Sunday, January 28, 2018

Slaves of Sleep by L. Ron Hubbard

Originally published in the July 1939 issue of Unknown magazine, I encountered this classic adventure tale when it was reprinted by Lancer Books in 1967. Hubbard’s name was not unknown to me, for I had already been exposed to him through various theatrical players, all friends of my mother who nurtured her acting career with a diverse group of Chicagoland actors and writers. I also met people in the neighborhood who collected Hubbard’s pulp stories, had written to Hubbard, and to my amazement they received letters back from him. Slaves of Sleep has never lost its allure. Hubbard was greatly influenced by Arabian Nights, and this influence is evident in Slaves of Sleep and other stories. Slaves of Sleep opens with Jan Palmer being solicited by Frobish whose goal is the sealed clay jar in Palmer’s collection which he believes contains a trapped Jinn, or genii.  One night Frobish breaks into Palmer’s home and unseals the jar, only to be slain by the angry Jinn, Zongri, who then curses Palmer with “Eternal Wakefulness.” This sets up the amazing plot wherein Palmer, accused of the murder of Frobish, finds himself transported aboard a full-rigged sailing ship in some distant past every time he begins to fall asleep. The story moves back and forth between Palmer’s two lives; that of the accused murderer and that where he takes on the persona of a brutish sailor named Tiger. Palmer is in dire straits in both worlds. Hubbard possessed a great ability to engage the reader with wild plots and believable characters. With characteristic vigor, he creates a world of Jinns and exotic people and lands, and takes the reader along on a breathless and satisfying visit into unknown worlds. Palmer’s plight as an accused murderer, his lingering romantic notions toward his secretary, Alice Hall, and his confusion at finding himself occupying the body of a swarthy seaman when “sleeping,” all set the narrative into brisk motion. The immediacy of Palmer’s plight and his subsequent tribulations help make the scenes jump from the page leaving one’s heart racing in wonder at how poor Palmer will survive his trials. Hubbard wrote a sequel, Masters of Sleep, about a decade later, and the current edition from Galaxy Press pairs both tales under a great cover by Gerry Grace. Masters of Sleep is a tad shorter, and relies exclusively on action and some satire to propel the story. Satire is, of course, a form of social commentary, and LRH lays it on pretty thick. Still, Masters of Sleep is a satisfying continuation of Palmer’s tale, with a few additional plot twists. I was struck at how deftly Hubbard could use the same raw material and spin it into a wholly original story of its own. 

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