*Note: all italicized quotes were selected verbatim from the back covers of the novels depicted.
Amazon, eBay, Irrational-Impulse-Purchasing-dot-com… we can order pretty much anything, anytime. But is it a really a good time for collectors? In my opinion, it’s a terrible time for those who prefer the act of collecting over the concept of owning. Here’s my story, as a collector of a certain series of books – the Dumarest of Terra saga – that shaped my childhood, and early adulthood.
When I was in the pre-teen grey area between child- and adulthood, my best friend lent me Technos, a 1972 pulpy science fiction novel written by English author E.C. Tubb.
“But no one would believe Earl Dumarest. So he was forced to become a fugitive on an unknown planet, using a stolen identity and endlessly fleeing, always keeping just one pace ahead of the military police.”1
For a boy – almost a young man – steeped in the childhood breezes of Gordon Korman and the Narnia books, Technos came on like a hurricane. It was violent, graphic and trashingly imaginative. Its protagonist, Earl Dumarest, was a cutthroat interplanetary mercenary pursuing the location his native planet, Earth. The problem being he’d been castawaying through the universe so long and so deep that when the saga began Earth was considered a myth, like El Dorado or Shangri-La. Pretty much every succeeding book narrated Dumarest killing, romancing and conniving his way home. How could a 13-year-old not like this stuff?
“Melome was surely the key to Dumarest’s next step – but that circus was more than an entertainment, It was a deadly trap set by a monster!”2
Background part 1
Edwin Charles (E.C.) Tubb was born in 1919 and was a fantastically prolific writer of sci-fi and western magazine stories and paperbacks, of which the majority, if not all, are currently out of print. If one would look him up on the internet, that person would find anecdotes of Tubb editing sci-fi magazines of which he wrote (under pseudonyms) every story, article and letters to the editor. Amongst his nearly 400 published works, the Dumarest saga, a collection of 33 novels published between 1967 and 2008, seemed to be his legacy.
“More than once her vision saved them from hideous death as together they faced the horrors of a brutal universe.”3
Effect on a young adult
After the epiphany that was Technos, I went to my library to look up more of Tubb’s works. All I could find was a novelization he did of a Space: 1999 television episode. Which I devoured. However, I frequented the used bookstores in the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario area and managed to find a half dozen other titles of this wonderful Dumarest saga.
“To escape, Dumarest had to outwit her hideous horrors, and outdream her satanic fantasies….”4
When I readied myself for my twenties, I sold a majority of my comic books and novels to fund my burgeoning bass guitar hobby, much to my later regret. Amongst what I cast aside was my small Dumarest collection. I became mature, and journeyed to the big city of Toronto to begin my career. I couldn’t help but see a parallel with young Earl Dumarest, who stowed away on a freighter, also as a youngster, to leave Earth for his own adventurous journey into space, travelling so far and for so long that he had to regretfully struggle to get back home. I would spend years getting my collection of his adventures back into my possession.
“Now Toy was in the hands of a decadent young Toy Master, whose greatest pleasure was the pain of others. Dumarest had come to Toy to consult the great Library, in hopes of locating long-lost Earth. He stayed to fight for his life.”5
Several years later, I was fortunate to have a boring day in my Toronto office and became nostalgic enough to Google E.C. Tubb and Earl Dumarest. I discovered that an obscure publishing house had released the “long-awaited final novel” of Dumarest’s quest in 1997 (The Return), where my hero’s voyage evidently came to an end. I immediately looked up the publisher and managed to order a (slightly overpriced) copy. I also found another “last novel” due to be published in 2008 from another publisher, advanced orders available (Child of Earth). I put my order in for this one, too. Thus my quest began again.
“Dumarest came to the world called Scar with nothing but the skills of his hardened body and a blood-red ring on his finger. Deadly fungus-covered Scar….”6
With the final two books in my possession, released through small publishers who wouldn’t survive the 2008 recession, I decided it would be enjoyable to attempt to complete the entire collection. I would scour used bookstores everywhere, yet make it fun. And without using the internet. I plotted all the used stores in Toronto and southern Ontario. On a free day, I’d head to one, check it out, and be sure to reward myself with a pint at the local, whether or not I was successful. On my honeymoon, I popped into stores in the United Kingdom. Everywhere I went. Every vacation. Newfoundland. Ottawa. Saskatoon. I’d find maybe a few Dumarest books every couple of years, and slowly built up the collection. I wanted the quest; I wasn’t interested in simply ordering the titles online. I wanted the struggle. Like Earl Dumarest with his own single-minded goal.
“Dumarest thought Zakym would be a mere stopover on his quest, but the living, the dead, and the invisible decided otherwise.”7
Background part 2
E.C. Tubb passed away at the age of 90 in 2010, while I was still deep in my pursuit of his works. His Dumarest legacy had seen four different publishers – beginning with Ace from 1967 to 1973, then moving to a new imprint, DAW, which demanded longer novels: an extra 10,000 words each. This contract lasted until 1985, after which Tubb didn’t publish a Dumarest novel for more than a decade (although the manuscript for The Return was published in French in 1992). His two “final novels” were published by Gryphon Books in 1997 and Homeworld Press in 2008 respectively.
“The planet was without a star of its own. It was from another galaxy. It was uninhabited… and it was sentient.”8
Sadly, the end, realized
Alas, after seven years of worldwide searching with increasing margins of success, I did a routine check of BMV Books on Bloor Street in Toronto. It had the last few Dumarests I was seeking, out of the blue. I excitedly plucked them up, and pored over them at a nearby pub. I texted my victory to others – the finale of my quest and perhaps the finale of Dumarest’s quest, yet… I kinda felt sad that both our journeys were at an end.
“The quest for lost Earth had taken Earl Dumarest across the galaxy and through innumerable perilous worlds.”9
Epilogue: the end?
I still haven’t brought myself to reread the 33 books from beginning to end, like I said I would to many who’ve suffered through the recounting of my epic tale. And I haven’t yet read the final novel where, I believe, Earl Dumarest found what he was looking for. Maybe because I’m a bit saddened that I’ve found what I was looking for after all these years, and that my own quest was at an end. As it stands, with me postponing the reading of the final novels, my hero, Earl Dumarest, is still trying to find his way home. I’ll give him some peace once I’m ready to make peace with the end of my own journey. Maybe that’s the point of collecting. To never finish.
“Here the journey begins, and here it may end….”10
And just for fun – a real cigarette ad embedded in E.C. Tubb’s 1973 Dumarest novel Veruchia. Honestly!
4Iduna’s Universe, 1979
6The Jester at Scar, 1970
7Haven of Darkness, 1977
9The Temple of Truth, 1985
10The Winds of Gath, 1967