Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Evil, but generous

Jeff Mejia, also known as the Evil DM (maybe NSFW due to cheesecake), was kind enough to send me his copy of The Spider's Test. Thanks, o Evil one!

I never played Birthright.  It was one of ten thousand settings TSR put out in the 90's and it sort of got lost in the crowd. It must be admitted that I'm one of those snobs that looks down on game fiction. As a guy who reads comic books and watches pro wrestling it's a tad bit silly to be this picky about my stupid fantasy novels. But the game authors of the 90's conspired to make me this way. All those rulebooks with chapters devoted to telling the me the exciting tale of the author's pet NPCs pretty much soured me on any fiction with a gameline logo on the cover. The last game fiction I read would probably be the first few Gord and Dragonlance books. Those came out while I was in high school or maybe junior high.

Well, I did read the entire Cyborg Commando trilogy a couple years ago, but those don't really count because I already knew they were going to be atrocious. Seriously, the only virtue of those books is that their awefulness directly parallels the RPG. Egads.

But if the Evil DM says I would probably like a book, I take that pretty seriously. Even if it is game fiction. He's one of my online buddies who gets Robert E. Howard. And when the guy goes to the trouble of sending me his extra copy, how can I turn up my nose at that? I haven't read the book yet, since I just got it, but you can read the Evil DM's take over here. (Again, scantily clad girls may make that link NSFW for some.)

Later today I hope to get to the post office, so I can return the favor. I happen to have recently acquired a spare copy of a novel in what has become my favorite sci-fi series.

The copy I'm sending Mr. Mejia is in considerably rougher shape than this one, but it's still readable.I don't want to oversell E.C. Tubb's Dumarest of Terra series, since at its heart what you have here is a fairly formulaic and slightly trashy series of adventures in a kinda generic outer space setting. But let me lay out one fact and one opinion that will point to why I love this series.

FACT: Earl Dumarest was the original Traveller protagonist. He bums around the galaxy getting into scraps. In the setting of the novel people who do this are called 'travelers'. And that's not just a coincidence. Other stuff in these books make it clear that this series was on the mind of Miller and crew when Traveller was originally created. Dumarest's weapon of choice? A Blade. It's called a blade in the book and matches the Trav description of that weapon. Dumarest's normal clothes? Cloth armor. His least favorite way to travel? Low Passage cold sleep, which is notoriously dangerous. The universe he travels? A seemingly random jumble of worlds with highly varied populations, governments, and technologies. For Traveller fans this stuff is a golden glimpse into what the game could be like without the massive 3rd Imperium setting.

OPINION: E.C. Tubb was writing Conan in space. This is not a conclusion I came to lightly, but after much consideration. I wouldn't be the least surprised if Tubb's started the series by saying to himself "Hmmmm, Burroughs made a fortune by setting Western stories on Mars. What if I wrote Conan tales but in outer space?" Maybe Conan wasn't Tubb's conscious goal, but man, he sure delivers. Earl Dumarest is your basic Howard style hero: full of life, deadly in a fight, kind when he can be but ruthless where necessary. Dumarest rolls around outer space doing his best to stay alive and unintentionally screwing with the status quo whenever he stumbles onto a world full of corruption and tyranny. If a pretty girl, little kid, or oldster is being victimized, woe unto their tormentors. He'll put his last two credits in a beggar's bowl, then sign up as a pit fighter to make the money for his next passage. Dumarest kicks ass.

Anyway, thanks again, Evil DM!


  1. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Great info, thanks!
    I reckon Tubb also wirte some Space:1999 novels, so I will definuitely seek out his stuff.

  2. DUMAREST: Sold. Sold hard, in the face.

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    I had to read one after you mentioned them last week. Back when I liked Harry Turtledove I remember seeing EC Tubb books all the time but never read one. Good stuff! It kind of reminded me of the Science Fiction of Jack Vance - The Demon Princes and Gaien Reach and all that.

  4. Anonymous9:30 PM

    But the game authors of the 90's conspired to make me this way. All those rulebooks with chapters devoted to telling the me the exciting tale of the author's pet NPCs pretty much soured me on any fiction with a gameline logo on the cover.

    Not all of us indulged, even when working for companies that expected us to ;) There were tense words on telephones, I can tell you. Though, for kid-friendliness, I shan't specify them.

    I've never had any luck with reading gaming tie-in fiction. I've tried a half-dozen times, and so far the only stuff I've enjoyed has been in comic book form (the D&D comics that ... Jeff Grubb, I think? ... did in the early 90s. I really genuinely liked those, alpha to omega).

  5. Going to have to agree here on game tie-in fiction. I'm the biggest Traveller fan of them all, and yet Traveller fiction leaves me so cold, there's ice all over the T5 draft I'm redlining.

  6. Game fiction in the T5 core rules?

    Boo! Hiss!

  7. Tubb is a great storyteller, even if his zeal for machismo leads him to be a bit misogynist at times. I'm only ten books away from a complete Dumarest collection myself. My only real criticism is that the plots can be pretty repetative from book to book.

    I think you're right about him being a big influence on CT. And Dumarest (in the guise of the "Homeless Wanderer") was one of the 9 characters "drawn from the pages of science fiction" at the end of Supplement 1.

  8. Jerry,

    I agree that the plot is cut-and-paste for many of the books, though I haven't seen a repeat of the one where Earl is a crewman on a free trader. Still, in some ways this is the nature of commercial serial adventure fiction.

    I don't mind the machismo, so much as Tubb's inability to figure out a way for Dumarest to amicably part ways with the girl-of-the-book. Killing the girl nearly every damn book gets pretty grating. I understand Earl Dumarest is a Free Bird, but there are other ways of ending a relationship than authorial murder, for Grodd's sake.

    Still, I love the series.