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Monday, 10 April 2017

Book reviews - Dumarest Saga #16 & #17

Reading E.C. Tubb’s long-running science fiction saga, I have reached the halfway point with volumes 16 and 17 in the 33-book series.

While each story is a self-contained adventure, these two books are continuous in theme, characters and environment, so I read them back-to-back.

The Dumarest novels are set in a far future galactic culture that spread to many worlds. Earl Dumarest was born on Earth, but had stowed away on a spaceship when he was a young boy and was discovered. Although a stowaway apprehended on a spaceship was typically ejected into space, the captain took pity on the lad and allowed him to work his passage on the ship. By the time of the first volume, The Winds of Gath, Dumarest has traveled so long and so far that he does not know how to return to his home planet; and in fact nobody has ever heard of it, except as a myth or a legend. It’s clear to him that someone or something has deliberately concealed Earth's location. The Cyclan, an organization of humans (cybers surgically altered to be emotionless, who on occasion can link with the brains of previously living Cyclans, in the manner of a hive mind process, seem determined to prevent him finding Earth. The cybers can call on the ability to calculate the outcome of an event and accurately predict results.

An additional incentive for the Cyclan to capture Dumarest is that he possesses a potent scientific discovery, stolen from them and passed to him by a dying thief, which would inordinately amplify their already considerable power and enable them to dominate the human species. Also appearing in the books is the humanitarian Church of Universal Brotherhood, whose monks roam many worlds, notably every planet where there is war.

All these books reveal imaginative situations, fantastic colourful civilisations and a vast array of characters. 

Haven of Darkness (#16)(1977) introduces us to the planet of Zakym, where the spectres of the dead appear at the time of delusia, when the twin suns attain close proximity in the heavens. On Zakym the beautiful Lavinia is not only haunted by ghosts, she is being courted by an unsavoury power-crazed noble, Gydapen. Into this world arrives Dumarest, cleverly escaping capture by a Cyclan agent. Here, he learns that the human inhabitants stay indoors at night; a curfew is enforced. Anyone caught outside at night falls prey to the Sungari, the original seemingly mythical yet deadly inhabitants of the world.

When Dumarest suffers the kickback traces of an earlier treatment, he is privy to certain knowledge: ‘A man lived every second of every hour since the time of his birth and each of those seconds held all that had happened to and around him. A vastness of experience. An inexhaustible supply of terror and pain and hopeless yearning. An infinity of doubt and indecision, of ignorance known and forcibly accepted, of frustration and hate and cruelty and fear. A morass in which glowed the fitful gleams of transient joy. Each man, within his skull, carried a living hell.’ (p151)

Dumarest earns the love of Lavinia to the chagrin of her suitor and, to avoid a civil war, he has to face Gydapen in a tension-filled showdown.

(At this juncture, the publisher (Arrow) changed the cover artist.]

Prison of Night (#17)(1977) begins with the mysterious death of a monk of the Universal Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the story continues with Dumarest living with Lavinia on Zakym. Dumarest wondered about the delusia effects, a planetary insanity which he now shared. Possibly, ‘wild radiation from the twin suns merging as they closed, blasting space with energies which distorted the microcurrents of the brain and giving rise to hallucinations. Figments of memory made apparently real, words spoken but heard only by the once concerned…’ (p20)

Despite his help in saving Lavinia, her ruling council still considered Dumarest a stranger. ‘Xenophobia, incredible in this age, was not dead.’ (p36)

Time and again, Tubb throws in tantalising glimpses of other worlds, other cultures. ‘There were words, ceremonies deliberately kept devoid of mysticism, the throb of bells. Always there were bells, deep, musical notes captured on recorders, now filling the air with the melody gained on Hope where tremendous castings of bronze, silver and brass throbbed and droned with a solemn pulse, which touched the wells of life itself.’ (p44)

A greater threat to Zakym and Lavinia has emerged, and it is only through Dumarest’s bravery and insight that the danger can be averted. It would also mean confrontation with a powerful manipulative cyber. A tense, fast-paced finale.

After seventeen books, Tubb has remained consistently entertaining. I will surely continue with the saga.

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