Literary Daybook, Jan. 24

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 24, 2002 8:09PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 24, The Vermeer arrives at the cottage.
-- "The Music Lesson" (1998)
by Katharine Weber

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1986, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology and bestselling sci-fi writer, "discarded the body he had used in his lifetime." Before the Scientology incarnation, Hubbard had a 20-year career writing pulp magazine stories -- adventure, crime, westerns and then mostly science fiction. In 1982, after decades of Church work -- much of it the labor of dodging the FBI, CIA, IRS and reporters -- Hubbard returned to his muse with "Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000." If the numbers are to be believed, it became one of the greatest science-fiction hits of all time; if the apostates and investigative reporters are to be believed, the novel was a required purchase, and another Church scam. If Hubbard himself is to be believed in his introductory essay, the world would have received his thousand-page epic back in the '40s had he not been too busy "studying the branches of man's past knowledge at that time to see whether he had ever come up with anything valid." He had done "some pioneer work in rockets and gasses," was "in rather steady association with the new era of scientists, the boys who built the bomb," and therefore well-placed to be "one of the crew of writers that helped start man to the stars." Not that "Battlefield Earth" is Hubbard at his most stellar; according to the Church Web sites, his greatest accomplishment is the 10-book "Mission Earth" series, a work that believer-critics find reminiscent of both "the later Henry James" and "the later Charles Dickens," and such "a biting commentary on exactly who is doing what on todays earth" that it is "repeatedly drawing comparisons to the works of Jonathan Swift." Presumably the later Jonathan Swift; possibly that section in "Gulliver's Travels" wherein the mad scientists of Lagado endeavor, among other things, to reconstitute food from excrement.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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