Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: Technos

© 1972 by E. C. Tubb

I’ve been meandering through E. C. Tubb’s “Dumarest” series of pulp SF novels at the breezy pace of one every nine years.  Since there’s something like 33 books in the saga, and I’ve read four to date, I should finish them all sometime around the year 2275 AD.

That’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek.  The first Dumarest novel I read was one I found stashed away in a drawer with a handful of other 70s sci-fi paperbacks (a legacy of my father’s) as a ten-year-old.  I struggled through it but never quite completed it, being only ten years old and not worldly savvy like I am today, I didn’t quite get the themes and concepts and whatnot.  I was still cutting my teeth on Asimov at this stage, and while Asimov is light-years superior to E. C. Tubb, the latter is not necessarily valueless in the genre of science fiction.

Earl Dumarest is the loner hero of the series, a rough-and-tumble man-with-no-name far-futuristic hitchhiker working odd jobs on this planet and then that one, trying to earn enough money for passage to the next rock, always searching for that fabled lost world of Earth.  And who isn’t (at least in a huge swath of Science Fiction)?  But these books came out in the late 60s and all throughout the 70s, so it wasn’t quite yet the tired old cliché it is today.  The thing I find most interesting about the saga is that each novel is spartan, compact, gritty – little Quentin Tarantino vignettes if Quentin Tarantino did sci fi. 

So I tend to view these books as long teevee episodes.  Ninety-minutes, instead of sixty.  Two season’s worth.  With different Guest Stars each week.  Dumarest and his quest are the only constants in Tubb’s universe, or my imaginary televised versions of his novels.

Ten or fifteen years ago I found a battered copy of that first Dumarest book, Haven of Darkness, in a used bookstore and finally read it all the way through.  About four years ago I picked up online the first two books in the series (The Winds of Gath and Derai), read ’em and reviewed ’em here and here.  Over the past summer I came across two more in a used book store in PennsylvaniaTechnos is the first of those two, #7 in the series.  #8 is swinging a bat in the on-deck circle.

I read Technos in one day.  Three hours.  While it was not good in a harrumphing, lit-major sort of way, it was good in a can’t-put-it-down sort of way.  Kinda like watching a ninety-minute sci fi show on the WB or a made-for-Syfy Syfy movie.  I got hooked right from page 4, and had to see it all the way through to the denoument on page 154.

How would the story appear summarized in a teevee guide?  How ’bout – Fulfilling a dying man’s wish, Dumarest travels to the militant world Technos, searching for a clue to Earth’s whereabouts, becomes entangled in political intrigue and thrown into the dreaded labyrinth, accused of attempted assassination of the planet’s ruler.

Sounds simple, but a lot is packed into those phrases and clauses.  The dying man – who saved our hero from a freak mining accident – spurs Dumarest to the bucolic farmworld of Loame, suffering under the yoke of Technos in the form of the Thorge, a devastating unstoppable form of biological weed warfare.  Sneaking into the oppressor world, a kind of planetary North Korea, Dumarest eludes pursuit, seeks out a woman with an eidactic memory that might hold a key to locate Earth.  Fate enables an encounter with a woman on the planetary high council and our protagonist is soon thrust into Soviet-style power politics.  There’re hints of unpleasantness in the form of Loamite organ harvesting to extend the lifespans of Technos ruling elite, as well as “The Labyrinth,” where unsuspecting victims must overcome mechnical and other fang and claw nastiness.  Most don’t last longer than four minutes.

E. C. Tubb was one of those super-prolific Asimovian writers of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.  A pioneer of British golden age science fiction, he died just a few years back at the age of 90.  The “Dumarest saga” was written over a period of 18 years, from 1967 to 1985.  If you come across any other of those 29 remaining books, send ’em my way, would ya?

Er, 28 books.  I’m currently reading Veruchia, #8 in the series.

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