said: "I am a sci-fi and fantasy reader (and instructor; nothing makes me happier than when I get a special topics in sci-fi course)."

Beth, could you post a reading list for your course(s)?

reader_iam said...

Madisonman:

To paraphrase Calvin (Watterson's), I don't like nouns that are verbed.

Pad (v.) "to walk," 1553, probably from M.Du. paden "walk along a path, make a path," from pad, pat "path." Originally criminals' slang, perhaps of imitative origin (sound of feet trudging on a dirt road).

Well, it's been "verbed" for a hell of a long time, is all I can I say.

reader_iam said...

Just for fun:

see Welsh.
walk (v.) O.E. wealcan "to toss, roll," and wealcian "to roll up, curl, muffle up," from P.Gmc. *welk- (cf. O.N. valka "to drag about," Dan. valke "to full," M.Du. walken "to knead, press, full," O.H.G. walchan "to knead," Ger. walken "to full"), perhaps ult. from PIE base *wel- "to turn, bend, twist, roll" (see vulva). Meaning shifted in early M.E., perhaps from colloquial use of the O.E. word. "Rarely is there so specific a word as NE walk, clearly distinguished from both go and run" [Buck]. Meaning "to go away" is recorded from c.1460. Trans. meaning "to exercise a dog (or horse)" is from 1470. Walk-up in ref. to an apartment not accessible by elevator is attested from 1919 as an adj., 1925 as a noun. The surname Walker probably preserves the cloth-fulling sense.

walk (n.) c.1386, "act of walking" (see walk (v.)). The noun meaning "broad path in a garden" is from 1533; walk of life is from 1752. Sports sense of "base on balls" is recorded from 1905.


I hate it when verbs are "nouned"! Especially when the verb itself originally didn't exactly mean what it means now.

; )

reader_iam said...

("[S]ee welsh" accidentally picked up.)

Ann Althouse said...

Oligonicella said..."A recommendation of good SF: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge."

I love that one.

Harkonnendog said...

Childish is a dumb choice of words. You're looking for "escapist." (I mean how many children read 1000 page books?) It was a best-seller and kids weren't reading it.

Beth said...

Mike, send me your email (mine's in my profile) and I'll search my syllabi for you.

Balfegor said...

Oligonicella said..."A recommendation of good SF: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge."

I love that one.


I love the way it works out, given who wrote it. We have a recreational drug user, depicting recreational drug use, that really does open the mind to another reality, only

SPOILER!!!

it happens to be inhabited by a demon god from the mad spaces between the stars who takes over all life on Earth. Or maybe just the protagonists. Whatever it is, I'm so accustomed to recreational drug users depicting drug use as harmless fun, that it's an unexpected twist when legalised recreational drug use -- using an dolls named "Perky Pat," of all things -- turns out to open the gate to Evil. And in 1965 no less.

Balfegor said...

Incidentally, I have only vague recollections of this, but didn't Gore claim that his favourite novel was The Red and the Black, by Stendhal, and Bush II claim that his was The Itsy Bitsy Caterpillar? Or something like that. I am not familiar with the latter work. In any event, Gore was widely considered to have revealed himself as something of a juvenile poseur, for choosing Stendhal; Bush was widely considered to have revealed himself to be a half-wit for choosing whatever it was he chose. There were caterpillars involved, I am certain.

Zach said...

I thought the comparison to The Fast and the Furious was apt. Sometimes ridiculous trash can inexplicably turn out far better than it has any right to be. Anybody who doubts this should try explaining the precise qualities that make The Fast and the Furious enjoyable, while nearly identical movies are completely unwatchable.

That said, I hated Battlefield Earth.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie said...

If he was trying to make himself look less cultish, a novel by the founder of Scientology is hardly the choice ...

Smilin' Jack said...

Romney shouldn't be getting flak for goofy crap like BE, which he merely enjoys reading. He should be getting flak for goofy crap like the Book of Mormon, which he actually believes.

Mike said...

Good morning, Beth. Blogger says your profile is unavailable.

Revenant said...

He should be getting flak for goofy crap like the Book of Mormon, which he actually believes.

The Book of Mormon is no goofier than any of the other major religious texts. It just suffers from the fact that we actually know things about the person who wrote it.

tracy said...

I have read over 1000 SF books. I have read virutally every author and book considered a standard in the genre.

I am a hack writer at best and poorly read in general. Consider that when I say that BF is in my top 5. I have read it 4 or 5 times in 20 years.

I don't care if the writer observed all the grammar rules, or has made some relevant observation on the issues of the day - did the story engage me? Did I enjoy the read?

This is FICTION. It does not have to perfect sense - a breathable gas that explodes on contact with radioactive particles?

BTW, the other 4 of my top 5:
Dune
Ender's Game
Jumper
Ringworld

The Exalted said...

Harkonnendog said...
Childish is a dumb choice of words. You're looking for "escapist." (I mean how many children read 1000 page books?) It was a best-seller and kids weren't reading it.

6:46 PM


i read it when i was 12 or 13, thought it was great. i can tell from the paragraph that someone posted, i read it at just the right age . . .

Harkonnendog said...

I get what you're saying Exalted, but you were a teen, not a child.

Revenant said...

Teens are children. In any case, the fifth Harry Potter book was nearly 900 pages and was read by some ungodly number of pre-teen children around the world.

The reason it is rare for children to read 1000-page books is that it is rare for 1000-page books to be written to a child's typical reading level. Battlefield Earth is one of those rare exceptions -- any reasonably intelligent ten-year-old could easily handle reading it.

I would also note -- regarding its "best-seller" status -- that it is still an open question how many of those copies were bought by non-Scientologists.

mdmnm said...

I think that the synopsis was for the whole series (something like twelve books) rather than just the first novel "Battlefield Earth". I don't remember much about it, having read it when I was in my early teens, but my recollection was that it was way too purple and that the hero was even more competent than Clancy's Jack Ryan, if that is possible.

Strange choice by Romney, but, hey, if he'd have said "A Princess of Mars" I'd have though "a classic" though it is ever so purple and the hero ever so perfect, too.

Revenant said...

mdmnm,

You're thinking of Hubbard's "Mission Earth" series, not "Battlefield Earth".

Harkonnendog said...

"Teens are children."
They're teens. If you don't know there's a significant difference between a child and a teenager you don't know any children or teens.

"In any case, the fifth Harry Potter book was nearly 900 pages and was read by some ungodly number of pre-teen children around the world." And Battlefield Earth also had 4 precursors, (and some movies) marketed to children. Sigh.

"any reasonably intelligent ten-year-old could easily handle reading it." Sigh... Few, if any, ten-year-olds would have the ability to easily handle it, much less the inclination. That's because it isn't a children's book. You either haven't read it or you don't know many 4th graders. James and the Giant Peach, Wind in the Willows, Matilda, Harriet the Spy.

The Exalted said...

A 12 year old is in middle school and is, by any definition I'm aware of, a child.

I wouldn't classify any pre-high schooler as a proper "teen," but this isn't really so important

there are a number of Sci Fi books that I would not be embarrassed to admit I enjoy (Ender's Game, Dune, Starship Troopers, etc), but, needless to say, Battlefield Earth is not one of them.

That being said, I'm sure its no worse than the Da Vinci Code.

Keith Benoit said...

How can this man, this prep school/Stanford/BYU/Harvard man, the super-groomed and hyper-careful candidate for prez, the man who, since before announcing his candidacy, has been frantically covering his liberal tracks like Danny in the maze in The Shining, how can he make such a blunder?

Even if you can put taste aside (go ahead; I've tried and tried and just can't do it), this answer has to raise questions about the man's judgment. Seriously. If he'd said something like, well, The Shining, that would have been OK. Sure, like Battlefield, The Shining involves... supernatural themes. But unlike Battlefield, it doesn't promote the nutball religion of the nuttiest American cultist since Joseph Smith, a street corner charlatan and founder of the nutball religion to which Romney belongs. WTF is he doing, trying to corner the wackjob vote? Honestly, if I'd been asked to guess what his answer would be, I would have expected him to once again betray his over-prep and say something like Louis L'Amour (for 2nd Amendment voters) or, if his poll numbers weren't rising (they aren't), the Left Behind guys—anything to ingratiate himself to the far right. But when even the people who are leaning toward you (or just away from Rudy and John) are leery of your adherence to a wacko religion, how can you possibly pick a book written by the founder of another wacko religion?

Revenant said...

They're teens. If you don't know there's a significant difference between a child and a teenager you don't know any children or teens.

If you think 12 and 13 year olds aren't children... well, I just hope you don't get caught hitting on any 12-year-old girls. That's the "teen" age we're discussing here, remember -- 12 and 13, not 18 and 19.

And Battlefield Earth also had 4 precursors, (and some movies) marketed to children. Sigh.

Er... ok, I'm not sure how that contradicts my point that Battlefield Earth is childish.

Sigh... Few, if any, ten-year-olds would have the ability to easily handle it, much less the inclination.

Oh, please, I had a harder time getting through "Tom Swift and his Jet Marine" than I did slogging through Hubbard's puerile crap. "Battlefield Earth" may be a thousand pages long, but it contains about a novella's worth of plot and characterization. It is easy to follow if you can stay awake for it. You're right that few children have any inclination to read it -- but that holds for adults, too.

eric said...

Hey, Keith - BE has NOTHING to do with Scientology. Nothing. It's an epic space opera. He found it fun. You may not. He gave an honest answer. You may have wanted a fake answer. That's fine, but its hard to critisize another person's taste in entertainment (as long as that person's taste in entertainment does not involve debasing anyone). I'm astonished how superior all the anti-BE commentators feel to a man who went to Harvard and is a legitimate presidential candidate. Grow up. The man liked a novel you didn't like (or chose not to read). At least he's honest. And if choosing to be honest somehow says he has poor judgment, I'd submit that is what is wrong with the process, and how we ended up with our current president...

Beth said...

Hi Mike, I've fixed that.

Revenant said...

I'm astonished how superior all the anti-BE commentators feel to a man who went to Harvard and is a legitimate presidential candidate. Grow up.

Wha? There are no shortage of people who feel superior to George Bush -- who went to Harvard AND Yale and IS the President.

Besides, they don't teach good taste at Harvard, or anywhere else.

mdmnm said...

Revenant (at 6:45)

Thanks for the correction. How embarrassing. I had conflated the book and the series and, obviously, not paid much attention to either.

MDM