Saturday, August 2, 2014

Toyman by E. C. Tubb

My copy, front
For my birthday, my parents gave me a gift card to, an online bookstore I had never heard of.  I ordered four books from the Dumarest saga by E. C. Tubb, having enjoyed the second book in the series.  (They didn't have the first volume, in case you are wondering.)  The four books are readable, but collectors be warned, puts a sticker on the books they sell which is very difficult to remove without wrecking the cover. This sticker is in no way unobtrusive or charming or interesting; it is damn ugly and makes your book stick out like a sore thumb on the shelf.

Today I finished Toyman, the third Dumarest book.  I believe Toyman was first published as an Ace Double in 1969; I received from the Ace 1982 printing.  The cover isn't bad.

As you perhaps recall, Earl Dumarest is searching the galaxy and its thousands of human-inhabited planets for Earth, his home planet.  Most people Dumarest meets don't believe Earth really exists, or have never even heard of it.  In this episode Dumarest makes his way to the planet Toy, because on Toy is perhaps the most powerful computer in the galaxy, and Dumarest hopes it will know the location of Earth.

Toy isn't just home to a huge computer; there's also a huge arena there, and Dumarest at the start of the book is fighting for his life in this arena.  There are lots of science fiction stories in which people end up in the arena fighting for their lives, and Toyman is another of those stories.  In fact, Derai, the Dumarest book before this one, is also one of those stories.  There are 33 Dumarest books; how many times is poor Dumarest going to have to fight for his life in the arena?

Tubb includes many scenes without Dumarest, scenes in which he paints for us a picture of Toy society.  It is not a pretty picture!  The entire planet of Toy is a corporation, and members of Toy's ruling class are known as "stockholders."  The ruler of the planet, known as "The Toymaster" is the person with the most stock.  Generations ago this system worked well, we are told, producing a stable society in which people were united and had a measure of equality and security, but nowadays the system is rotten, with large scale slavery, widespread addiction to drugs and gambling, and of course the gladiatorial arena, where thousands of men fight and die.

One of the richest stockholders, Leon Hurl, is a major character in the novel.  Hurl is a Spinner, one of the ten members of the Association of Spinners.  The Spinners operate factories in which enslaved mutant spider creatures spin super-strong fabrics which are exported to other planets.  To produce the best fabrics these mutant spider monsters need a protein rich diet, so the spinners feed them human criminals, slaves, and other lower class types. (Did they even consider yogurt or tofu?)

isfdb image of 1969 publication
Another bunch of stockholders we meet are the "biological engineers" who create monsters in vats by mixing and matching "germ plasm."  It seems that a large proportion of these creatures are sold to perverts who are sexually attracted to beings with tentacles.

I don't really understand the politics and economy of Toy: do the Spinners and the biological engineers own the factories?  Do they receive payments from people from other planets who purchase their spider silks and sex monsters?  Or are they just salaried employees of the corporation?  Is their salary just more stock?  We are told, more than once, that stockholders are forbidden from "accumulating wealth," that all dividends received by stockholders must be spent within a certain time frame, or the dividends will be cancelled. Stockholders buy extra aircars and other superfluous luxuries, or give to charity, at the end of the dividend period in order to obey this law.  I guess by "wealth" Tubb means credit and cash, not property.  

My copy, back
Anyway, our man Dumarest fights his way out of the arena, narrowly escapes a mannish female biological engineer who wants his germ plasm, then meets a drug-addicted woman who runs a sort of virtual reality parlor.  She wants to record Dumarest's memories of his adventures so her clients can (safely) experience fighting in the arena "first hand."  When he refuses, she hands Dumarest over to the authorities.  Dumarest is sold into slavery, and I probably don't have to tell you that his new owner uses him as a gladiator in the arena.

The current Toymaster is, as Norm Macdonald might say, a real jerk, and so Leon Hurl and the Association of Spinners are trying to figure out a way to overthrow him.  It turns out that if somebody has enough stock, he can challenge the Toymaster to a fight in the arena for his job.  Dumarest gets involved in this fracas, acting as the proxy for the one person who has enough stock to challenge the Toymaster--the Toymaster's own sister, Quara, who has a crush on Leon Hurl!  At the same time the interstellar cult of emotionless human computers, the Cyclan, is conspiring to destroy the Toy supercomputer, without which the Toy economy cannot function.  

Dumarest, in the arena, manages to overthrow the Toymaster and stop the Cyclan plot, and it is implied that the newly married Quara and Leon Hurl, now rulers of Toy, will reform Toy society into something less ghastly. Dumarest has saved the day!  His reward is all the information on Earth in the supercomputer... oops, during the battle between Dumarest and the Cyclan agents the memory bank labelled "Earth" was irreparably damaged.  The people on Toy must use the same backup system the IRS does.  At least Quara and Leon Hurl give Dumarest a pile of gems to finance his continuing quest.

It may sound like I'm poking fun at Toyman, but throwing people in the arena, creating monsters in vats, and wacky economic and political systems are classic adventure SF elements that I love, and Toyman, with its brisk pace, legion of villains, and one crazy danger after another, is an enjoyable read.  

A fun adventure; next up, Kalin, the fourth Dumarest novel!

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