Monday, August 4, 2014

Kalin by E. C. Tubb

Cover of my copy
In the fourth of E. C. Tubb's Earl Dumarest books our hero is still traveling the galaxy, searching for Earth, his home planet.  On a world with a custom of mob justice Dumarest rescues a beautiful woman from rioters who think she is a witch.  Kalin is her name, and she is a psychic who can predict the future.

I read Kalin this weekend, having recently acquired the 1982 Ace printing of this 1969 novel.  The cover illustration is not very good: cluttered, confusing, crude.  Somewhere along the line somebody punched a hole in the cover of my copy.  My copy also has an indecipherable inscription on the title page.  I keep looking at it, trying to find "Edwin" or "Tubb" or "E. Tubb" in there, without satisfaction. 

This is the third of the Dumarest books I have read, and in all three the ability to foretell the future has been a theme.  In all three books, Derai, Toyman, and now Kalin, the Cyclan appears.  The Cyclan is an interstellar organization of highly intelligent people who, early in life, have brain surgery which almost entirely eliminates their ability to feel emotion, turning them into cold, logical, living computers.  Able to make calculations without bias or distraction, the members of the Cyclan (who are known as "cybers" and shave their heads and wear bright red robes) can make very accurate predictions.  Cybers sell their services as advisers to politicians and business people, which puts them in a position to manipulate people and events so as to expand the power of their cult.  In Toyman the Cyclan sought to destroy the supercomputer on the planet Toy, a machine that could also make accurate predictions, and in Kalin the title witch is in their sights: it is revealed in the end of the novel that Kalin's predictive powers are the product of stolen Cyclan technology that was implanted in her brain!

mystery signature
The three Dumarest books I have read each have a main adventure plot, in which Dumarest struggles to survive fights with thugs and monsters, as well as other horrible dangers, and a secondary plot in which people Dumarest has never even met engage in political machinations.  In the second half or third of the novel the plots come together, with Dumarest joining the more sympathetic side and helping them overcome the villains.  In Kalin the secondary plot is about a member of the Cyclan trying to manipulate Kalin's family back on her home planet; the Cyclan is looking for the guy who stole their experimental technology. 

Dumarest secures passage for Kalin and himself off the planet of mob violence, and Kalin's ability to predict the future saves their hides when a fellow passenger, an old woman, tries to hijack the ship.  The elderly woman wants to seize and sell the vessel to finance surgery which will transplant her brain into a young sexy body.  Vanity!  This act of piracy goes awry, and the old woman ends up blowing up the space craft, killing everybody on board except for Dumarest and Kalin; Kalin saw the disaster in a vision and right before the ship went boom the two jumped into what in other SF properties would be called an escape pod.

1969 cover, courtesy of isfdb
Our heroes are rescued by a slave ship and set down on one of those desolate planets where a vast mining operation employs slave labor.  Dumarest has to give all his money to the slave ship captain to avoid being enslaved himself, so Kalin and Dumarest don't have any money to get off the mining planet.  At the gambling table Kalin uses her predictive powers to accumulate some capital, which Dumarest uses to buy some nets.  Then Dumarest leads a hunting party of down-and-outers, their quarry gigantic reptiles that have gemstones inside their brains (in my mind these beasts looked like Anguirus.)  Dumarest is one of the survivors of this dangerous expedition, and with his share of the loot he can afford two tickets to Kalin's home planet.  Back home the terrible secret of Kalin's identity and the source of her psychic ability is revealed, the cyber hanging around her family's farm kills Kalin, and Dumarest throws the Cyclan murderer off a balcony and down a cliff.  This moment is immortalized on the cover of the Arrow edition of Kalin.

Kalin is a pretty good adventure story.  There are lots of characters I haven't mentioned, and Tubb does a good job of making them all feel real and worthy of your interest, and he does it in an economical way.  The action sequences and the science fiction settings, like the hijacking, the problems faced by Kalin's family on their farm, the hunt for the giant reptiles, and life on the mining planet, are all well done.  The book is quite fun.

Tubb stuffs each one of these Dumarest books with so many SF tropes, it makes me curious to find out what will be in the rest of them.  Next up, Dumarest #5, The Jester at Scar.

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