Unpulped #3: S.T.A.R. Flight by E. C. Tubb

S.T.A.R Flight

Cover Story:

Rocket flight is to be enjoyed by both the old and the young and those wielding electro-whips.

Back Cover:

Could earth survive the terrors of instant youth and perpetual life?

The Kaltich invaders sell their Earthman serfs a rejuvenation process that cruelly prolongs life.

The Kaltichs also promise to share their secret for instantaneous space travel desperately needed by a barbaric, overpopulated Earth.

But decades pass and Earth is no close to the stars. Yet the Kaltichs continue to strip Earth of its riches and its pride.

Only the Secret Terran Armed Resistance movement opposes the Kaltich tyranny. And only Martin Preston, S.T.A.R. agent, can possibly steal their secrets. If he fails, Earth will become a planet of billions of starving people–with no place to go except to their graves!

Year Unleashed:

1969.

What Happens:

Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, at a very basic plot level Martin Preston is recruited by S.T.A.R. to breach a Kaltich transplanetary gate in order to figure out how they work and to bring that knowledge back so that Earth will be freed of the Kaltich tyranny. He, indeed, does this, while also revealing that the Kaltich are actually humans from an alternate dimension and the transplanetary gate actually simply allows them to travel between dimensions rather than worlds, humans colonizing themselves.

None of that plot actually starts–i.e., the espionage–until at least a third of the way into the novel. Before that, we’re treated to Preston being forced into helping S.T.A.R. while being given glimpses of what life is now like on Earth via characters we neither know nor care about. Even Preston’s adventure after the “plot central” starts is more a run of dumb luck than anything else. He eventually finds a rebellious group in another alternate colonized Earth and they help him return to his own with the knowledge of the transplanetary gates and a promise to band together to break the Kaltich’s stranglehold. And then the novel ends, rather unceremoniously and rather quickly.

Representative Misogynist/Sexist Quote:

“Hilda Thorenson had more than beautiful hands.”

Okay, their isn’t really a whole lot of misogyny or sexism in this book, so it gets a pass (except for the quote above, which is an intro to a chapter and relatively unheralded). In fact, most of the characters are treated evenly and fairly, especially as most of them are driven by self-interest, the women given as much space as the men (even though neither group is given very much depth).

Evaluation:

Well, the book is nothing as promised on the cover. The cover illustration implies the reversal of aging, the old becoming young again, but in fact the “eternal youth” is organ-replacement (not, as far as I understand it, including skin), so the old elite, those who can afford it, can stay alive with young organs propping them up. (Early on, there’s a suggestion that the organs are harvested from the Earth’s youth since they are often invited into the gates never to be seen again–but then it’s revealed that an alternate timeline has just perfected medical science to a degree that organ growth and transplant is child’s play.)

But so what? The cover lies and the blurb lies, but I would have read the book anyway. How’s the writing and the story hold up?

E. C. Tubb’s writing is unspectacular. Serviceable with a flash phrase here or there, but nothing mesmeric. The characterizations are sharp enough that everyone is easily distinguished, and motivations are clear, but no one is deep enough to hold one’s heart hostage. The story itself is a bit scattered and hurried, the twist at the end a sudden reveal which comes from nowhere and seems a little deus ex machina as well as being, essentially, unnecessary. In short, it was a quick read that held my interest, but when I put the book down, whenever I put it down, the interest rested with it.

According to his wiki, Michael Moorcock (an author I greatly admire) wrote “[E. C. Tubb’s] reputation for fast-moving and colourful SF writing is unmatched by anyone in Britain.” Maybe that shines much more evidently in other books. I’d give him that chance.

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