Typewriter in the Sky
First hardcover edition
|Author||L. Ron Hubbard|
|Cover artist||David Kyle|
|1940 (serial format)|
|LC Class||PS3515.U1417 T96 1995|
|Preceded by||The Ultimate Adventure|
|Followed by||Final Blackout|
Typewriter in the Sky is a science fiction novel written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The protagonist Mike de Wolf finds himself inside the story of his friend's book. He must survive conflict on the high seas in the Caribbean during the 17th century, before eventually returning to his native New York. Each time a significant event occurs to the protagonist in the story he hears the sounds of a typewriter in the sky. At the story's conclusion, de Wolf wonders if he is still a character in someone else's story. The work was first published in a two-part serial format in 1940 in Unknown Fantasy Fiction. It was twice published as a combined book with Hubbard's work Fear. In 1995 Bridge Publications re-released the work along with an audio edition.
Typewriter in the Sky was well received. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it "swashbuckling fun", and John Clute and John Grant in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy characterized the work as the best of Hubbard's stories from the Arabian-fantasy theme. Writers have compared plot points from the 1951 science fiction book What Mad Universe by Fredric Brown and the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction by Zach Helm to Hubbard's tale.
The main character, Mike de Wolf, is a struggling pianist in New York. His friend, Horace Hackett, is an author and popular pulp fiction writer, who writes about Mike as the villain in his book, a swashbuckling adventure story. The story begins in Hackett's basement-level apartment in Greenwich Village. Mike enters the bathroom of Hackett's apartment, and hears the sound of someone typing on a typewriter. After electrocuting himself, Mike loses consciousness. He subsequently awakens to find himself on a beach in the year 1640, as a character within his friend's novel.
Mike learns he is regarded in this world as the villain, Spanish Admiral Miguel de Lobo, a "pirate potboiler". He knows that the villains in stories written by Hackett often do not come to a favorable end, and is therefore eager to safely leave the realm to which he was transported. Mike recognizes the specific work into which he has been transported: "he had no doubt at this was 'Blood and Loot', by Horace, and that the whole panorama was activated only by Horace's mind. And what Horace said was so, was so. And what Horace said people said, they said."
The story takes place on the high seas in the Caribbean during the 17th century with a conflict among colonists. When a major event occurs, Mike hears the sound of a typewriter in the sky. Mike's reality literally changes each time the author makes a change to the story. Hackett writes under pressure, as he is facing a deadline. He falls in love with a woman in the story, but grows frustrated after realizing that she is just another of Hackett's fictional creations. At the end of the work, Mike returns to New York, but questions whether he is still a character in someone else's story. He muses whether or not there exists a "typewriter in the sky", which is in effect creating the world. Mike looks up into the sky in search of this mystical device or its controller, "Abruptly Mike de Wolfe stopped. His jaw slackened a trifle and his hand went up to his mouth to cover it. His eyes were fixed upon the fleecy clouds which scurried across the moon. Up there – God? In a dirty bathrobe?"
Typewriter in the Sky was first published in 1940 as a two-part serial in Unknown Fantasy Fiction. In 1951 it was published by Gnome Press as a combined work with Hubbard's Fear, and again in 1977 as Fear & Typewriter in the Sky, published by Popular Library. In the UK, the combined work was first published in 1952 as number 409 in the Cherry Tree Book series by Kemsley Newspapers Limited. Typewriter in the Sky was republished in 1995 by Bridge Publications, along with an audio edition read by Jim Meskimen. In 2008 Heritage Auctions, Inc. valued a rare combined copy of Typewriter in the Sky and Fear at between US$100 and $200.
In the biographical entry on L. Ron Hubbard in The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography, Typewriter in the Sky and Slaves of Sleep are categorized among classics in science fiction. In his book The Witching Hour, author James Gunn placed Typewriter in the Sky among "classics" in science fiction published in Unknown. Francis Hamit of Daily News of Los Angeles characterized Typewriter in the Sky and Fear as "classics" in science fiction. Roland J. Green of the Chicago Sun-Times also described the work as a "classic". Daniel Cohen wrote in Masters of the Occult that works including Typewriter in the Sky, Fear, and Slaves of Sleep "moved Hubbard into the front rank of science fiction writers of the late 1940s." Writing in Dream makers: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction, Charles Platt called the book, "one of Hubbard's most well-known and playful pieces". The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture described Typewriter in the Sky and Fear as Hubbard's "most famous stories" in the genre of science fiction.
In the book Resnick at Large, authors Mike Resnick and Robert J. Sawyer cited Typewriter in the Sky as an example of the subgenre of science fiction – "Recursive Science Fiction", described as "science fiction about science fiction". In the work, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Gary Westfahl commented, "Recursive fantasy fiction – that is, a fantasy about writing fantasy – is scarce. Luigi Pirandello's play Six Characters in a Search of an Author (1921) offered a non-genre model." Westfahl noted that Hubbard's book was "an early genre example, perhaps inspired by Pirandello".
Typewriter in the Sky is well regarded within the genre of fantasy; it is listed in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock. Robert E. Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, and Martin Harry Greenberg write in Rivals of Weird Tales: 30 Great Fantasy and Horror Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps that Typewriter in the Sky is classed among stories published in Unknown which "still rank as some of the best fantasy produced in this century". Author David Wingrove noted in The Science Fiction Source Book, "His [Hubbard's] best work is outstanding within the pulp tradition: "Typewriter in the Sky" is a fine fantasy about a man who gets trapped within a story written by a pulp writer". Writing in A Short History of Fantasy, authors Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James characterized the book as "The best of Hubbard's stories" and noted that it "is better seen as a rationalized fantasy".
Writing in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Clute and John Grant characterized the work as the best of Hubbard's stories in the Arabian-fantasy theme. Authors Lionel Fanthorpe and Patricia Fanthorpe wrote in The World's Most Mysterious People that Hubbard accomplished a difficult task of writing about two different worlds at the same time, "even through the medium of fiction Hubbard succeeds in posing deep metaphysical questions about the mind's interpretation of experiential data, and its response to the questions about the nature of being." In their book Mysteries and Secrets of Time, Fanthorpe and Fanthorpe place the book within the sub-topic of "the idea of being caught inside someone else's dream". Alexei Panshin and Cory Panshin wrote in The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence, "Typewriter in the Sky can be understood as an old-fashioned alien exploration story, but with a new basis of transfer from one world to another – the thoughts of an outside intelligence."
In their work Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, authors John Ankerberg and John Weldon observed, "compare Scientology theory with L. Ron Hubbard's science-fiction works, e.g., Ole Doc Methusala, Slaves of Sleep, Death's Deputy, The Final Blackout, The Dangerous Dimension, The Tramp, Fear, King Slayer, and Typewriter in the Sky." Author Harriet Whitehead made a similar comparison in her study of Scientology, Renunciation and Reformulation: a Study of Conversion in an American Sect.
Writing in the October 1951 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas wrote favorably of Typewriter in the Sky, and characterized it as "an entertaining adventure-farce badly in need of editing". Reviewing the same edition, Groff Conklin termed it "a silly idea inexpertly carried out". New York Times reviewer Villiers Gerson found Typewriter to be "an ironic and jaunty adventure story." George Malko noted in Scientology: The Now Religion that Typewriter in the Sky was "eagerly welcomed by devoted fans". In a biography of Hubbard written by Kent State University professor Donald M. Hassler in The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, he noted, "Typewriter in the Sky (1940/1951), which anticipates plot gimmicks now popular among experimental metafictionists, ought to be taken seriously by the critics who will evaluate his strange genius". Everett F. Bleiler, however, found it to be "a routine adventure story carried through competently, with a good central idea".
Peter Haining wrote in The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines, "Typewriter in the Sky, which first appeared in Unknown in 1940, is widely considered to be one of his best works." Michael Ashley wrote in Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction, "Typewriter in the Sky (1940) is a rollicking farce of a man written into another's story". Sandy Bauers of The Philadelphia Inquirer called the 1995 audio publication of the work "swashbuckling fun". Janrae Frank of The Washington Post commented, "Much of his best work of the '40s and '50s, Fear, Slaves of Sleep, Typewriter in the Sky, is written in exactly the same style and won reader polls at the time." Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines by Frank M. Robinson and Lawrence Davidson, listed Typewriter in the Sky among Hubbard's "best work". In his biography of the author, Bare-Faced Messiah, Russell Miller characterized Typewriter in the Sky as one of Hubbard's works which "would come to be regarded as classics", along with Fear and Final Blackout. Damon Knight gave the book a mixed review, commenting, "The problem [of how de Wolf can 'change the story and avert his doom'] is a tough one, and Hubbard does not so much solve it as slide around it.... This weakness is more than compensated for by the ending of the story itself – Three immortal lines".
In a review of the book What Mad Universe (1949), Paul Di Filippo of Sci Fi Weekly posits that the book's author Fredric Brown may have been influenced by Hubbard's story. Gary Westfahl quoted Hubbard's work in a book of noteworthy science fiction quotations. In a fictional recounting of Hubbard's accomplishments, followers of Scientology cite Typewriter in the Sky among works which "inspired millions", in the Obie Award-winning satirical musical written by Kyle Jarrow, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. In the book Harlan Ellison's Watching, by Harlan Ellison, Typewriter in the Sky is compared to Purple Rose of Cairo, "I bet if L. Ron Hubbard had written Purple Rose of Cairo they'd have given it a Hugo ... I mean, it is sort of a hip, updated version of Typewriter in the Sky."
Writing for Locus Online, Gary Westfahl compared the screenplay of the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction to Hubbard's story, and commented, "In taking its premise into this unlikely territory, the film provides a fascinating contrast to a classic fantasy novella with a similar theme, L. Ron Hubbard's 'Typewriter in the Sky' (1940). A lawsuit alleging that screenwriter Zach Helm improperly stole his story from Hubbard could accurately state that both works have the same basic plot." In a review of Stranger than Fiction for Cinematical, Jette Kernion also compared the film's plot to Hubbard's story, noting that the two stories share "some strikingly similar plot elements".
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