The third volume in Wingrove’s revised epic future history is the start of the original series published in 1989. An overview of this can be found in my original review of The Middle Kingdom (1989).
I imagine that the 1989 version has been split into two for this new release. The original series comprised of eight hefty volumes while the new ‘re-cast’ version is twenty smaller issues with two new volumes at either end. I can’t determine how much this has been revised if at all. One wouldn’t have thought the series needed any revision until perhaps the last two volumes of the original release, which had major flaws due to publishers’ interference.
Those new to Chung Kuo who have read the first two ‘recast’ volumes would be advised to persevere. I am dubious as to whether volumes one or two added anything valuable to the series. They had that feeling of having been ‘bolted on’ for no good reason.
Here, however, the story really kicks off and I am taken back to my first addiction to this brilliant series. Wingrove handles the multi-character storyline with aplomb and the pace is generally fast. It’s a master class in world-building if nothing else as one does get immersed in this highly detailed dystopia from the outset. Page-turningly good and highly recommended.
‘How many billions lived in the City that filled the great northern plains of Europe? The two men crab-scuttling across the dome that roofed the city neither knew nor cared. They thought only of the assassination that was their task.
Chung Kuo. For three thousand years the world-encompassing Empire of the Han had endured. War and famine long banished, the Council of Seven ruled with absolute authority. Their boast: that the Great Wheel of Change itself had ceased to turn.
Yet at that moment of supreme strength and confidence, Chung Kuo was suddenly vulnerable. A challenge had arisen from men who dreamed of Change – although Change would mean war and a return to all the old half-forgotten savageries of the past.’
Blurb from the 1990 NEL paperback edition.
In the 22nd Century, China has control of the Earth and has turned its continents into seven enclosed cities, each ruled by a Tang, one of The Seven; the rulers of Chung Kuo, the Middle Kingdom.
Each city consists of many levels, socially and physically distinct and each citizen’s behaviour determines whether they rise or fall from their level.
The Seven control everything and impose Edicts against technological progress, seeking to keep the peace by maintaining a social status quo by halting the great wheel of change.
In this generation, however, there appear several individuals whose effect on society, for good or ill, will herald change.
Chinese are known as Han, and compose the majority of the ruling classes. Europeans or ‘Hung mao’, have been assimilated into Chinese culture to a large degree but there is a faction of Dispersionists who wish to build starships to colonise other stars, creating a society outside of the Tang’s control.
Major DeVore, originally a high-placed officer in the Tang’s forces, is part of the Dispersionists’ terrorist wing and organises the assassination of a Minister, which sets in motion a chain of political events; events which DeVore strategically controls and exploits for his own ends like a round of his favourite game, Wei-Chi.
This is the first volume of a very under-rated (although possibly ultimately flawed) epic. From Nineteen Eighty-Nine, it was ‘The Wire’ of its age, with its multi-character viewpoint covering all sectors of society from the wretched cannibal society of The Clay (the lightless bottom level) to the Tang himself.
Over the preceding century the Han have rewritten Earth history to suggest that Chung Kuo has always been the dominant civilisation and a ministry exists to ensure that any other historical alternative theory or account is treated as treason.
In this volume we follow several key characters; DeVore, Li Shai Tung, the Tang of City Europe; Li Yuan, the Tang’s son; Kim Ward, a scientific prodigy refugee from The Clay; Ben Shepherd; a cloned advisor to the Tang administration; Karr and Chen, trained fighters from the lower levels who now work for the Tang’s security forces.
It is certainly far more than an SF blockbuster thriller. The complex political manoeuvring and the interweaving individual storylines are handled very well, and the writing occasionally approaches the profound.
On its first publication there were complaints in the journal of the British Science Fiction Association about its sexual elements and one section in particular of extreme sexual violence, although one has to say that the section needs to be looked at in context. Is this merely an apt demonstration of DeVore’s methods of controlling people and the depths of his depravity?
The original series which ran to eight large volumes was marred by the publisher’s insistence on ending the series with volume eight, when the original plan was nine books. The original ending was therefore, somewhat unsatisfactory. Wingrove has recently revised and expanded the entire series which is being released in twenty shorter volumes, the first volume of which is ‘Son of Heaven’ (2011).
‘Earth is real,’ Dumarest insisted. ‘A world old and scarred by ancient wars. The stars are few and there is a great, single moon which hangs like a pale sun in the night sky.’
In the quest for his legendary birthplace, Earl Dumarest has traversed galaxies. Now, at last, he reaches Ourelle, a planet close to Earth – out along a far arm of the Milky way. there he finds Jondelle, a boy who may hold the key to Earl’s search.
But then Jondelle is kidnapped. And Dumarest’s pursuit of the imperilled boy leads him to a city of paranoic killers – madmen whose terrible violence is always on a hair-trigger.’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition.
As a bit if a change, Tubb’s title character is not a busty femme-fatale but a young blonde boy on the planet Ourelle.
Someone is going to a lot of trouble to kidnap Jondelle. They have been thwarted by Dumarest once, but succeed on the next attempt, and Dumarest promises the dying mother of the boy that he will get him back.
He assembles a team which heads to a remote valley where tribe of psychotic inbred sadists may hold a clue to the boy’s location.
One gets the impression that Tubb realised he’d spent far too much time in the kidnappers’city as the boy is found and rescued with almost indecent haste.
The explanation as to who kidnapped the boy and why makes a kind of sense, although the whole thing falls apart a bit if one begins to examine the logisitics.
As Dumarest escaped from the Cyclan in the last volume via an unpredictable route, the evil cybers have not yet tracked him down, so there are none in this story.
Dumarest does get some more information about The Original People though, and info about how he might go about identifying Earth’s sun.
There’s a bit of a mystery thrown in at the start as Jondelle tells Dumarest (who was injured protecting Jondelle) that his mother had been giving him medical attention, although Weenek helped. Jondelle says that Weenek visits occasionally but Jondelle does not know if Weenek is male or female as Weenek is not human. Who or what is Weenek?
‘Earl Dumarest still seeks the mythical planet Earth… still roams alien and violent worlds. With him goes Mayenne, whose songs create joy and passion – or forgetfulness.
Together they are cast up on Tormyle, a planet from another galaxy; a planet unique throughout the Universe. For Tormyle is sentient – the most powerful intelligence in the Cosmos, constantly recreating itself.
Tormyle can be Paradise or Hell. Tormyle can manifest as a dragon or a knight on horseback, faceless behind the helmet. Tormyle understands nothing of humanity: of men and women, of emotion. And Tormyle will let no-one escape who cannot answer the unanswerable.’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition.
Dumarest is on his way to the planet Selegal, along with a motley crew of suspicious characters, when a dangerous creature in the hold breaks free of its cage and damages the engine. Adrift in the void, signals are sent but no reply is received until Mayenne, an empathic singer, sends one of her empassioned numbers out across the ether.
They then receive a response and the ship is teleported to the surface of Tormyle, a sentient world from another galaxy. Tormyle is intrigued by the nature of human existence and sets some deadly tests for them in order to determine the nature of love.
There are no cybers in this episode although there are agents of the Cyclan, working undercover.
Nothing is advanced by this tale, although it does give Dumarest the opportunity to evade the Cyclan for a while since Tormyle teleports him to a random world whose location the Cyclan could not possibly deduce.
The Cyclan, in any event, seem to have acted completely against their vaulted logic since all they have to do is plant the coordinates for Earth for Dumarest to discover and then wait for him to arrive.
Previously this was only available in a French Language edition, for reasons which Tubb explains in the introduction, as well as giving an interesting overview of the history of the saga since its beginnings in the 1960s.
This is not the denouement that some fans might have hoped for after 31 previous volumes and a wait of another twelve years for some kind of resolution. Once again Dumarest is stranded on a backwater planet after raiders have stolen the consignment of solar generators he was hoping to sell for a profit in another world.
Having captured a female raider, he persuades her to take him to the raiders who are based on a world where slavery is a way of life.
The Cyclan, who until now believed Dumarest to be dead, receive information to the contrary and so send a Cyber to investigate.
The Cyclan have been unable to replicate the secret formula that Dumarest holds, by which they could control the minds of puppet-leaders of world governments. Furthermore, the brains of cybers that have been stored in a vast underground linked network are going insane.
Thus, the cyclan scientists have been working on artificial minds in cloned bodies into which the consciousnesses of the brains can be transferred
Dumarest, winning the confidence of the raiders, tells them that there will be plenty of wealth to be found on Earth, and they set off in a raider ship.
There is a further volume (Child of Earth (2008)), the last, although whether it was planned to be the last remains to be seen.
Certainly Dumarest has finally reached Earth so his quest appears to be at an end, which seems to be at odds with Tubb’s thoughts in the introduction.
‘The Return’ is a disjointed piece, flawed by a lack of focus on the narrative. There is a seemingly irrelevant side-trip to a world where the human colony has become subservient to symbiotic lizard/insect beasties, a section of the novel which could have been put to better use developing the characters and setting up the scenes for a decent climax.
However it is to Gollancz’ credit that they have issued this and the following volume in Kindle format along with a whole host of back catalogue good stuff.
‘Earl Dumarest, trans-galactic soldier of fortune, is still seeking his birthplace, the fabled planet Earth…
But then, on the distant, decadent planet Dradea, he meets the mysterious, mutant woman Veruchia. She selected him from the gladiators’ arena to become her servant… and more.
Soon, Dumarest discovers that she too is engaged in a quest – and that the fate of her planet hangs in the balance. Fascinated, compelled, he agrees to help her.
But then he must face bizarre perils which make the gladiatorial area seem a haven of safety…’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition.
For me, at least initially, this book didn’t seem to have been written in Tubb’s usual style. Dumarest, still searching for clues to the location of Earth finds a planet where a hidden underground city was destroyed by atomic weaponry some fifty years previously.
No one on the planet knew that the city was even there, or who destroyed it, although Dumarest suspects it might have been one of the hidden habitations of The Original People.
Soon afterwards, Dumarest is attacked with a drugged dart but manages to disable his attacker who later dies in suspicious circumstances.
Dumarest wakes up in hospital and realises that the Cyclan must be after him. The authorities fear that this incident is part of a wider interplanetary war of intelligence agents and insist that Dumarest leave the planet, which he does, but not by the expected route.
He thus ends up on Dradea, competing in a bizarre form of gladiatorial games. He is spotted by an elderly retainer of the ruling family and recruited to protect Veruchia, one of the heirs to planetary rule.
The ruler subsequently dies and Veruchia must prove that she is a descendant of the owner of the ship that colonised the planet in order to succeed to the title.
Her rival, however, has hired the services of the Cyclan who are aware that Dumarest is on the planet and that they must thwart Veruchia’s plans to find the original ship to stake her claim.
So, there’s a race against time to find the ship before the deadline, which they do, with the help of Dumarest’s affinity twin symbiote thing.
There’s a final fight with Veruchia’s rival and the cyber, and Dumarest finds archaic coordinates in the ship’s log which could help him pinpoint the location of Earth.
Once more the cover artist (ignoring for the moment the blatant female sexual pose, looking terrified in a porn pose sort of way and being protected by Dumarest from a giant turkey when, in the text, she was in the audience and in no danger whatsoever) has blatantly stolen designs from Roger Dean. Even for 1977, this is a very cheap trick to play
‘Dumarest had traced the lost planet of Earth to a remote corner of the galaxy – but he still lacks its precise co-ordinates.
Somewhere on the cyber-dominated police-world of Technos lives the mysterious woman who can help him. And the only way to find her is to become a slave…’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition
Dumarest carries a dead man’s message to his brother on the planet Loame, an agricultural world, annexed by the Planet Technos and in the grip of invasion by a genetically engineered weed.
Hearing that Technos may have information on the whereabouts of Earth, Dumarest takes the place of a young man destined to be conscripted from Loame into the army of Technos.
The Cyclan are of course on Dumarest’s trail and he must once more use his intelligence and reflexes to stay one step ahead.
There is a direct contrast between the rural – almost Amish – society of Loame and the machine dependant society of Technos. The people of Loame are, on the whole, moral and law abiding and not prone to violence while Technos society appears to be venal and corrupt. Complicating this view is the ex-patriot of Loame, Ms Belinger, who does not miss the patriarchal rules of Loame where a woman exists only to bear children.
The Technosians also present an interesting view of Loame as being a pristine environment where the humans are perfect physical specimens, but from a society which has been invaded by the viral concept of war, a concept to which they have no social immunity and therefore did little to resist the invasion. It is an early and interesting example of social memes mentioned in an SF novel.
‘Many times, Dumarest’s dream of Earth has almost cost him his life. As he journeys from world to world, restlessly moving outwards toward the edge of the galaxy where his goal lies, Dumarest must be alert, watchful. For there are new dangers – forces more powerful than man – which threaten his dream.
On a planet where violence and superstition hold sway, Dumarest forges a bond with the prophetess Kalin. And now, more than ever, he needs her.
Kalin – the mutant girl whose mysterious talent for seeing into the future has already saved him from Bloodtime on Logis, from space-disaster, from slavery on desolate Chron.
Kalin. Who can foretell the terrors yet to come.’
Blurb from the 1976 Arrow paperback edition
Dumarest finds himself in the midst of Bloodtime on Logis, a period when lawlessness is acceptable. As he is about to leave he saves a flame-haired girl from a mob who claim she is a witch, and pays her fare to the next planet.
The girl is Kalin, and Dumarest soon discovers that she has the gift of foresight. Elsewhere, the Universal Brotherhood are petitioned to find a flame-haired girl called Mallini who has run away from her home on Sard.
On board ship, a man and woman attempt robbery and hijack, but are caught and the man killed. The dying woman tries to make her way to the control room in order to destroy the ship and herself.
On Kalin’s home planet of Solis, Cyber Mede is in residence, there to advise how to keep the pterodactyl-like Thren from preying on the local horses.
Dumarest and Kalin are rescued and taken to the mining world of Chron, a harsh deadly world where the options are to submit to a slave-collar and work the mines, or hunt the reptilian zardles in the hope that one might find a zerd, a pearl-like object found in the brains of zardles and highly-prized.
Dumarest’s experience and tactics help some of the hunters find enough zerds for he and Kalin to book a passage to Solis.
There, Kalin’s secret is discovered, for she is in actuality Mallini, and Kalin is a crippled old woman who has been given the secret of the affinity twin, an artificial symbiotic life form that when introduced into two organisms, allows the dominant twin to inhabit and control the body of the other. It is a secret stolen from the Cyclan, a secret they are desperate to reclaim. Kalin passes on the secret to Dumarest before she dies, and thus gives the Cyclan a reason to pursue Dumarest throughout the next twenty-nine volumes.
‘Scar – a harsh, inhospitable world with a vicious and shifting population of prospectors, drawn from every corner of the galaxy by rumours of a miraculous golden spore.
To this violent planet come two more travellers, ready to try their luck among its lethal jungles: the cruel, mocking Lord of Jest – and Dumarest, driven by destiny on his endless search for Lost Earth…’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition
Dumarest has not yet realised that the ring bequeathed to him by Kalin contains the secret of the affinity symbiote which the Cyclan are desperate to reclaim.
On the planet Scar, home to an ecosystem of fungi, some of whose spores can take over an organism in minutes, Dumarest is working as a collector during the short season in which the big mushrooms proliferate.
Also on Scar is Jocelyn, Lord of the planet Jest, and his shrewish wife Adrienne who have in their employ Cyber Yoon, one of the shaven-headed scarlet-robed ones who have given up their emotions to live a life of calculation and logic (see also Mentats and Vulcans).
Dumarest’s home is invaded by two men whom Dumarest kills when they start getting rough with his girlfriend. One of the men is carrying five rings very similar to Dumarest’s. Sadly, this does not give our hero a clue, although it has to be said that in most of the books he does have a Poirot-esque way of deducing what is really going on.
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.