Fifteenth in E.C. Tubb’s ‘Dumarest Saga’ is a splendid fast-paced science fiction novel.
Earl Dumarest covers a lot of ground – and space – in this one! Fighting as a mercenary on the planet Hoghan, he ends up on the losing side and is captured. However, his abilities are recognised and he is offered a way off the planet, if he can assist in a little bit of interplanetary smuggling. And one of the main looters is the Lady Dephine (not Delphine as shown in the blurb and on Amazon). Some sci-fi writers can’t write good female characters; Tubb can: ‘Life alone is never enough. Always there is more, for unless there is, we are no better than beasts in a field. Our senses were given us to use; our ambitions to be fulfilled. How well you understand, Earl.’
The pace never lets up: there’s betrayal, a deadly plague on the spaceship, landfall on Emijar, a planet controlled by strict codes of conduct where transgressors can expect to be challenged to fight to the death, and here too are the olcept, nasty critters that are hunted for trophies and attaining manhood. The dead are mummified and deified, though it’s no comfort to them: ‘Time enough for the chemicals to penetrate the tissue, to harden soft fibres and dissolve points of potential corruption. To seal the flesh in a film of plastic, perhaps, or to petrify it, to protect the body against the ravages of time. To produce monuments to the dead.’
And there’s a grand passion between Dephine and Earl. Love: ‘Sweetness and pain, the ineffable joy of affection and the haunting fear of loss. The vulnerability of total surrender. The willing discarding of all defences and the embracing of the unknown…’
Not forgetting another possible clue to the whereabouts of the long-lost planet Earth. ‘Stowing away as a boy… The captain allowed him to work his passage and kept him aboard until he died. When alone, the boy had moved on, ship after ship, world after world, always deeper and deeper towards the heart of the galaxy. To regions where even the very name of Earth had become a legend.’
And the story has a neat twist at the end, too.
As always, Tubb provides us with glimmers of prose that is almost poetry: ‘Her faith had been strong and she had died happy. Now she would drift for eternity or be drawn by gravitational attraction into a sun and disintegrate in a final puff of glory. A minute flame which would, perhaps, warm some future flower, grace some unknown sky.’ And then we’re brought down severely with: ‘Fanciful imagery which had no place in a ship which had become a living tomb.’
And Dumarest’s philosophy, usually within a single paragraph, helps paint a picture of the man: ‘… No human being, no matter how insignificant, can safely be demeaned. Always there is present the danger of restraints snapping, of self-control giving way beneath the impact of one insult too many. Of pride and the need to be an individual bursting out in a tide of relentless fury.’
Over the years commentators have wondered why the saga has never been taken up as a TV series. Particularly these days; the CGI wizards could do a great job. Perhaps it’s because TV series have moved away from the lone protagonist – now it seems a series involves a number of regular characters, it’s an ensemble piece, rather than a one-man show with guests.