Now, was this fast or what?
I started reading E.C. Tubb’s The Winds of Gath around lunchtime, and by tea time it was over. The novel is pretty slim – 240 pages, in fact, and it’s pretty fast reading, but all in all I’m well pleased, and I’ll go on reading the series as long as it manages to be this fun.
So, what’s this all about?
We are in the future, humanity has spread through the galaxy, and while many individuals have found their place in society, there is a part of the population that lives a nomadic life, travelling from planet to planet, working for passage.
Earl Dumarest is one of these, and as the first novel opens, he has a problem – the ship he was travelling on has been chartered to a new destination while he was already in deep sleep, and as a result, he’s now stranded on Gath – a tourist planet where the idle rich, where “passengers” like him are used as slave labor, as they hope to raise enough money to pay for a passage away.
Gath’s main attraction is a mountain range that, during storms, generates a sound that is variously described as “the voice of heaven” or “the music of the spheres.”
And now a storm is coming.
The future in the novel seems to be some kind of pretty backward Galactic Empire, in which a jaded aristocracy enjoys a life of privilege while the lower classes are mercilessly exploited. This is, if possible, the exact opposite of a post-scarcity future – slave labor is cheaper than hi-tech and gladiatorial games are still a thing. There’s also a number of ideas that have become standard tropes in SF recently, but were pretty new back in ’67 – like a race of computer-integrated individuals that are sort of an early take on the Star Trek Borg or even the Cylons.
In all this Earl Dumarest must find a way to get off-planet, while caught in an intrigue involving a matriarchal culture, a debauched aristo, some unseen mastermind and a mysterious plot.
The writing is straightforward and crisp, with spare descriptions and a very light-handed characterization. Dumarest is tough and competent and the sort of honourable guy that sticks to his guns and stays by his friends, and in the end this is basically a SF hard-boiled murder mystery. Tubb throws in a number of neat ideas, and what the book lacks in depth it more than makes up in rhythm and twists. This was not the ugly pointless thing I read about all those years ago, and while no earth-shaking work of speculative fiction, it’s a solid adventure yarn.
I was not looking for anything else.
From a writer’s point of view, this is very much a first-in-series, and it works like a pilot in a TV show – we get to know the main character without learning too much about him, we get a taste of the setting and the big players in the game, and the rest is left for later.
Later, in this case, being the second novel in the series, called Derai. And I admit I’m pretty curious to see where this one is going to go.