"[E.C. Tubb’s] reputation for fast-moving and colourful SF writing is unmatched by anyone in Britain.” — Michael Moorcock
Yesterday marked the centennial of Edwin Charles Tubb’s birth. “Edwin Charles Tubb?”, you say? To the pulp(-ish) cognoscenti, his name is “E.C. Tubb” and it’s a name you should know better. As an introduction, I’ll just quote Terence Hanley:
“If the Golden Age of Science Fiction ended in 1950, then E.C. Tubb missed the mark by a year. His first published science fiction story, "Greek Gift," showed up in the British magazine New Worlds in Autumn 1951. Hundreds more novels and short stories poured from his pen over the next half century, including not just science fiction but also Westerns, detective fiction, adventure, comic book scripts, and adaptations from television. According to Wikipedia, Tubb wrote more than 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas. He also served as editor of Authentic Science Fiction in 1956-1957. Short on material, he wrote an entire issue himself using different pseudonyms. In fact, Tubb is known to have used fifty-eight different pseudonyms in his writing. His most well-known series, comprising thirty-three volumes, is The Dumarest Saga.”
One can find a more thorough bio of Tubb here, but Hanley sums things up pretty well.
I knew that Tubb’s centennial was looming, but I must make the shameful admission that I hadn’t read any of his fiction. So, I asked around. Most of the replies I got amounted to, “Read The Winds of Gath. It’s a perfectly good place to start.” I also knew that John Maddox Roberts was a lifelong fan of the Dumarest books. Having read the novel, I must agree that The Winds of Gath delivers the goods.
Before I review the novel itself, a little background on the “Dumarest”—as in “the Dumarest Saga”—mentioned above is in order. Earl Dumarest is one, grim, deadly space-traveller. He’s seen a lot of hard light-years as he’s followed the star-roads and he’s been burned by many an outworld sun. Earl is described often by Tubb as a “big man” with brown hair who’s good with a knife…and a crossbow and a gun… The man is all-around lethal, but a knife is his favorite weapon.
Dumarest stowed away as a youth on a starship from Earth and is trying to find his way back home. Trouble is, to (nearly) everyone in the far-flung Terran Diaspora, “Earth” is a myth, at best. Dumarest knows better and woe betide anybody who keeps him from his quest to find his lost home-planet.
In the first chapter of The Winds of Gath, Earl finds himself stranded on the tourist planet of Gath. The starship he was aboard changed course after he’d booked passage and gone into suspended animation. He’s screwed, but in a perfectly legal fashion. Once on Gath, Dumarest tries to make enough cash to get passage off-planet and continue his quest for Earth.
The problem is, there is very little high-paying work for anyone not connected directly to the visiting tourists. There are plenty of others, like Dumarest, who are stranded in “Lowtown,” which is located next to the spaceport. They basically provide slave-labor for the tourists. In order to make enough money to get off-planet, Earl accepts a challenge to fight—to the death—the gladiatorial champion of a wealthy tourist. The “champion”—in a well-written fight scene—ends up with a broken neck.
This sets into motion a chain of events involving the Matriarch of Kund, her successor, assassins and a cyborg representative of the mysterious “Cyclan” guild. By the end of the novel, Dumarest has killed several more people. He has also experienced the “Winds of Gath,” which are storms that blow through a nearby mountain range impregnated by crystals that resonate and emit myriad sounds unknown anywhere else in the universe—thus, the lucrative tourist trade. The effect of the Winds is to induce hallucinations in most of the people who experience them.
I don’t want to give anymore away, so I’ll leave it at that.
According to Michael Moorcock—who knew Tubb and described the Dumarest series as “excellent”—Earl Dumarest was a "conscious and acknowledged imitation" of Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark. My impression from reading The Winds of Gath is that Dumarest is, possibly, even less good-looking than Stark—we know exactly how Stark looked by way of Steranko’s “Ginger Star” cover. Earl is probably somewhere between the recently-deceased Robert Forster and Tommy Lee Jones facially, but with a young Clint Eastwood’s physique. That doesn’t mean the ladies aren’t attracted by his raw animal magnetism and brutal competence, of course.
Tubb writes Dumarest as a classic tough guy. A man of few words, but those words count when they are spoken. That said, he’s not spouting one-liners like Schwarzennegger. Very much in the Brackett/Eric John Stark tradition. Like Brackett, Tubb’s prose is excellently lean n’ mean, but lacks a little bit of the poetic zest which makes her prose stand above most of her contemporaries.
The novel is well-plotted, with some nicely-done intrigue. I have to agree with several other reviewers that it works just fine as a “one and done” novel, despite the fact that Tubb followed it up with more than thirty additional entries in the saga. In my opinion, I think that Tubb hints at more adventures by way of the “Winds of Gath” themselves. What could point more strongly toward a pulpish “Space Odyssey” than Dumarest facing a sci-fi version of Homer’s Sirens?
I should point out that, while Tubb was first published in the UK, it was Don Wollheim—at Ace Books—who gave him his first big break in the US market. Wollheim continued to nurture Tubb’s career and it was Don who first published The Winds of Gath. When Wollheim left Ace Books to create DAW Books, Tubb followed him over as soon as he was contractually able. Veruchia was published by Ace Books in 1973. The same year, Mayenne—with a glorious Kelly Freas cover—was published by DAW.
I mentioned above that Dumarest was Tubb’s riff on Brackett’s Eric John Stark. I also mentioned that Steranko’s rendition of EJS—handpicked by Brackett—is the benchmark. I got to wondering, “What if Steranko had done a Dumarest cover?” A little searching turned up the (originally non-Dumarest) pic below. I don’t think even the mighty Freas could’ve outdone Steranko when it comes to Dumarest. In a better world…