As the founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard has been called “a great philosopher” by some and “a cult leader” by many others. But two decades before he introduced the concept of Scientology, and even 20 years before he unleashed Dianetics on the world, Hubbard was busy churning out up 100,000 words per month as one of the most prolific pulp fiction and sci-fi writers of the 20th century. (In 2006, he was awarded a Guinness World Record for Most Published Works by One Author.)
After getting his start in 1931 as a reporter for The University Hatchet, the student newspaper of George Washington University, where Hubbard was an undergrad, he abandoned school altogether in order to nurture his burgeoning writing career. It didn't take long for Hubbard to find work. By the end of the decade, Hubbard had published approximately 140 stories—many of them under his own name, but others under a variety of inventive pen names, including Winchester Remington Colt, Bernard Hubbel, Legionnaire 148, and even Captain L. Ron Hubbard. Even more imaginative than his pseudonyms were the titles he conjured up for these stories.
1. DEAD MEN KILL (1934)
Long before Rick Grimes existed, Detective Terry Lane learned the hard way that the dead don’t always stay that way. Thinking that he’s on the trail of a killer, Lane instead is forced to fend off an onslaught of pugilistic corpses who want to put him six feet under. Publishers Weekly calls it a “rollicking horror yarn [that] just happens to tap into the current craze for zombies.”
2. STARCH AND STRIPES (1936)
Originally published in Dime Adventure Magazine, Starch and Stripes mixes politics and pacification as a group of Marines enact a plan to take down a dangerous warlord at the same time that a group of high-powered political figures arrive to inspect their camp.
3. CARGO OF COFFINS (1937)
After escaping from Devil’s Island, Lars Marlin manages to land himself a gig on a luxury yacht. And it’s there that he comes face to face with Paco Covino, the man who put him away in the first place. With nowhere to go but overboard, Marlin attempts to unravel whatever plot he knows Covino is hatching.
4. TYPEWRITER IN THE SKY (1940)
One of Hubbard’s most critically acclaimed efforts, Typewriter in the Sky is a novel that takes a meta approach, telling the tale of a piano player who unwittingly becomes a character in his friend’s adventure novel and whose future then lies in how the novel ends. In the years since its publishing, both Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction have been compared to Typewriter in the Sky.
5. THE CASE OF THE FRIENDLY CORPSE (1941)
Regardless of what Dead Men Kill said, not all corpses are mean. Just as the title indicates, in The Case of the Friendly Corpse, they’re downright hospitable. Jules Riley is a student of ancient languages who inadvertently gets trapped in another dimension when he switches places with Achmed el Abd Mahmud, a sorcerer and recent graduate of the Order of Necromancers.
6. HE DIDN'T LIKE CATS (1942)
An alley cat exacts revenge on sheepish Jacob Findley, the titular feline-hater, after Findley sees to it that the cat meets his end under the wheels of a passing car.
7. HER MAJESTY'S ABERRATION (1948)
This story, published in Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name René Lafayette, is the third in Hubbard’s “Ole Doc Methuselah” series. And while it may sound like a Bizarro version of a James Bond tale, it’s actually a sci-fi yarn that sees our hero, Ole Doc, save the planet of Dorcon from its mad queen—and restore the queen’s sanity, too.
8. THE AUTOMAGIC HORSE (1949)
Hubbard based The Automagic Horse partly on his own experiences writing for Hollywood. It tells the story of a special effects wizard, “Gadget” O’Dowd, who builds a mechanical version of the great thoroughbred Man O’ War for a movie, then enters it into an actual horse race at Santa Anita—and wins. But the plot thickens when it’s discovered that all of this is an elaborate ruse to hide what Gadget is really building: a spaceship.
9. MAN FOR BREAKFAST (1949)
Originally published in Texas Rangers Magazine under the pseudonym Winchester Remington Colt, Man for Breakfast is a vigilante story about Johnny Purcell, a robbery victim who will stop at nothing to see that he gets justice for his suffering.
10. THE WERE-HUMAN (1981)
Following the release of Dianetics in 1950, most of Hubbard’s literary output was Scientology-based texts. The Were-Human, published in The Fantasy Book in October of 1981, is one of his rare late fictions. It’s about the transformation of a human into something entirely different, not unlike a werewolf, but technically a were-human.