STEM Education

Battlefield Earth—An epic read


That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot–it’s become a part of modern slang, kinda like awesome when I was a teen (whoops, dated myself there). Yes, we all still say awesome, but it no longer means inspiring awe. It just means something is cool. The equivalent of the 1950’s “Neat-o.”

Epic in its current use seems to mean a sort of meld of awesome (i.e., neat-o) and outstanding. The actual, bona fide definition of epic is twofold:


  1. telling a story about a hero or about exciting events or adventures
  2. very great or large and usually difficult or impressive

*This. This is the meaning that was in my mind after reading Battlefield Earth.

Confession time: I have no idea how I missed reading this in my first forty-something years. This is a great tale, with endearing characters, charming interactions, awesome (old-school definition here) descriptions, worldwide settings with dramatic geographic descriptions, enough science to keep any self-respecting geek loaded with conversational fodder…

And did I mention the story is, well, compelling? I mean, there are times when you need to step away from any book, no matter how good (#stupiddishesandlaundry). But this is over 1000 pages of what’s-going-to-happen-next.

When was the last time you read a 1000-page book that kept you interested that long?

This book is epic in the sense that Merriam-Webster describes above. There’s the hero (Johnny) who sets out on what he knows will be an adventure of discovery, but has absolutely no idea just how great, and long, and difficult his adventures will be.

Plot Summary

Quick plot summary (spoilers. Just skip the next two paragraphs if you’d prefer):

Johnny has lived in his village all his life, with the population continuing to dwindle, never enough food. They have always been warned away from straying because of the “monsters,” which Johnny has never seen and has become to suspect are merely myth. Johnny sets out from the mountain village to explore, discovers the remains of an ancient city… and that the “monsters” are quite real.

Thus begins Johnny’s discovery–and leading of humanity–back from a 1000-year occupation by an alien species. The remnants of humanity have retreated to retreats difficult or impossible for the aliens to access, and have stayed there out of reach–and out of contact with each other. Johnny is nothing but smart, hardworking, and clever, and he takes every opportunity to learn as much as he can and bring human kind together–not only to face the occupying force, but to eventually learn to interact, and get along with, aliens from other worlds.

STEM Subjects

I will admit it right now–part of my growing enthusiasm for this book is rooted in all the teachable moments. When Johnny is exploring the ruins, he’s trying to figure out what everything is with no frame of reference (isn’t that what archaeologists do?). Later, when Johnny and a large group of people set off to work on a large project, a professor insists on accompanying them to create a details and accurate written record (history!). Later in the book, Johnny and others spy on aliens, watching them build circuits and trying to replicate them (STEM!). I could go on…

Oh! The mathematics. There is an entire section where various characters (human as well as non-human) communicate and sort out issues in mathematical systems using base 10 and binary systems… and even a base 11 system! (Sorry, my inner math teacher just got carried away.)

In addition to the novel, the edition includes the final interview with the author, as well as copies of his handwritten notes for developing the book. This can be a great starting point for discussions on where to get ideas for writing, how to organizing your thoughts… even something as straightforward as planning a project. Goals are important, but you have to develop the skills of creating a plan if you want to realize those goals.

After some thought, I decided that Battlefield Earth also is a great motivate for STEM learning. Really! Once Johnny acquires some really basic skills (including reading and writing), he’s put to work running mining equipment. As his understanding of what he needs to do to break free of the occupying forces grows, he seeks out additional knowledge. A key plot point hinges on when–or whether–Johnny will be able to figure out how to build a particular circuit. As much as my boys enjoy tinkering with circuits, there’s just something so much more exciting about a hero in a book using it to save the day (and especially when he’s using it in a way that we can relate to in our currently culture of technology). Want to get your kids excited about STEM? Battlefield Earth would give you the talking points to bring up with your kids… but you won’t need to. They’ll already be talking about it.

Remember–this is a fun read. There is a hero, yeah. And he’s got a girl he loves and he’s trying to protect.

[Comment: But seriously, folks, Chrissie is no shrinking violet. Yes, Johnny is working to save her–and the rest of the world–from 9 foot tall aliens, but Chrissie holds her own–raising her own food, building her own fires, tanning animal skins herself and sewing them into clothing… ]

Battlefield Earth audiobook

Battlefield Earth audiobook

There are aliens (friendly as well as not-so-friendly), are airplanes, battles, trickery that shows how (sometimes) you can defend yourself without harming someone else, animals, chemistry, mathematics… My oldest son is reading the book right now, and we’re listening to the audiobook version on our family roadtrips. At first, I was concerned. It was super quiet in the truck while the story played. But after questions from the boys later, I realized they weren’t zoning out. They were listening intently.

A new edition of Battlefield Earth is being released, and brand new artwork has been commissioned.

Note to mamas regarding the cover art:

Battlefield Earth Kindle cover

Battlefield Earth Kindle Edition

When I first looked up this book on Amazon, I was (frankly) aghast at the cover art. There is brief mention in the beginning of Chrissie’s comparatively skimpy clothing, but I’m kind of sympathetic on that point—if I had to sew my every scrap of own clothing, and I had to hope the hunters would bring back enough hides for shoes as well as clothing, I’d likely use as little as needed, particularly in warm weather. Later, Johnny has to kill a couple wolves to protect his horses, and takes note that the pelts aren’t worth taking, being in too poor of shape to be of good use. However, there was (in this reader’s opinion) no call for the ridiculous image of the woman at the feet of the man (presumably Johnny) on the front cover. She appears topless (in silhouette) and is on her hands and knees. I suppose we’re supposed to think this is in response to the monster the man is fighting. This art would not be acceptable for me to present to my sons, and I was wondering how did I not notice this? I didn’t notice it because, on the print copy of the book, there is an award printed over the woman, obscuring her lack of sufficient clothing. (This is not true of the Kindle version, please see the image on this post).

Sandra GirouardAbout Guest blogger Sandra Girouard:

Sandra is a wife, mother, business owner, and community volunteer. She works from home, which really means sometimes from home, sometimes from the car, the library, the airport, or wherever she needs to be at the time. She likes to read, garden, and watch Science Fiction of one sort or another while knitting or crocheting.

You can contact Sandra just about any time through the contact page on her website

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