Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dumarest: Kalin (1969)

The book opens with the ship Dumarest is traveling on making a stopover on Logis, a planet celebrating its own extreme version of Saturnalia called Bloodtime during which social norms are suspended and for three days people can murder with impunity. When he sees an angry mob chasing a beautiful young woman he risks his life to rush to her defense. He pays the price of her passage in order to get her to the safety of the ship. Her name is Kalin and she has precognitive abilities, or as Tubb describes her, she's "a clairvoyant".

But two of the other passengers are up to no good, and their actions leave Dumarest and Kalin stranded in space. They are rescued by a passing ship only to discover it's a slaver. Dumarest is forced to pay through his teeth to buy their freedom. The slaver's destination is Chron, a planet being mined by a federation of companies using slave labor. Dumarest and Kalin, romance growing between them, find themselves stranded on this bleak world. Their only hope of earning the price of a passage off planet is to hunt the dangerous zardles in the hope of finding the valuable zerd stones that sometimes grow in the beast's heads.

Meanwhile, across space, other events are transpiring. Brother Jerome, High Monk of the Church of Universal Brotherhood headquartered on the planet Hope is approached by the suspicious Centon Frenchi. He hopes to enlist the Brotherhood's network of monks that span the galaxy to help him locate his long lost daughter, who he claims is the last of his line. And on the planet Solis, Kramm, the Master of Klieg, has accepted the assistance of Cyber Mede to help him avoid the financial ruin facing him due to the expenses of caring for his comatose sister, Keelan. But what are the cyber's real plans?

The plot of this novel isn't as cohesive as it could be. Some events seem a bit contrived, and other plots points are treated as red herrings, as if this were a detective yarn. The scenes on Chron are handled well enough, and since that's where most of the action takes place the novel holds up. There's also a clever image at the end of the novel that may serve as foreshadowing of events to come.

One notable detail is the use of the "truglow" light "which showed things as they really were, devoid of artifice and optical trickery." Another is that when Dumarest pays off the slaver he uses "instant banking facilities" that involves sticking his arm in a machine.
Clamps seized the limb; electronic devices scanned the metallic inks of the tattoo set invisibly below the skin.
A forgery would have resulted in a gush of incinerating flame.
When those gadgets malfunction it must be messy. It will be interesting to see if this unusual form of credit transfer shows up in later installments.

This is also our first glimpse into the Church of Universal Brotherhood, which seems to be the only religion in the galaxy. In many ways it appears as the mirror image of the Cyclan. Like the cybers the monks all wear hooded robes; they share the habit of tucking their hands in the sleeves of their robes; they're both patriarchal organizations without female members; they both abstain from the pleasures of the flesh; and they both have vast networks of agents throughout the galaxy. These twin organizations only differ qualitatively, in that the monks are one and all paragons of virtue while the cybers are uniformly heartless villains. As Dumarest continues his quest we're bound to see more clashes between them.

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