Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Jester at Scar by E. C. Tubb

I'm no Freudian, but...
Here we have the third of the Dumarest of Terra books I got from, Dumarest's fifth adventure, The Jester at Scar.  I received from Thriftbooks the Ace 1982 edition of this 1970 novel.  This cover illustration is a little better than the one on Kalin, and is a perfect candidate for the time-killing game, "Count the Phallic Symbols."  The cover of my copy has the number "1.00" scrawled on it in crayon; no doubt this is a perfect score in some kind of esoteric book rating system.

Tubb's Dumarest novels are full of classic science-fiction adventure tropes (you cynics out there might call them cliches), like gladiatorial arenas, mines worked by slaves, people who use math or psychic powers to foretell the future, and brain transplants.  In my post about Kalin I wondered what time-tested SF elements would show up in The Jester at Scar.  Well, on page 6 we get a cat-man!  If memory serves, SF greats ranging from Poul Anderson and Larry Niven to Cordwainer Smith and C. J. Cherryh have presented the SF reading public with tales of cat people.  Tubb's cat person isn't the cuddly type: "...a mutated sport from some lonely and vicious, a stranger to the concept of mercy, a stranger also to the concept of obedience."  On Page 7 Dumarest stabs this guy in the neck, and it's lights out, kitty.

Scar is a planet with an ecology and an economy based on fungi, and Tubb relates to us all the details on how people have to adapt to live on Scar, how people make a living on Scar, the means of harvesting and the industrial uses of the many kinds of fungi, and so forth.  I find that adventure stories in which a guy stabs cat people in the neck are much more satisfying if they have an intriguing setting, and Tubb delivers.

The Jester of the title is the hereditary ruler of the planet Jest, who flies down onto Scar in his spaceship, which has a Joker from a pack of playing cards painted on its side.  This prince, whose name is Jocelyn (which I found a little disconcerting), is a lighthearted fellow who believes in fate, destiny, luck and omens.  He says that a wise man makes decisions by flipping a coin, and over the course of the book he puts this theory into practice!  He is accompanied by his newlywed wife, Adrienne, an arrogant and ruthless schemer from yet another planet (theirs is an arranged dynastic marriage, no love match), and her adviser, one of the bald-headed scarlet-robed cybers of the Cyclan, the interstellar organization of brainiacs who have had surgery to remove the parts of their brains which register emotion.  Happy-go-lucky Jocelyn calls him a "machine of flesh and blood devoid of all emotion and the capability of feeling."  These characters, and descriptions of the planet Jest, form a sort of second plot to The Jester at Scar and we steadily learn more about each of them and watch Adrienne, in particular, evolve.  Our main plot is, of course, Dumarest's struggles to survive innumerable dangers. 

Whoa, the cover  (by John Schoenherr) of the Grinnell is awesome
Dumarest and a partner go about the risky business of harvesting fungi, and they don't just have to fight the native wildlife and climb a mountain; assassins come gunning for them!  The Jester at Scar has a kind of noir or "hard-boiled" feel, as Dumarest tries to figure out who is sending the killers after him and why.  There is even a climactic scene in which Dumarest rounds up the suspects and figures out who's been trying to do him in. It is no surprise to the attentive reader that the Cyclan is behind the assassins; the bald braniacs want the ring given to Dumarest by Kalin in the last book, as it contains technological secrets they are determined to retrieve.

Another solidly entertaining Dumarest adventure; I'm looking forward to the next Dumarest caper, Lallia.

No comments:

Post a Comment