The Winds of Gath – EC Tubb (1967) (Dumarest #01)
Apart from the Perry Rhodan series, this may well qualify as the longest literary Space Opera of the Twentieth Century, at once both generally unrecognised and under-rated, it comprises of some 31 volumes published at roughly six-monthly intervals between 1967 and 1985, with a further two volumes published in 1997 and 2008.
Dumarest is a seasoned fighter with lightning responses, working his passage around a galaxy of thousands of planets, attempting to return to the planet he ran away from as a child: Earth. Earth however, so everyone believes, is a myth, but Dumarest picks up clues on his long journey, along with a secret which could put the Cyclan – a ruthless semi-religious brotherhood of scarlet-robed human computers who have had all their emotions suppressed in order to maximise the efficiency of their minds – in complete control of the Galaxy.
The environments and societies are unremittingly bleak, controlled by exploitative corporate or feudal regimes, well-realised if a little romantic in style. The books are episodic and tend to become repetitive. Dumarest, for instance, is inevitably romantically pursued by unfeasibly beautiful women (and on at least one occasion by a man) while being pursued for quite different reasons by the agents of the Cyclan, who are more often than not despatched efficiently at the end of each book by our hero. Thus, Dumarest is driven on, both by the object of his search, and the pursuit by his enemies.
Frustratingly, the saga was not concluded until 2008 with the final volume ‘Child of Earth’ not long before Tubb’s death in 2010. It would make a good TV series. Certainly I always had a soft spot for the agents of the Cyclan who not only make excellent and dangerous adversaries but have fabulous scarlet robes.
The Cyclan are dedicated to statistics, facts, analysis, deduction and prediction, pure logical reasoning in fact (as in the Mentats of Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series which is how they are often able to deduce Dumarest’s most probable location. They are the wicked Sherlock Holmes’s of Space, the Evil Accountants of Satan, implanted with cybernetic links which, when they place themselves in deep trance, put them in communion with the rulers of the Brotherhood; a gestalt of disembodied brains from retired Cyclan agents, hidden deep below ground on a secret planet. It doesn’t take the powers of the Cyclan to deduce fairly early on in the series that the secret home-world of the Cyclan is Earth.
‘The Winds of Gath’ introduces us to Dumarest, a born fighter, travelling from planet to planet, eking out a living and the money to pay for the next passage, all the time searching for clues as to the location of the planet of his birth; lost mythical Earth.
While travelling frozen, his starship is commandeered by the Matriarch of Kund and her entourage, who charter the ship to take them to Gath.
Gath, like Mercury, does not revolve on its axis and possesses only the ribbon-like strip of habitable land between the sun-scorched side and the dark frozen side.
At the time of the famous storms, a geological formation in the mountains causes the wind to produce sounds which register on the human brain as the voices of the dead.
The Matriarch has employed the services of The Cyclan, and Dumarest gets himself unwillingly involved in the politics between the Matriarch and a sadistic spoiled prince of another planetary dynasty, just as everyone is joining the journey to the mountains to experience the voices of the storm.
Despite the gothic overtones and the interstellar feudal dynasties, religious brotherhoods and Tubb’s unrelenting depictions of man’s inhumanity to man, it is surprisingly up-beat, well-written and far superior to much of the episodic TV we have today.
Like Herbert, Tubb balances the almost medieval feudal with the futuristic. The monarchies and dynastic class structures, combined with the monks’ robes of the ideologically opposed brotherhoods, conspire to create a somewhat industrial gothic atmosphere.