Dumarest of Terra
Dumarest of Terra. Series by E.C. Tubb
Originally published various years beginning in 1967
Current Availability: Print (Used)
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in July of 2009, and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. It appeared with permission in the July 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller magazine.
Author’s Note: I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
Marc Miller has listed a number of different novels that have influenced Traveller, and they don't tend to be the same from one interview to another. However, there is one constant that’s mentioned just about every time Miller talks about Traveller’s foundations ...
This second review discusses Dumarest of Terra, currently a 33-book series about a man searching for his home—a planet called Earth. As we’ll see, the whole feel of a Traveller adventure seems to have come straight from Dumarest.
About the Story
I did not read the entire Dumarest saga in order to write this review. Instead, I worked my way through the first two books I happened to find at local book stores, The Jester at Scar (#5) and Technos (#7). I’ve been told that overall the Dumarest stories are somewhat formulaic, particularly toward the middle of the series, and so I feel confident that the two books I happened across offered a pretty good insight into the series as a whole.
Both books are, as already noted, about a man, Earl Dumarest, who is trying to find his way home. He left Earth as a boy, traveled toward the core of the universe, and didn’t realize how far he’d come until he tried to retrace his steps. Now, he’s looking for word of Earth, but as the adventures go on he begins to discover both that there’s a force working against him and that Earth might have been purposefully hidden.
The Jester at Scar is a story about Dumarest’s time on a fungus planet where he’s trying to collect a batch of “golden spore”, a growth that could make a man rich. It’s also a story about a noble who believes in destiny and about an attempt upon Dumarest’s life which might hint at largest forces on the move.
Technos is the story of Dumarest’s infiltration of Technos, a planet with a fascist government, where state officials are slowly moving against each other. Though Dumarest just wants to talk with one woman on Technos who might know something of Earth, he inevitably becomes tangled in matters of state.
Genre & Style
I’ve sometimes seen Dumarest classified as a “space opera”, and that’s not entirely unjust, as the scope of the stories is very large, with Dumarest’s galaxy being so big that he’s literally become lost in it.
However, I think that “planetary romance” might an even more apt term for Dumarest’s adventures. Though traveling among the stars is a frequent topic of discussion, we don’t actually see it on-screen in either book I read. Instead, everything happens planetside, where a larger than life hero depends as much on his wits and primitive weaponry as on anything scientific to win the day.
Tubb does an excellent job of writing within these genres. I find a lot of science-fiction from the 1950s and 1960s stolid and dry, even the supposedly exciting planetary-romance stories. The Dumarest books, however, remain quick, exciting, and constantly interesting.
The books are also quite well characterized, something that I find generally absent from books of this era. Here, instead, Earl Dumarest feels like a real person who makes real moral choices. Likewise adversaries and allies alike are quite well fleshed out.
Tubb actually surprised me by spending considerable time away from Dumarest’s point of view in both of these books, giving the reader knowledge what those aforementioned allies and adversaries are doing, and thus giving us some insight into their inner nature. This is very well done, and makes the Dumarest books considerably more complex than I’d expected given the genre.
Finally, I think that Tubb does an admirable job of imagining and describing alien worlds, a topic that I'll return to momentarily. Both Scar and Technos feel very well-realized. I think I could write a gaming supplement on either (and, as you’ll see, I think someone already beat me to one of them).
Overall, the Dumarest of Terra books are excellent adventure science-fiction that entirely holds up to the 35-40 years that have passed since the writing of these early books. They’re colorful, interesting, and have a remarkable amount of depth given the genre. I've thus given them a “5” out of “5” for Style and a “4” out of “5” for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
When you start reading the Dumarest books, two terms will immediately leap out at you as probable borrowings for the Traveller game. Dumarest frequently talks about the two ways that one can travel between the stars: in the frozen cryoberths of low passage or in the drug-induced “quick time” of high passage. Those terms appear in Traveller books today.
Even more striking is the word that Dumarest sometimes uses to describe himself, as one that moves constantly among the stars. He is a traveler. (And, this wasn’t an accident of language: Dumarest specifically and intentionally uses the word in both of the books I read.)
Overall, I suspect that Traveller inherited its entire conception of people moving among planets—which are all quite different from each other—and having adventures on them from the Dumarest saga. These two books that I read feel like nothing more than two adventures in a Traveller campaign.
I’ve already noted that the planets are quite distinct, and this is another thing that gives them a Traveller feel. Technos could well be a high-law-level planet with a charismatic dictator. Loame, which appears in the same book, is an agricultural client-state with insidious plant life. Scar is, as previously explained, a fungus planet filled with adventurers, each trying to hit it big.
I also suspect that Scar was the basis of the planet Enaaka, described by William H. Keith Jr. in The MegaTraveller Journal #1. Keith even talks about the very valuable Enaakan Gold spores, some of which are used in anagathic drugs (which is also the case with Scar’s golden spore).
There are certainly differences between the universe of Dumarest and that of Traveller. For example, the two Dumarest books I read don’t suggest any sort of hyper drive; I get the impression that space travel is pretty slow, hence the need for the quick-time drugs (or the low berths). There’s also some really quirky technology, like a comment in The Jester at Scar that trade shipments are sent off by flinging cargo through space!
However, any Traveller GM will find enough similarities in Dumarest’s universe to not only get him in the right state of mind to run Traveller, but also to provide him with great ideas for worlds and for adventures.
The Dumarest of Terra books seem to have birthed the whole idea of a traveler who goes from planet to planet having adventures. Today, they remain as exciting and enjoyable as when they were written, and are thus highly recommended to GMs who want some reading to inspire their own games.