First of all, I’m absolutely stunned by how prolific a writer Mr. Hubbard was. The man published 250 novels, novelettes, short stories, and screenplays in every major genre. I thought that might be a Guinness World Record or something. I googled to see who the most prolific author is, and it turns out to be a Brazilian author named Ryoki Inoue, with 1,075 books published under many pseudonyms. Still, 250 is impressive. It takes me nearly a month or more just to complete a short story. Mr. Hubbard could probably write several in a week.
This novel often gets the label of being the first modern thriller. As I was reading it, it kept bringing to mind movies like The Machinist, Memento, and Shutter Island. This novel definitely provides a surprising twist in the ending. You’ll feel a sadness for the main character Professor Jim Lowry.
The plot: Professor Jim Lowry is a man who denounces phenomena like demons, spirits, and the supernatural. He has traveled the world in his profession, investigated many obscure locations and experienced a wide variety of cultures and religions. To him, it’s all superstition: man’s way of explaining the unexplainable until efforts of material science find a true explanation. Then one day, after having a drink with his friend Tommy Williams (who, by the way, half-jokingly warns him that all his denunciation of the supernatural will antagonize the demons, motivating a vengeful return of them to ruin his life), he abruptly wakes up having lost his hat as well as the memory of the past four hours. Lowry is now on a quest to find those four hours, and during his quest is haunted by strange experiences. A shadowy phantom stalks him, only allowing him a brief glimpse in the corner of his eye. When he tries to eat dinner with Tommy and his wife Mary, his plate annoyingly and mysteriously moves, and he can’t be certain, but it looks like fangs are pointing out between the lips of his friend and wife, though when he looks directly at them, he doesn’t see fangs at all. These are just a couple of the strange happenings he experiences. I don’t want to spoil all the fun for you.
What did I enjoy about the novel? First and foremost, I had a blast falling into this twisting, strange labyrinth with Lowry. After each bizarre occurrence, I read with anticipation for what would come next. How much weirder would it get? It was fascinating seeing Lowry’s original belief system (his denunciation of the supernatural) begin to crack and give way as he encounters each new absurd event. I enjoyed the dialogue as well. Every conversation crackled with life, and felt like a genuine exchange between two people. Now, I don’t think Fear is known for its exceptional dialogue or anything like that, but it worked well for me.
What to learn from one of the weaker elements of the novel: if you can achieve the writing goal you have set for your story without certain scenes, go ahead and delete them. Author Nancy Kress once stated in her book Beginnings, Middles, and Ends that a scene must accomplish at least two of three things: advance the plot, deepen characterizations, or fill in back story. This novel is a tad bit overwritten. There were certainly scenes that distracted and slowed the pace down too much, and I found myself skimming some of the material.
Overall, I give L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Fear a 4/5 rating. You’ll have a thrilling good time in this bizarre funhouse of a story.