E.C. Tubb, “The Winds of Gath” (1967) – I picked this up, one half of an Ace Double, a “flipper” which features two novels in one volume- you flip the book over when you finish and you’ve got another scifi novel. It’s also the first of a thirty-odd volume space opera series by Edward Charles Tubb, an English scribbler from mid-twentieth century. The series stars Earl Dumarest, a space wanderer from Earth, considered a lost planet by the interstellar human diaspora. Presumably, him trying to find Earth again, and the circumstances of his leaving in the first place, will unspool as the B-plot across series, which usually have some planetary adventure, it seems, as their main thing.
The first outing for Dumarest isn’t bad, but is a tad derivative. The beginning is probably the best part. Dumarest is basically an interstellar hitchhiker, part of a subculture who wander from planet to planet, staying on a given planet only long enough to save up enough cash to get into spaceship-steerage again to see the next place. Someone outbids the ship Dumarest is on, so it doesn’t go to the destination he thought it would, but rather, to a weird backwater called Gath. In the grand space opera tradition, Gath is a whole planet defined by a small set of characteristics. It’s positioned such that at certain times of the year, you can hear “the music of the spheres,” the interstellar wind, or something. Other than that, it’s a barely-inhabitable dump. Getting stranded there sucks, because it’s basically a planet for very rich, very bored tourists, and it’s hard to get your stake to leave.
Dumarest, of course, being a scifi protagonist and only Earthman around, is resourceful and independent. It’s interstellar wind season, so a lot of tourists are around, and he tries to make some money and/or connections with them. The depictions of being down and out in space are kind of cool, well-conveyed- I wonder if Tubb maybe hadn’t been a stranded hitchhiker before. But the rest of the world-building Tubb does here really borrows a lot, a lot, from then-recent scifi hit “Dune.” Among the tourists are a matriarchal clan of kind-of-ok people and a clan of evil sadists. There turns out to be a resource on the planet that could break the monopoly on necessary scifi business held by creepy interstellar humanoid mutants. Single combat proves important. There’s dudes whose brains are computers and wouldn’t you know it, they have agendas. Along with the Dune derivations, the interstellar winds of Gath turn out to be kind of lame, not even up to Frank Herbert level trippiness- you just wind up seeing your past and it freaks you out, also, it rains real hard. The depictions of the rain were more interesting than the depictions of the more psychical phenomena. I’ll probably give this series a second try if I find the next book somewhere in my wanderings, as this one wasn’t wholly without interest, but a somewhat uninspired first out. ***’