1967’s The Winds of Gath is the first novel of thirty-three in E. C. Tubb’s Dumarest Saga.
The life of an itinerant stellar traveler is hard and dangerous. Earl Dumarest accepts the hazards; traveling is his only hope of finding his lost homeworld, Earth. He does try to minimize risk with due diligence and planning. His latest trip, for example, involves the usual 15% chance he won’t wake from cold sleep (or Low, as it is called in the argot of the starfarer) but if he does wake up, it will be on Broome. He should easily find employment there.
The best-laid plans, etc. Gloria, the Matriarch of Kund, hires the starship on which he was traveling, already in cold sleep. He cannot object when the ship is diverted to the planet Gath. Dumarest’s contract with the ship specified that he was to debark at the next world it touched. Was Broome, now Gath.
Gath has no economy to speak off. No jobs. But unless Dumarest can somehow accumulate enough cash for a trip out, he is trapped on the planet.
Gath is a tidelocked world, its one remarkable feature a peculiar range of mountains. Under the right conditions, the mountains act as a gigantic sounding board, producing an eerie music described as “the music of the spheres.” That oddity attracts off-world oligarchs like the Matriarch and the decadent Prince of Emmened, who can afford to spend profligately on High Passage to Gath.
The working poor who arrive at Gath find a system that is carefully orchestrated to keep them desperate and on the edge of starvation. Would-be labour organizers are undermined and sabotaged. Conditions are harsh and life is short. However, as each tourist ship full of plutocrats also carries some unlucky travelers in Low, the system is sustainable. More steerage where those came from.
Determined to earn enough money to escape Gath, Dumarest agrees to fight the Prince’s man-monster Moidor. If he wins, High Passage off Gath. If he loses, Dumarest will be too dead to care about his predicament. Dumarest survives, barely.
Dumarest heals thanks to Matriarch Gloria’s decision to have his wounds treated. Dumarest finds himself drawn into the Matriarch’s entourage. One of them, the young and naive Lady Thoth, befriends the newcomer. Which involves Dumarest in the political intrigues that surround the Matriarch.
Old and possibly near death, Gloria has yet to name a successor. She fears, rightly, that to name one is to make them a target for assassins. Even the bare possibility that the Lady Thoth might be chosen was enough for someone to order her death. Dumarest must protect his new friend.
The enemies he faces are many, powerful, and ruthless. Will he and Lady Thoth survive?
Young fans of the Traveller RPG may be interested to note this book gave RPG author Mark Miller the idea for Low Passage and its high death rate. I found myself wondering, again, how this could be a viable travel option. Will there always be enough desperate people to fill the berths? This time round, I noted that the risk is due to venal starship crews who don’t care whether passengers live or die once they’ve handed over their fares. Surely this could be avoided with a reliable escrow scheme.…
I was surprised just what I had forgotten or misremembered in the forty years since I first read this book. I had convinced myself, for example, that since Donald Wollheim, then an editor for Ace, was responsible for the first edition of Winds of Gath, he would have taken the series with him when he moved to DAW books. So the second edition of Winds would surely have been DAW. Yes? Not so! As far as I can tell from online sources, there was never a DAW version of The Winds of Gath. The series did not find a home with DAW until 1973’s Mayenne, the ninth book in the sequence.
Those of you interested enough to do the math [(1973 – 1967)/9] will see that Tubb was writing and publishing these books at a blazing pace, by publishing standards. There are 33 books in the series, 31 of which were published over the course of 18 years. That’s a book about every seven months. He could do this because each book was, by modern standards, quite short. Gath’s first edition, for example, was only 126 pages long.
I expected this to be a cynical work about an adventurer in a world whose flaws justified whatever the protagonist took it into his head to do in the name of survival. That’s not what’s going on in Gath. In fact, there is a fair sized subplot featuring a priest of the Universal Brotherhood, who tries to convince the local factotum to hand operations over to the Brotherhood. The goal is not mere venality but a more humane way of running the local economy. I also noted that while the Prince of Emmened may be a spoiled monster, Matriarch Gloria isn’t. This is not a setting painted in shades of dark gray.
Dumarest is a hard-nosed realist; he is all too cognizant of the risks of poverty. This realization has not turned him into a sociopath murder hobo. In fact, almost the first thing he does upon arriving at Gath is to spend some of his dwindling cash to buy a meal for a similarly marooned friend. His life would be much safer if he were to keep his head down and leave the dynastic struggles to those who might benefit. Instead, he risks his life for strangers. This doesn’t make him rich, but it certainly earns him some interesting enemies.
The series is by no means great literature, but it is competent commercial fiction, written to amuse. Which it does. AND … if you like this one, there are thirty-two more.
The Winds of Gath is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo). It has a fancy new cover that does not seem particularly related to any scene in the book; perhaps it is the ship as it departs for Gath.