Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mayenne by E. C. Tubb

"And the ship?  When can we leave?"...."When I have discovered what love is," she said.  "Not before."
My copy of DAW UE 1614
It's been a while since we checked in with our buddy Earl Dumarest, who lives in a future interstellar civilization so vast that most people have never heard of Earth, and most of the rest think it a myth.  Dumarest, a professional fighting man, travels from planet to planet on passenger ships, getting into scrapes and getting involved with various beautiful women, while he hunts for clues of Earth's whereabouts.  Let's see how much progress he makes in Mayenne, the ninth Dumarest book by prolific writer E. C. Tubb.

I read Mayenne, which was first published by DAW in 1973, in a 1981 omnibus which includes books 9 and 10.  The cover by Kelly Freas suggests that Dumarest will be taking up archery and having an affair with a woman with tattoos on her face; those sound like pleasant hobbies.  The covers of the British and German editions spoil the fact that Dumarest is going to have to battle a knight mounted on a dragon; probably not so pleasant.

My double edition includes Jack Gaughan's interior illustration for Mayenne, but not his illo for Jondelle, which is a little disappointing.  And of course the severely cropped Freas covers, while they preserve the pretty girls' faces, leave out the perhaps more interesting and evocative figures of Dumarest, monsters and people in agony.

Original Kelly Freas covers of DAW's Mayenne and Jondelle
Mayenne begins with Dumarest a passenger on a space ship, and in the first chapters we meet the cast of characters, his fellow travellers.  In the very first paragraph we meet the woman with the painted and bejeweled face, an exotic singer named Mayenne.  There's also a fat and gauche merchant, a vapid aristocratic slut and her amazonian bodyguard, a seller of rare books who may be a spy for the Cyclan, an educated wanderer, a gambler, an aged procuress, and the captain and crew of the ship.  The women all want to have sex with Dumarest, and the men all want to be his friend or business partner; our hero is the discriminating type, and goes to bed only with Mayenne and becomes chummy with the captain and crew, keeping his distance from the bourgeois and aristocratic types.

A monster headed to the zoo on the next planet breaks free and wrecks the ship's field generator, so Dumarest, an expert at fighting beasts and a natural leader, has to take charge.  The damage to the generator leaves the ship drifting in the void between the stars, but then they are detected and taken into custody by a "planet-sized intelligence" from another galaxy that has lived for billions of years and grown bored.  The thing, which calls itself Tormyle, has god-like powers, and has never encountered people before; these tiny creatures, it finds, can provide it some entertainment.  Reading the minds of the ten survivors from the ship it creates a paradise for them to live in, and conducts experiments on them.  (The humans liken their fate to that of insects in a child's jar.)  Tormyle has no conception of emotions like fear or love, and seeks to learn about such things by, for example, making Dumarest fight an ogre, and imprisoning the female survivors in a fairy tale castle and forcing the male survivors to cross a jungle full of monsters and death traps and climb a cliff to get to them. Eventually the bored super being decides it has fallen in love with Dumarest and tries to get our hero to love it in return.

(Despite the Freas cover, Dumarest himself doesn't shoot arrows at anybody.  Is this Freas's clever comparison of Dumarest to Cupid?)

This installment of the Dumarest saga reminded me of dimly remembered episodes of Star Trek; aren't Kirk and Picard constantly meeting super beings who make them fight illusions and that sort of thing?  And aliens whom they have to teach about love?  Tubb uses the phrase "prime directive" several times throughout the novel, a phrase I always associate with Star Trek, though Tubb uses it to mean "foremost motivation" or "primary goal," not "don't interact with the natives."  Maybe this is Tubb playfully acknowledging that he was inspired by the TV show, or just evidence that he had seen the show and been subconsciously influenced by it.

I like E. C. Tubb's writing style; the fight scenes are good, the pacing is perfect, the characters are quickly but clearly sketched out for the reader, and their interactions are interesting.  I was always unsure, and curious, about which of the characters were going to survive and which would die in space or on Tormyle.  Mayenne is a fun adventure story I can happily recommend to adventure fans.

Poor Dumarest doesn't get any closer to Earth in this caper, but Tormyle does teleport him to a random planet, which throws the agents of the Cyclan off his trail.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Dumarest in the next book!

1 comment:

  1. Great post -- glad to see I'm not the only one who enjoys the Dumarest books. They are always a fun read and Tubb has an excellent writing style and great pacing.