Friday, August 22, 2014

Technos by E. C. Tubb

Here is another of the Dumarest novels by E. C. Tubb which I purchased from SF Gateway via the iTunes store and read on my battered iPhone 4.  Technos first appeared in 1972 as half of an Ace Double and is the seventh volume of the Dumarest saga.

Like Nabokov novels, these Dumarest books are often named after their lead female character.  So I had been wondering if Technos was the name of one of the gorgeous women with psychic powers that our man Dumarest is always saving from certain death in the first half of these books.  (The Grim Reaper always catches up with them in the second half of these books.)  In fact, Technos is the name of a planet, a planet of imperialistic technocrats who use biological warfare to extract tribute from other planets.  (The sexy girl in this episode is named Elaine, and she isn't a psychic; she just has an eidetic memory.  My spell check thinks she has a deistic memory, but trust me on this one.)

The planet Loame is one of Technos's tributaries.  Loame has a feudal political and economic structure; the lords (called "Growers") own vast estates and employ hundreds of subordinates who are more or less tied to the land.  An early scene suggests that these serfs have to ask permission of their Grower if they want to get married, and the grower can veto their choice of mate.

Roundup's latest ad campaign
Loame is in a hell of a spot because the Technos people recently sowed on the planet some super strong, super fecund weeds, and these weeds are spreading, reducing the amount of arable land.  The Technos creeps threaten to drop a much larger payload of these weed seeds if the Loame Growers don't provide tribute.  Technos demands of Loame the same thing Gurman the Gay and Morold the Strong demanded of Cornwall in the Gottfried von Strassburg version of Tristan and Isolde, and what King Minos demanded of Athens: shipments of young people!

After arriving on Loame and getting the lay of the land, Dumarest is told that Elaine of the Marilu Henner memory (a Loamean now on Technos) may know a clue to the whereabouts of Earth.  (You'll remember that Dumarest is searching the galaxy for Earth, and that nearly all of the few people of this vast galactic civilization who have heard of Earth consider it a myth.)  Like James Bond in Dr. No, Dumarest darkens his skin as a disguise; this way he can pass as a Loamean.  Then he takes the place of another man, one who has been selected for the next tribute shipment.  (It is a far, far better thing that he does.)

Dumarest is confident in his detective abilities; he does not doubt that he can find a woman he's never met who might be anywhere on a fascistic planet he's never been to. I can't find my own wife when we split up in a grocery store I go to twice a week.

Death maze!
Besides Dumarest's story of sneaking around Technos in various disguises, Technos presents us the tale of Vargas, the paranoid chief executive of Technos, and his struggle against the Supreme Council.  We had a similar story in Derai, the second Dumarest book, and in Toyman, the third.  Vargas wants more power, and some members of the Council are reluctant to give it to him.  The leader of the anti-Vargas faction in the Council is Mada Grist, a beautiful woman.  Many years ago I read a complaint from a female SF critic; her gripe was that when men try to write women characters they often include a scene in which the woman looks at herself in the mirror and admires her own boobs.  Tubb's first scene with Mada is just such a scene.  Maybe this scene is more acceptable because she has had her 87-year-old head implanted on a sexy young Loamean body?

You won't be surprised to hear that Dumarest also gets an opportunity to admire these boobs after meeting Mada while she is slumming.  Or that Mada enlists Dumarest in her struggle against Vargas. (The big surprise in Technos is that both Elaine and Mada are alive at the end of the book.) 

Vargas has more than one iron in the fire.  Like Mada he is getting along in years, and so he's trying to find a healthy young man to transplant his head onto.  The job interview for the position of body donor to the would-be dictator of Technos consists of being thrown into a death maze full of traps like moving barbed walls, spiked pits, and genetically engineered monsters.  You won't be surprised to hear that our man Dumarest ends up in this death maze, especially if you remember the labyrinths featured in Derai and Toyman.  (The aforementioned Dr. No also includes a death maze, as I remember.)
First edition

This is another fun Dumarest caper.  When they are well-written, I enjoy adventure stories in which a guy has to escape the tyrannical authorities and fight his way out of a death maze, and I find Tubb's writing style quite congenial.  Tubb elevates this swashbuckling material by providing all the characters believable inner lives and by indulging in a little sociology and political economy, comparing the modern technocratic urban society on Technos with the feudalistic agrarian society on Loame.

Another thumbs up for E. C. Tubb and Dumarest.  


  1. After the series went to DAW and Wollheim allegedly encouraged Tubb to stretch Dumarest's search for earth it became rather repetitive. It follows very much the formula of then tv-series, the eternal wanderer like Dr. Kimble. It is still very readable and enjoyable, but in small doses though.

    What I like is the atmosphere of decline, it is never stated explicitly, but it seems that this is a post-imperial era, after everything fell apart. It makes Dumarest's obsession more credible, as everybody has forgotten its roots. And the low-tech makes it readable if you compare it with todays space opera. Well, except for the quick-time, which never made sense imho :-)

    It is regrettable that Tubb never felt the need to re-invent himself like other writers of his generation after his work fell out of favour.I am sure he could have written enjoyable works in his later years.

  2. Thanks for your interesting comments.

    Which is the first DAW Dumarest, Mayenne, number 9? I own that one and the next; I wonder if I will notice any difference.

    The drugs that make time go by faster if you are bored (so a space trip that takes a month feels like a few days) and slow time down if you need extra time to get work done before a deadline, perhaps don't make sense, but Tubb uses them to interesting effect, to further the plot and to add to the alien atmosphere of the whole thing.

    Tubb wrote lots of non-Dumarest novels and stories, none of which I have yet read; if I ever get to them it will be interesting to see if they employ a different style or tone or subject matter.

  3. Did Tubb ever write a Dumarest book that featured characters from a previous book? So far, nearly every character (except Earl) that appears in a book is dead before the end. I'd enjoy seeing the man make a friend or two that he can encounter again on his travels.