Long ago, in the early 1990s, I was given a long piece of coursework for English Lit. at school: we had to compare and contrast two works of the same genre. Naturally, I chose science fiction. Being a bit of a speed-reader, doing the sane thing and just contrasting two books would have taken about a week, so I decided to be a bit more ambitious and went for two series of books: Isaac Asimov's six-volume Foundation series (the seventh and last was out but I hadn't read it), which I'd just read for fun anyway, and another series which I'd just started reading after randomly finding the first book in a library. That book was called The Invaders Plan and was the first volume in a 'dekalogy' (the writer's term) called Mission Earth. Its author was one L. Ron Hubbard.
As a result, I had committed myself to what remains one of the most harrowing literary experiences of my life: approximately four thousand pages of some of the worst writing in any genre I've ever read. And I've read Kevin J. Anderson.
To backtrack, L. Ron Hubbard had originally been a somewhat-successful author of SF and horror novels, novellas and short stories back in the Golden Age of science fiction. Then, famously, he'd hit upon the idea of inventing a new religion, Scientology, complete with a detailed and coherent, if completely bizarre, mythology. He was catapulted to immense wealth and had no need to write any more.
In the late 1970s Hubbard seems to have apparently decided that he wanted some literary acclaim as well (perhaps fearing that Scientology would be the only thing in his obituary). He wrote Battlefield Earth, about aliens invading and occupying the Earth for a thousand years, reducing humanity to the Stone Age, before they were driven off by nuke-armed cavemen flying fighter jets. The book became an immense success, despite its total lack of readability, and seems to have encouraged Hubbard to write a much bigger story: Mission Earth. This was written as a looooong single novel, but divided into ten volumes by the publishers (the publishing house owned by Scientology), possibly out of artistic respect for the author's vision of the story, but probably because it meant they made more money. The first novel, The Invaders Plan, was published in October 1985 and the following nine appeared at regular intervals until the last book was published in September 1987. That Hubbard wrote such a huge story in just three years seems implausible, leading to accusations of ghostwriting, but some former Scientologists and editors have backed up the idea that he did write the whole thing, though his editor did move some material round and write a new introduction and ending to each volume to make them stand alone better.
Mission Earth's plot is somewhat straightforward: the Voltar Empire has decided to add Earth to its expanding sphere of influence. The invasion is not scheduled for another century, but the Empire discovers that the people of Earth are experimenting with more and more powerful nuclear weapons, and the Cold War between the USA and the USSR (the story is set in a contemporary period, so mid-1980s Earth) is in danger of going hot. Since Earth will make a vital supply depot on the Empire's invasion route, they decide they must prevent Earth's self-destruction by sending an engineer, Jettero Heller, to investigate and if possible defuse the situation.
Unfortunately, the Empire's intelligence-gathering organisation, the CIA (the Coordinated Information Apparatus), has been running various illegal and underhanded operations on Earth for generations, most notably importing illegal drugs back to Voltar as an attempt to unseat the ruling government in favour of the CIA's director, Lombar Hisst. Panicking that these plans are about to be unmasked by the unknowing Heller, Hisst assigns one of his best agents, Soltan Gris, to undermine and disrupt Heller's plans no matter the cost.
This is where Mission Earth briefly - very briefly - threatens to get interesting. The bulk of the story - the first seven and a half volumes - are told from Gris's POV, that of the villain. Using a CIA base near Ankara, Turkey and posing as a fellow agent sent to help Heller, Gris attempts to stop Heller's plan from succeeding, either by sabotaging his operations or by trying to kill him directly. Effectively the story is a long farce as Gris's attempts to defeat Heller repeatedly blow up in his face, with Heller's plan sailing on serenely with him continuing to believe that Gris is a good guy. Eventually Heller realises that Earth should be spared invasion and encourages the development of new sources of power and renewable energy, earning the enmity of the powerful Rockecenter family (Hubbard was, perhaps, not the subtlest of satirists), who, it is revealed, control Earth's sources of oil and are unhappy with Heller's attempts to give free energy to the whole planet (by creating a black hole in orbit and tapping the energy of its singularity). To this end the Rockecenters assign a public relations genius to destroy Heller's reputation, a plan which nearly succeeds until Heller, aided somewhat randomly by the Mafia, turns the tables and successfully rescues the Earth from oblivion. He also discovers that Gris is his true enemy and has him incarcerated. The last two volumes are set back on Voltar as Heller attempts to stop Hisst's plan from conquering the Empire coming to pass.
On the surface this is a fairly random but not entirely valueless story. Old-school, yes, but with some potential for exploring themes about nuclear self-destruction, the problem of dwindling energy supplies and the corruption of power, whilst having the main villain as the central POV character for 75% of its length is an unusual and potentially fascinating move.
Hubbard, of course, doesn't actually fulfil any of this potential. Instead, the series mounts a sustained, shock-and-awe assault on the reader's intelligence, taste and suspension of disbelief that is awesome to behold (though thoroughly unpleasant to experience). With Battlefield Earth, by virtue of its far-future setting, Hubbard was unable to really do much in the way of satire or commentary on modern American values. With Mission Earth, mostly set in contemporary New York City (with occasional jaunts to Turkey and other locations), he was able to let rip with both barrels. As a result, we get lengthy digressions on how rock music turns people into effeminate gays, how lesbians are just frigid women in need of 'real men' to show them who's boss (in a stomach-churning sequence, Gris imprisons two lesbians, tortures them with a cheese grater and chili powder, and they end up falling passionately in love with him), how drugs are the root of all evil and how most foreigners are shifty criminals who are not to be trusted. Whilst Hubbard doesn't mention Scientology directly, he goes on at some length about the evils of psychology and psychiatry, one of the pillars of that belief system. Ironically, he does give immense credence to the power of public relations and image-building, and how people can believe the most self-evidently delusional tripe if it's sold the right way.
So, the series is effectively a very basic, pulpy old-school SF adventure decked out with more torture porn, homophobia, sexism and racism that you can shake a stick at. It was greeted with full-blown disbelief from both the general SF and literary communities, though bizarrely a few people (like Orson Scott Card, who really should have known better) did give it good reviews. The series also managed to briefly damage the credibility of the Hugo Awards, when Scientology block-voting got the second volume, Black Genesis, onto the shortlist for Best Novel in 1987. This was the same year as William Gibson's Count Zero and Bob Shaw's The Ragged Astronauts, genuine classics of the genre. At Worldcon that year (fortunately held in the UK, preventing too many hardcore Scientologists from attending and voting) tensions ran high as a number of SF novelists and fans alike were heard muttering darkly about the quality and integrity of the books. For their part the few attending Scientologists, mourning Hubbard's death a year earlier, were taking any slight against the book as an assault on Hubbard's memory, leading to at least one alleged bar-room heated argument over the matter.
Eventually, Orson Scott Card made up for his earlier error of judgement by going ahead and winning for Speaker for the Dead, restoring sanity to the world.
At 14 Mission Earth was a bit of an eye-opener, I can tell you, and in retrospect I perhaps should have given up after the fourth or fifth book (when the rape scenes were kicking in with full force), but a sense of honesty propelled me through reading the whole series. When I handed in my 2,000-word essay it talked about the challenges of writing a long SF series and what ideas could be handled in the medium, but it could generally be summed up as one sentence:
"Foundation was better."