Jack of Swords (1976) is the fourteenth in the Dumarest saga by E.C. Tubb. The Dumarest series comprises 33 books, each story a self-contained adventure. However, throughout the series the protagonist Earl Dumarest searches for clues to the location of his home world, Earth. The series is set in a far future. By the time of the first adventure The Winds of Gath (1967) Dumarest has traveled so long and so far that he does not know how to return to his home planet and indeed no-one has ever heard of it, other than as a myth or legend.
It seems likely that Earth's location has been deliberately concealed. The Cyclan, an organization of humans surgically altered to be emotionless, seem intent on stopping him from finding Earth. They’re also keen to retrieve a scientific discovery that Dumarest possesses, stolen from them and passed to him by a dying thief, which would vastly increase their already considerable power.
‘At the heart of the web glowed the mass of Central Intelligence, the heart of the Cyclan. Buried deep beneath miles of rock on a lonely world, the massed brains absorbed knowledge as a sponge sucked water… His brain, removed, would join the others, hooked in a unified whole, all working to a common end: the complete and absolute control of the entire galaxy. The elimination of waste and the direction of effort so that every man and every world would become the parts of a universal machine.’
Dumarest has turned up on Teralde, an unwelcoming planet. Here, he is recruited on a quest for a nebulous ghost world. It may even hold the key to his search for Earth. He joins a motley crew and eventually they find what they seek, in more ways than one.
Tubb’s inventiveness never seems to flag, which is remarkable, considering his output.
And his descriptions are spare yet telling:
‘“Tell me,” [he said.] For her good, not his, a catharsis to ease her inner torment. Hurtful memories, nursed, could fester and gain a false eminence. It was better she should speak and, until she did, he was powerless to say or do anything which could help.’
‘His face was a combination of disaster, the nose squashed, eyebrows scarred, the lobe of one ear missing. An ugly man with the appearance of a brutal clown but whose hands held magic when it came to dealing with machines.’
Edwin Charles Tubb died in 2010, aged 90. He was a British writer of science fiction, fantasy and western books - writing over 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas. He used 58 pen names over five decades of writing.