EC Tubb: Seminal writer who was a mainstay of the British science fiction scene for half a century
Tuesday 19 October 2010
With his work translated into more than a dozen languages, EC Tubb was well known to readers of science fiction the world over. He was extraordinarily prolific. Beginning in 1951, he published over 130 novels and more than 230 short stories in such magazines as Astounding/Analog, Authentic, Galaxy, Nebula, New Worlds,Science Fantasy, Vision of Tomorrow, and more recently in Fantasy Adventures. Many of his short stories were reprinted in various "World's Best SF" anthologies, and his story "Lucifer" won the Europa Prize in 1972. Tubb was appointed editor of Authentic Science Fiction in 1956, and edited it with great panache until its unnecessary demise in 1957.
Edwin Charles Tubb was born in London in 1919. His writing ambitions had been born shortly before the Second World War when he became a fan of American science fiction pulp magazines. In his early teens he became an avid collector and began to make contact with fellow enthusiasts, eventually joining the pre-war British Science Fiction Association. The outbreak of the war put paid to his early writing ambitions, but after the war the members of the old BSFA, including Tubb's fellow enthusiasts Arthur C Clarke, John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham), Frank Arnold, Sydney J Bounds, John Carnell, Walter Gillings and William F Temple, began to reform. This group of fans and fledgling professionals eventually launched their own SF magazine, New Worlds, to which Tubb became a regular contributor.
Within a year of his debut as a short story writer, Tubb began producing novels. His early books were exciting adventure stories, written in the prevailing fashion of the early 1950s, which demanded that stories should be fast moving and, above all else, entertaining. Yet from his first novel, Saturn Patrol (1951), Tubb's work was characterised by a sense of plausibility, logic, and human insight.
These qualities were even more evident in his short stories, which tended to a more thoughtful, psychological type of narrative, and by 1956 they had begun to be reprinted in Judith Merril's prestigious "Year's Best Science Fiction" series of anthologies; many of them continued to be reprinted in various later "World's Best SF" anthologies. His haunting story "Little Girl Lost" (1955) was adapted for American television for Rod Serling's Night Gallery series in 1972, while in 1988, his 1955 novelette Kalgan the Golden was adapted as a graphic novel by myself and the artist Ron Turner
Tubb's first major SF novels were Alien Dust (1955) a gritty story of Martian colonisation, and The Space-Born (1956), a highly original take on the "generation starship" theme that anticipated by decades the central theme of Logan's Run – the elimination of those over a certain age in order to conserve resources. In 1962, The Space-Born was adapted as a 90-minute television play by Radio Television Française.
When the British market for SF novels slumped in 1956, Tubb diversified into writing pseudonymous paperback western novels. Many of them were based on historical events during and after the Civil War and were considered notable enough to earn the author an entry in Twentieth Century Western Writers (St James Press, 1991) and to be reprinted 50 years later in both hardcover and paperback. Tubb later became interested in Roman history, and many consider that some of his best work was contained in his "The Gladiators" historical trilogy, Atilus the Slave (1975), Atilus the Gladiator (1975), and Gladiator (1978).
Because many of his SF shortstories of the 1950s and early 1960s were under pseudonyms they tended to be overlooked at the time, so that despite continued commercial success, Tubb never received the critical recognition he deserved. Many of his ideas were seminal, and were later reused by other writers to popular acclaim – most notably his story "Precedent" (1952), which posited the grim and logical solution to the problem of stowaways in spaceships, appearing more than two years before Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations".
This was compounded when Tubb became renowned in the US and the rest of the world for his long-running "Dumarest of Terra" series, beginning with The Winds of Gath in 1967. The galaxy-spanning saga concerned Earl Dumarest and his search to find his way back across the stars to the legendary lost planet where he was born – Earth. The book's worldwide commercial success caused Tubb to more or less abandon the short-story form.
Following the death of the American editor and publisher Don Wollheim, who had commissioned the series, "The Dumarest Saga" came to a premature end after 31 novels, with The Temple of Truth (1985). The 32nd, The Return, had already been written, but at first was only published in a French translation. It first appeared in English in 1997 through Gryphon Books, a New York small press. The series seemed to have ended on an inconclusive note, and it was not until Tubb, at the age of 90, wrote a final novel at the urging of his agent, that the saga was brought to a conclusion with Child of Earth (2009).
The Tall Adventurer, a comprehensive, worldwide annotated bibliography compiled by myself and Sean Wallace, was published by Beccon Publications in 1998. This sparked a further wave of reprints by several publishers in the US and UK, and throughout Europe in translation. Belated European critical recognition came in July this year when I Posseduti, the Italian translation of his novel The Possessed (1959, revised 2005) won the Premio Italia Award as best international novel.
Despite failing health Tubb continued both to revise old work and to produce new novels. Among his later titles were Death God's Doom (1999) and The Sleeping City (1999), which featured Malkar, Tubb's Conan-style hero, and Earthbound, a new Space 1999 novel (2003), Footsteps of Angels (2004), The Life Buyer (2006), Dead Weight (2007), and Starslave (2010).
A dystopian novel, To Dream Again, was accepted on the day Tubbs died, and is to be published by Ulverscroft next year. His final, and possibly his most outstanding novel, Fires of Satan, is under consideration. New collections of short stories include The Best Science Fiction of EC Tubb (2003, US), and Mirror of the Night (2003, UK). A definitive French-language collection, Dimension, edited and translated by Richard F Nolane, is set to be published by Riviere Blanche in 2012.
Edwin Charles Tubb, writer: born London 19 October 1919; married 1944 Iris Smith (two daughters); died London 11 September 2010.
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