Monday, October 4, 2010

Dumarest: The Winds of Gath (1967)

In memory of the passing of E.C. Tubb I'm going to review his famous Dumarest of Terra series in its entirety. I've read many of these novels before, but never all of them in sequence. I won't give the whole story away, but there are some minor spoilers in this review.

He woke counting seconds, rising through interminable strata of ebony chill to warmth, light and a growing awareness. At thirty-two the eddy currents had warmed him back to normal. At fifty-eight his heart began beating under its own power. At seventy-three the pulmotor ceased helping his lungs. At two hundred and fifteen the lid swung open with a pneumatic hiss.

He lay enjoying the euphoria of resurrection.

That's how we are first introduced to our protagonist, Earl Dumarest, in The Winds of Gath (1967) as he emerges from cryogenic storage in the belly of a starship. He is a rugged man and a traveler, one of those vagabonds who voyage from planet to planet stopping only long enough to earn the fare for their next passage. Usually they travel Low, frozen along with the livestock and pets. It's a dangerous way to travel with a 15% mortality rate.

Dumarest finds that the ship has changed destination. After he entered cold-sleep, the Matriarch of Kund chartered the ship to take her to the ribbon world (though Tubb dosn't use that term) Gath. It's a backwater planet with no stable society on which he stands little chance of earning his next fare. The only thing resembling an authority is Piers Quentin, resident factor of the Guild, and the only attraction the planet has to offer are the regular storms which are are said to allow tourists to hear the music of the spheres.

In the shantytown near the landing field he reunites with Megan, a fellow traveler and old friend. There he also finds the cowled monks of the Universal Brotherhood, a Judeo-Christian monastic order that ministers to these poor souls providing them with sustenance on the condition that they confess before the hypnotic benediction light that conditions them against violence. Although Dumarest is sympathetic to the monks he has never gone under the light, so his killer instincts are un-dulled. Eventually he becomes involved with Gloria, the Matriarch of Kund and her ward, Seena Thoth, who is in danger of assassination. They are accompanied by the red-robed, Dyne, a member of the Cyclan, emotionless human computers who act as neutral advisers throughout the galaxy. Secretly, the Cyclan have implants that allow them to enter into a hive mind, joining with the central intelligence of linked, disembodied brains "pulsing in their nutrient fluid" that are hidden deep beneath the surface of "a lonely planet." Complicating matters are the cruel and sybaritic Prince of Emmened, who has his eye set on Seena, and the strange man, Sime, who carries his dead wife in a coffin on his back.

In the course of events it comes out that Dumarest is seeking the location of his birthplace, the planet Earth. It's considered to be nothing but a legend, and people also scoff at the notion humanity originated on a single planet. This brings him into conflict with the Cyclan, as Earth seems to be the location of their secret central intelligence.

The novel is written in a serviceable manner, somewhat along the lines of a conventional thriller, with Dumarest taking a leading role in events and unmasking the nefarious plot. It sets the stage for the series, introducing recurring factions, like the Cyclan, the Brotherhood, and the Guild. Tubb draws on many influences in forging this tale. Dumarest himself is an homage to Leigh Brackett's famous character, Eric John Stark, and the setting of the stories, with no sentient aliens present, evokes both Issac Asimov's Trantorian Empire and Frank Herbert's Dune series. More specifically, the skepticism expressed toward the idea that humanity stems from a single world recalls a central plot element of Asimov's Pebble in the Sky (1950), and the prevalence of aristocratic intrigues and the Cylan, who strongly resemble Mentats, echo Herbert's books. More noticeable are the Nietzschean overtones of the book. This is most pronounced in the contrast between the Dionysian Dumarest with his earthy passions and the Apollonian Cyclan with their emotionless logic. While not explored with any depth it nonetheless forms the underlying dynamic animating this series, of which The Winds of Gath is just the first installment.

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