The Writing of Battlefield Earth


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The more than 700 pages of preliminary notes from the authorship of Battlefield Earth, which was written over an eight month period in 1980 and originally entitled, Man, the Endangered Species.

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HAT EPIC – AND THE TERM IS FULLY ACCURATE – WAS Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000. The work is nothing short of massive: “428,750 words long plus intro,” as Ron finally calculated from the running tally with which he marked his daily progress. (Rather in awe, more than one critic would remark upon Ron’s use of a then fairly rare word processor. In fact, however, he employed two Underwood manual typewriters – one to hammer out his several thousand words-a-day, while the other underwent repair. Every two or three weeks, he switched and proceeded to wear the alternate machine into a sorry state of disrepair.) Moreover, he was further to generate some seven hundred pages of handwritten notes, which further provide us some sense of how he approached the work.

     The story, as meticulously detailed in those preliminary notes, tells of an earth so fully devastated after a thousand years of Psychlo rule, barely 35,000 human beings remain. Yet among those surviving humans is the wonderfully courageous Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. If he emerges from what is effectively a tribal community among the Rocky Mountains, he nonetheless proves more than a match for the inestimably cruel and technologically advanced Psychlos. Thus, the primary theme as reiterated in various ways through preliminary notes: the indomitable spirit of man prevailing over those who mistakenly regard him as an animal.

     One finds the whole of the Psychlo history among those preliminary notes, including chronicles of interplanetary conquest, a discourse on galactic diplomacy and much concerning the tooth and claw mores of the rampaging Psychlos. The implication here: although John W. Campbell would speak of the LRH story as rolling out in a single creative burst, Battlefield Earth was plainly a work of very careful design and all the more impressive for the mere eight months of writing. Both setting and structure were firmly established before word one, while additional notes detailed technological advancements as extrapolated from a most impressive grasp of time-space theory. Also found among those initial notes is much of what provides the thematic continuity, with delineated chapter motifs and character sketches. Then, too, we find much pertaining to what is plainly satirical. Transcending even the power of the Psychlos is a race of intergalactic bankers (literal descendants of sharks) with a pressing lien on the entirety of earth, including existing resources, future proceeds from mineral exploitation, and even the destiny of future populations. If utterly unconcerned as to the fate of those on the balance sheets, the indifference is not malicious. Merely, “This is all just routine. Ordinary banking business.”

The Writing of Battlefield Earth continued...

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