Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dumarest: Toyman (1969)

"A bad time on a bad planet, thought Dumarest." He and a fellow combatant, Legrain, are on the losing side of a combat using ancient weapons staged for the entertainment of the Toymaster, Groshen. He's the autocratic ruler of the plutocracy of Toy, a "corporate society" in which only the hereditary black-skinned shareholders have rights. On this planet, the market rules, even the slave market. The dispossessed don't even have the option of debtor's prison, they're sent straight to the auction block. Dumarest has come to Toy to consult The Library, a massive super-computer that may hold the location of Earth. However, travelers arriving on Toy are faced with a Morton's Fork: "show the cost of a double High passage or stand trial, be convicted and sentenced to a year of forced labor as a vagrant. That or agree to enlist for one engagement." The two-fisted Dumarest naturally chooses the latter. If he can survive and escape, it will only be to a mainland embroiled in the schemes of the powerful. Stockholder Leon Hurl, who has the sympathy of the Toymaster's beautiful sister, Quara, hopes to wrest power from the increasingly despotic ruler. Worse, Groshen has taken to consorting with the cyber Creel. Dumarest must once more defeat the schemes of his hated Cyclan foes if he hopes to gain the secret of his homeworld's location.

The world building in this novel is a step above the last two, and there's a bit more action as well. Or at least more violence. As a virile man of action Dumarest has plenty of occasion to display his martial prowess. And once again there are passages about attacking someone by pinching their carotid arteries. I've never seen so many references to pinching carotids. It's happened in every book so far.

The parallels between the Cyclan and the two-dimensional Commie villains of old spy thrillers are amplified in this book. Before it was implied by their centralized organization and red robes, but now with the Cyclan trying to wreck the economy of Toy it becomes more overt. In fact, despite the sf flourishes the underlying plot of this book is boilerplate Cold War thriller. This red under the bed mentality rings in a screed delivered by Dumarest.

They spread, touching world after world, insinuating their way into a position of power. Oh, they don't rule, not openly, but where you find a cyber you find the power of the Cyclan. And they have power. Subtle, unnoticed, but very real.

Dumarest's visceral hatred of the "spreading red slime" is beginning to reach a pathological intensity.

Once again I can't resist noting the similarities between this book and other sf contemporary books. In this case it's Mack Reynolds' Joe Mauser novels. Toy is somewhat reminiscent of the society depicted in Reylnolds' books, although Tubb puts his own spin on things. And another thing worth commenting on is when someone counts his wealth in precious gems. Even today diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds can be easily synthesized. I doubt they could be considered valuable in a society capable of interstellar travel. But this is space opera after all.

Dumarest triumphs by the end of the book, as he must, but it's a Pyrrhic victory. His quest continues.

No comments: