Slaves of Sleep: Not an E-Meter in sight

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSlaves by Sleep by L. Ron Hubbard science fiction book reviewsSlaves of Sleep by L. Ron Hubbard

Potential readers of L. Ron Hubbard‘s Slaves of Sleep who might be put off by the author’s association with the cult of Dianetics and Scientology need not be concerned here. This novel first appeared in Unknown magazine in 1939, more than a decade before Hubbard’s first Dianetics article was published (in Astounding Science Fiction) in May 1950. Thus, in Slaves of Sleep, there’s not a mention of “auditors,” “clears” or “E-meters” to be found. Rather, this is an extremely fast-moving and colorful fantasy tale, told with much brio and panache. In it, we meet Seattle shipping magnate Jan Palmer, a rather pusillanimous young man who is falsely accused of the murder of a visiting professor. I’m not giving anything away by saying that this murder was actually the work of the hairy, fanged and 15-foot-tall jinni Zongri, who’s not at all grateful after being released from his bottle. (Barbara Eden he ain’t!) Jan, the innocent bystander, is cursed by Zongri with “eternal wakefulness.” Thus, whenever he nods off in his jail cell, his “sleep spirit” is transported to an Arabian Nights-style empire, where humans are slaves and jinnis rule, and where he is the swashbuckling pirate Tiger.

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Kindle edition

This reader has always been fond of any book or film that dishes out two exciting parallel story lines. You know the kind I mean: Just as things come to a head with one of the stories, the scene jumps to the other, and back and forth. Well, Slaves of Sleep does this to a turn, alternating between Jan’s plight in his earthly jail cell and his adventures as Tiger the pirate. While back on Earth, Jan faces that murder charge and tries to prevent himself from being locked away in a sanatorium; in the otherworldly Tarbuton, he is captured by the jinni queen and must somehow escape. He is aided in his latter task when he comes to acquire the mystical Seal of Sulayman, and when the personalities of Jan and Tiger start to meld. Yes, this is all pretty way-out stuff, but as I mentioned up top, Hubbard carries it off with great flair.

There are, however, some problems that pop up and prevent me from giving the book a top grade. Hubbard was a notoriously rapid writer, and there are scenes in the book that would have benefited from some more detail. For example, the descriptions of the Rani temple, which Tiger infiltrates, are very vague, at best; most readers will have to tax their imaginations to adequately picture this stuff. And as some other readers have quite accurately pointed out, the book’s conclusion IS rather rushed. In addition, once Jan acquires that Seal of Sulayman, his tasks are waaaay too easily accomplished. fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhen all our hero has to do to sink a ship is say, in so many words, “Seal of Sulayman, sink that ship,” much of the dramatic tension is removed, although the reader still gets a kick out of this vicarious wish fulfillment. It is easy to tell that Hubbard greatly enjoyed writing this tale, and that enjoyment IS communicated to the reader, but still, this reader was somehow left wanting more. I originally picked up this out-of-print book because of the glowing review in Cawthorn and Moorcock‘s excellent overview volume entitled Fantasy: The 100 Best Books. Well, I’m not sure that Slaves of Sleep deserves to be on that top 100 list, but I did have fun reading it, and marginally recommend it to all lovers of fast-moving, swashbuckling fantasy fare.

First published in 1939. Jan Palmer has everything—except happiness. He wishes to escape to another world. But be careful what you wish for.. . . Waking out of a deep sleep, he escapes—into a living nightmare. In a realm of deadly secrets and dangerous dancing girls, he discovers that humankind’s fate lies in his hands. Abounding in revelation, this is a tale that might just open your eyes. “I stayed up all night finishing it. The yarn scintillated.”—Ray Bradbury

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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4 comments

  1. He also wrote some spy books before Dyanetics, didn’t he? I’ve seen a couple at the book store where I work. I think I’ll read one, just to see what it’s like.

    This is a great review, but the description didn’t grab me — I think I’d prefer an outrageous and unbelievable spy story.

  2. Sandy Ferber /

    Thanks for the kind words, Marion. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hubbard had written some spy novels, as he wrote in practically ALL genres. I know he has a bunch of Western novels, horror novels, tons of sci-fi and fantasy and who knows what else? He sold his stuff to all the various pulp magazines back when. He is best known today for the crackpot “religion” that he started and not enough for his earlier writings….

    • Yeah, I always think of him as a weirdo and haven’t read anything he’s written, but I do think I have one of his SF novels in my Audible library.

  3. Sandy Ferber /

    Here’s a bibliography of the dude. The next book I hope to review of his is “Fear”…. http://www.biblio.com/l-ron-hubbard/author/559

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