Monday, November 15, 2010

Dumarest: Veruchia (1973)

While on the planet Selend searching for clues about the Original People, that mysterious religious sect that may know the whereabouts of Earth, Dumarest is incapacitated by an assassination attempt. When he recovers he finds that the authorities have confiscated his funds to pay for the cost of treatment and are planning to deport him. Fear that the Cyclan is manipulating events, Dumarest escapes custody and cuts a deal for a Low passage, paying for it with the ring Kalin had given him, but not before removing and destroying the stone which contains the stolen Cyclan formula. As it later turns out he has memorized the formula and acquired enough skill in chemistry to concoct it. His desperate escape lands him on Dradea, a feudal world ruled by the hereditary Owner, Chorzel, and an aristocracy of High Tenants, while below them are the subtenants and landless ones. Under the influence of the cyber Surat, Chorzel has begun staging gladiatorial spectacles. Dumarest is one of the gladiators, hoping to earn enough to continue his journey. He has to fight a crell, large, vicious flightless birds bred for fighting. In the crowd of spectators, Veruchia, an aristocrat stigmatized by an unusual skin discoloration like a web pattern, places a large bet on Dumarest against her cruel cousin Montarg, who bets on the crell. When Dumarest triumphs he finds himself invited to an upper-class party and accepts a job as bodyguard for Veruchia, who quickly falls in love with him. When Chorzel, who had collapsed at the stadium, dies, it's revealed that Veruchia is a rival claimant to the throne along with the nasty Montarg. But in order to prove her claim she must first locate the First Ship on which people first came to the planet and which is now is as legendary as the Earth.

There are some passages in this book that suggest a tempering of the strong dichotomy between Apollonian inhuman intellectualism and Dionysian human passion that we've seen before now. As Dumarest fights the crell he observes that it's "still a beast with a limited brain governed more by instinct than calculated decision." It's his ability to outthink the beast as much as his physical prowess that brings him victory. So wile the emotionless Cyclan are still the villains of this space opera this suggests that there is a Golden Mean to be struck between rationality and instinct.

I do have to wonder why the word hasn't gotten out that the Cyclan are secretly working to subvert governments. There's no sign of anything like a press corp in this future universe, but certainly rival factions like the Universal Brotherhood, who have contacts in high places and harbor no love of the cybers, or Guild merchants who stand to suffer financial loss because of cyber subversion, would start warning governments that the Cyclan is up to no good. Given the number of their plots that Dumarest has foiled there's more than enough evidence of what they're really up to. As it is it looks like it'll be left to Dumarest alone fight them.

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