Monday, December 26, 2011

Pulp Science Fiction Library: The Winds of Gath

If A. Bertram Chandler qualifies as an "influential but not well known author," how do we describe E.C. Tubb, whose multi-volume Dumarest saga is even less familiar to sci-fi fans and gamers alike? Tubb, who died a little over a year ago, was, if nothing else, a major inspiration to Marc Miller's Traveller, as will quickly become obvious to anyone who reads even one novel in the series. Beginning with 1967's The Winds of Gath, Tubb recounted the adventures of Earl Dumarest as he wandered throughout our galaxy in the far future, seeking fame and fortune. Dumarest is, by occupation, a "traveler," a sort of interstellar vagabond who travels in cold sleep while crossing the vast distances between worlds. He's also a native of Earth, having made his way into space as a stowaway in childhood:
"I stowed away on such a ship. I was young, alone, more than
a little desperate. I was more than lucky. The captain should
have evicted me but he had a kind heart. He was old and had no
son." He paused. "That was a long time ago. I was ten at the
time."
He shook himself as if shedding unpleasant memories, been
traveling ever since, deeper and deeper into the inhabited worlds. "That's all there is to it, My Lady. Just an ordinary story of a runaway boy who had more luck than he deserved or thought existed. But Earth is very real."

"Then why haven't I heard of it? Why does everyone think of it as a planet that does not exist?" She stooped and picked up a handful of dirt. "Earth! This is earth! Every planet, in a way, is earth."

"But one planet was the original." He saw the look of shocked realization followed immediately by forceful negation. "You do not believe me—I cannot blame you for that, but think about it for a moment. Earth, my Earth, is far from the edge of the inhabited worlds. No one now, aside from a few, has any reason to go there. But assume for a moment that what I claim is true. Men would venture from that planet in which direction? To the stars closest to home, naturally. And from there? To other, close stars. And so on until the center of civilization had moved deeper into the galaxy and Earth became less than a legend." He paused. "No, My Lady, I can't blame you for not knowing of Earth. But I do."
As I noted above, travelers journey between the stars naked in
coffin-like boxes with their sterilizing glow. Here was where the livestock rode, doped,
frozen, ninety per cent dead. Here was the steerage for travelers willing to gamble against the fifteen per cent mortality rate.

Such travel was cheap—its sole virtue.
Later books in the series establish more details about the nature of space travel, including lotteries based on the likelihood of a given passenger's surviving the trip in cold storage. Other details developed in later books include the Cyclan, an organization devoted to pure logic, the Universal Brotherhood, an interstellar religion, and the network of Free Traders. All of these make an appearance, if only briefly, in The Winds of Gath, which takes place on the inhospitable world of Gath, whose violent storm winds are among its only attractions to outsiders and whose secrets kick off this series in grand style.

Over the course of more than 30 sequels, published between 1967 and 2009, Earl Dumarest's travels are presented in all their pulpy glory, as he goes from world to world, running afoul of all manner of antagonists and threats, and continuing his quest to find his "mythical" homeworld of Earth. The Dumarest tales aren't great literature, but they're fun and inspiring. You can easily see why Marc Miller liked them so much and incorporated so many elements from them into Traveller. This seems only fair, as Tubb himself seems to have swiped ideas from numerous other sci-fi authors, from Asimov to Brackett to Herbert, in creating these stories of interstellar adventure. In that respect, Tubb's great reading for referees looking to find creative ways to incorporate ideas form other sources into his campaign. So, if you can find a copy of The Winds of Gath or any of its follow-ups, do so.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the suggestion! After reading a review/homage you wrote about A. Bertram Chandler I went forth and picked up a dual copy *The Road to the Rim* and *The Hard Way Up* (Ace) from a local used bookstore (Acorn Books in Columbus, Ohio--great, great pulp and rare book selection!). When I wasn't holidaying, I spent some time with Chandler and many cups of black coffee. I find I really enjoy Chandler! His spartan prose style is relaxing and a refreshing contrast to the wide-open universe he relates. Anyhow--thanks for opening my eyes to Chandler. I'm eager to look in on Tubb.

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  2. After your earlier post on the literary inspirations of Traveller, I picked up the first three novels of this series. I've only had a chance to read _Winds of Gath_, but it truly is a revelation to anyone steeped in Traveller lore. Not to mention, a entertaining if workmanlike adventure yarn.

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  3. Awesome. This was in one of around 4 or 5 of the Dumarest books I read back in the day. My few Traveller sessions back then were based on that setting. One of my players played the son of Dumarest who was himself now looking for earth.

    Just as an aside, some of my players loved cold sleep (next to the cattle and household pets in the cargo bay). Their characters treated the chance to die like a minigame.

    I was long done with running Traveller, but I met a lot of people who played it in the 90's, and I was shocked that almost none of them read any Tubb. Man, to me it seemed required reading for the Traveller GM.

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  4. I've read a few of these now. They have all been enjoyable, despite having essentially the same plot and almost indistinguishable characters. In fact he even recycles elements of text describing low passage and the cyclan network. This was odd at first but you get used to it.

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  5. I began reading these in grade school, as they came out, and own them all. I was very much ready for Traveller when it finally came out, thanks to this series! In the main, I'd say younger generations of readers will be more likely to read more contemporary work unless directed to specific books by friends. I'd say fans of Traveller and space opera genre might enjoy this series. There were some great ideas there.

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  6. I've got some of the Dumarest saga, but could never find the books that I needed to fill in the gaps. I might go back to it one day, especially now the Interwebs allow you to buy an unwanted copy from the other side of the Earth.

    One thing that stuck in my mind was a novel where passengers could either ride low (in the coffin-like boxes you mention) or ride high (by taking some sort of drug that slowed down the metabolism).

    I thought that riding high was a really interesting idea (especially when one guy got mad with another guy, and picked him up by the scruff of the neck, only to be warned that he had been holding him up in the air for a dangerously long time).

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  7. I've managed to collect 20+ of the Dumarest novels over the years. They're all highly enjoyable, provided you don't read them one after another in an unbroken string.

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  8. I started collecting them just a few months ago. I only have 9 or 10 so far, but Winds of Gath is one of them. Quite entertaining. I have to admit, though, to never having read them back in my Traveller-playing days.

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  9. I'm late here, but I just wanted to mention that the winds of Gath and (as far as I can tell with a quick look) all the other Dumarest novels have recently become available for the kindle. I'm going to spend the rest of the evening with Gath, as I've never been able to find a copy in the past. Judging by the first few pages it is a cut above many of the novels I've already read (and enjoyed) in the series.

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