Saturday, 30 November 2019

Eye of the Zodiac (Dumarest of Terra #13)

Author: E. C. Tubb (aka Edwin Charles Tubb)
First Published: 1975
File size/Pages: 561KB / 176pp
Ebook Publisher: Gateway
Ebook Date: September 2011

Disclaimer: I have the DAW paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

So after picking up a few Dumarest of Terra books quite cheap at a used bookstore I decided to give one a go. I had heard that you could plunge into any of the books in the series without necessarily reading them in publication order, or in having any knowledge of the overall arc.

E. C. Tubb was born Edwin Charles Tubb in London, England in 1919 and never moved during his lifetime. He began writing in his youth, contributing to many science fiction magazines over the years. The Dumarest Saga is the most well known creation out of the 140 novels he published, however he also had a considerable contribution to the novelisations of the Gerry Anderson's television series Space: 1999, adapting eleven of the scripts into three paperbacks, and most significantly authoring three completely original novels,  Alien Seed (1976), Rogue Planet (1976) and Earthfall (1977) set within the first season continuity. Under other names Tubb was also the author of eleven western novels, a detective novel and a Foreign Legion novel. His other science fiction series of note was the Cap Kennedy series, this did not fare as well in his native land as it did elsewhere, and only six of the seventeen books were published in the U.K. under the title banner of F.A.T.E. using the pen name of Gregory Kern.

The Dumarest saga is set in the far future and is an epic story of Earl Dumarest who is trying to find his home planet of Earth after stowing away aboard a spacecraft when he was young. He is so far away from this world that no one believes it exists or has even heard of it. Earl travels from planet to planet following rumours and legends that he hears about whilst trying to track down the location of his birth.

Eye of the Zodiac is the thirteenth book in the saga, so I was a little worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Saying that, there are 33 novels in the full sequence so I hoped not too much would have happened at this point. On the other hand, I wondered whether such a long series could further the plot enough be fulfilling at a book less than half way through the full run?

This book begins with Earl working as a security guard protecting precious goods. He is working to simply gain enough money in order to pay for transit to the next planet. He has befriended a young man, Leon, who is working in the local mines. Leon lets on that he comes from "Nerth", and this sparks Earl's interest with it's resemblance to the word "Earth". Reluctantly Earl decides allow Leon to accompany him on his next trip, back to Leon's planet to discover if there is any connection.

The beautiful 1978 Arrow edition
However, Earl insists on Leon paying his own way and in his haste to gain enough cash the young man tries to gamble his wages at the local bar. Things do not end well, and Earl has to help his friend to some accommodation to recover while he organises the next trip off-world.

This was my first ever Tubb novel, and any concerns I had about not liking his writing were quickly squashed. Tubb is a great author. He mixes characterisation, action and scene description very well. He handles the plot very well, and I was pleasantly surprised how much plot he managed to fit into such a slim paperback. The character of Earl Dumarest does drift into the overly heroic on occasion and I was a little put off by the way Tubb reveals Dumarest's miraculous knowledge of secrets and mysteries without allowing the reader any insight into how he might have come by those.

Eye of the Zodiac falls into that genre of science fiction that is essentially other genres wrapped in a futuristic setting. So we start off with a noir tale of miners and workers gambling to try to escape to a better world, and without spoiling anything, end up with an adventure tale very ERB in style akin to the white man travelling into the African wilderness and discovering a lost tribe. Tubb was clearly full of ideas, and the Dumarest Saga allowed him the freedom to experiment with many types of story.

Greatest ebook cover of all time...
So, did jumping into the series so late affect my understanding? No, it didn't. There was enough back story and general scene setting and explanation to allow me to quickly catch up. There is clearly a recurring villain of the series, the Cyclan and their Cybers who make an appearance - but without knowing the full back-story it was easy enough to understand what they were after and why.

I was also suitably satisfied with the amount of progress that Earl made in his pursuit of his home world. It still formed the major part of his motivation in the book, and is the reason that he ends up in each location and situations that he finds himself. Overall this is satisfactorily summed up by the end, allowing the next book to investigate his new found knowledge I presume.

Would I read anymore? I think so. Tubb was a good writer and I enjoyed his writing style. I'm not sure I will ever read all 33 books, but I do think I might pick up and read a few more. Some of the old paperback versions have some fabulous artwork covers. But man - the Gateway eBook covers are a complete disappointment, being simply just a yellow-jacket in electronic format. Very bland, and quite honestly off-putting to a potential buyer in my opinion.

The eBook costs £3.99, not bad - but I reckon, like me, you could find a more pleasant physical copy to read for much less.