Ace Double Reviews, 25: The Winds of Gath, by E. C. Tubb/Crisis on Cheiron, by Juanita Coulson (#H-27, 1967, $0.60)
by Rich Horton

One of my goals in this series of reviews is to cover at least one book by all the more prolific Ace Double contributors. E. C. Tubb was one of these, with 12 "halves", that appeared in 11 separate books (one Ace Double consisted of a Tubb novel backed with a story collection), as well as one Ace Double reprint recombining two Tubb halves that were originally published separately. The Winds of Gath is about 50,000 words long. The other half, Juanita Coulson's Crisis on Cheiron, is perhaps 52,000 words.

Tubb is a British writer, born 1919, as far as I know still alive but long retired. He published something over 100 SF novels, and about as many short stories, under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. One pseudonym was the memorable "Volsted Gridban"! His best known pseudonym was probably "Gregory Kern", under which name he wrote the "Cap Kennedy" books for DAW in the early 70s. (I have not read any of that series.) But he is by far better known for his long series of novels about Earl Dumarest and his search for his lost home planet, Earth. These were published first by Ace, then by DAW, from 1967 through 1985, with a final book showing up only in 1997 from a small press (apparently having been published sometime earlier in France, and presumably having been rejected by DAW). This series runs to 32 books, of which I have read 25 or so. They constitute a rather guilty pleasure -- very formulaic, very repetitive, sometimes downright silly, certainly not particularly good. But I found them enjoyable mind candy.

The novel at hand, The Winds of Gath, is the first of the Dumarest novels. It opens with Earl Dumarest, a tough loner, probably about 40 years old. (His age is never specified, and doesn't seem to change. A rigorous timeline of the books and implied travel times and mentions of his past would, I'm guessing, imply an age of well over a century, but I don't think Tubb cared much about that sort of internal consistency.) Dumarest is revived from traveling "low" (i.e. in suspended animation, with a 15% risk of death -- something Dumarest defies countless times in the series) only to find that instead of the planet he intended to reach his ship was diverted to Gath at the whim of the powerful Matriarch of Kund. This is bad news for Dumarest, because he is out of money and Gath offers no good prospect of making enough money for passage to another world.

The Matriarch of Kund has come to Gath to listen to the famous winds blowing through a rock formation during a periodic storm: supposedly the rock formation allows hearers to hear almost anything they desire. She is accompanied by her ward, the lush and beautiful Seena Thoth, whom she may designate her successor, as well as by the Cyber Dyne, one of the red-cloaked Cyclan, castrated cybers with enormous analytical abilities.

Dumarest, after some death-defying adventures, stumbles into a staged fight with another nobleman's trained killer, and due to his incredible reflexes and his superior tactics, he wins, gaining the notice of the Matriarch. He and Seena establish a doomed relationship, as once Seena becomes Matriarch, she must forgo all lovers and the chance of children. Dumarest fends off an attempt on Seena's life, presumably by a jealous rival for the Matriarch's position, and he accompanies them to the rock formation to wait out the storm. And during the storm various plots and counterplots come to life, and Dumarest is fortuitously in a position to thwart the secret goals of the Cyber, and also to fend off certain other people with less than good intentions.

The novel introduces a number of ongoing themes and tropes of the series. There is an example passage describing the Cyber going into rapport with the greater Cybernetic mind, via the implanted "Homochon elements": a passage that Tubb pretty much cut-and-pasted into each of the Dumarest novels. There is Dumarest making money by fighting -- something that happens in at least half of the books. There is only a hint of the quest that will dominated much of the series: Dumarest's search for his lost home, though there is also a blatant hint of something important about Earth that I only figured out after reading several of the later books (I read those books I read in pretty much random order). The Cyclan, in this book, are not yet alerted to search for Dumarest, something that happens, as I recall, because of a discovery Dumarest makes in book 4, Kalin, so that subplot is not present.

It's not really one of the best of the Dumarest novels, in my opinion, turning on some really grossly silly pseudo-science -- not that Tubb ever bothered much with plausibility in that area. And the plot is a bit incoherent -- the ISFDB labels the British edition, entitled simply Gath, as a revision. I wonder if it's actually a restoration of the original text, and if this version is cut. Anybody know? Still and all, it's fast moving and has plenty of action -- on OK way to spend a couple of hours.

Juanita Coulson is a fannish legend. She and her husband, the late Robert "Buck" Coulson, edited the fanzine Yandro, which was nominated for a Hugo 10 years in a row, from 1958 through 1967, winning in 1965. (This made her one of the first women to win a Hugo, as far as I can tell: the only previous winners being Elinor Busby and Pat Lupoff, both also for fanzines co-edited with their husbands (I presume).) Juanita Coulson is also a very well-known filker. And she had published more than a dozen novels, and a number of short stories, beginning with "Another Rib", a collaboration with Marion Zimmer Bradley in which she used the pseudonym "John Jay Wells", which appeared in F&SF in 1963. ("John Jay Wells" is a transparent version of her maiden name, Juanita Wellons.) (Robert Coulson himself published a couple of solo novels, and a few collaborations, as well as a few short stories, mostly in collaboration with Gene DeWeese (though one novel was with Piers Anthony).) Juanita Coulson's best-known novels are probably the Children of the Stars series, which as I recall was a family saga, published by Del Rey in the 1980s.

Crisis on Cheiron was Coulson's first novel, one of two Ace Doubles she wrote. Her other Ace Double, The Singing Stones, was also paired with an E. C. Tubb novel, Derai, the second Dumarest novel.

Crisis on Cheiron opens with Carl Race, a young ecologist for the Terran Survey, arriving at Cheiron, a planet newly opened to trade with Earth. The corporation controlling that trade, Consolidated Enterprises, has called in Carl and his boss, Donovan Petry, to investigate the sudden crop failures on Cheiron.

The natives of Cheiron are mostly friendly centaur-like people. But it soon becomes clear that there is a faction which may be under the influence of Consolidated's rival, the sneeringly evil Trans Galactic. And if things don't go better, the Ethnic Protection organization may shut down Cheiron altogether.

Race and Petry, with some help from a beautiful schoolteacher named Marcy de Laurent, and a precocious adolescent Cheironian named Nubi, quickly realize that the problem is that bees and butterflies have been disappearing, making pollinization impossible. But what could be causing that? Complicating matters is an 8 day deadline imposed by one of the Matriarchs of the Cheironians. (I note that both halves of this Double feature "Matriarchs".) There follows an attack of bees, nearly killing off all three humans, and a fire at Marcy's schoolhouse, and then Petry is murdered. Obviously, the villains, whoever they are, mean business.

Rather inexplicably, the authorities immediately decide that Race is guilty of murdering his boss. So he is forced to escape, with Marcy's help. Fortunately, he has a brilliant idea as to what the problem is, helped by Nubi's non-humans range of senses. The three are able to make their way to the lair of the villains ...

Well, you knew it would all work out well. It's fast-moving and kind of exciting, but at bottom it's too silly to work. The central scientific notion is ludicrous. The villains are just too evull for words -- way over the top. And the plot is driven by implausibilities such as the authorities jumping to conclusions about Carl's guilt in killing his boss. Also, the budding romance between Carl and Marcy is hinted at but never developed, and at the end just sort of allowed to slide. A very forgettable novel.

[Thanks to Scott Simmons for some of the information included here.]