Thursday 30 September 2010

'Escalator To Andromeda' for EC Tubb

: FOR A 1950’s SF WRITER

(to Edwin Charles Tubb
15 October 1919 -
10 September 2010)

he types
within 4:42
minutes, no
blue sky"

leans back,
drinks coffee,
exhales nebulae
of cigarette smoke,
stares at the wall and
out beyond the wall
as far as

4:42 minutes
later, he
returns to
the typewriter

Published in:
‘ODYSSEY no.12 (Winter 1992)’ (UK - Jan 1993)
‘THREADS no.4’ (UK - August 1994)
‘MISNOMER Vol.2 no.1’ (USA - July 1994)
‘FANTASY COMMENTATOR no.45/46’ (USA - December 1994)
‘MENTOR no.90’ (Australia - August 1996)
and in the collections:-
‘EUROSHIMA MON AMOUR’ Hilltop Press (UK-Oct 2000)
‘JINGLES FOR DISCORD’ (Bound-into ‘MINOTAUR no.42 vol.9 no.3’)
(USA – September 2004)

Wednesday 29 September 2010

EC Tubb: Interview Part 1

(Part one)

E.C. Tubb was Britain’s most prolific and highly-rated
Science Fiction author of the 1950’s, a writer who dominated the SF
magazine scene in the 1960’s, and whose linked Space Operas established
new generations of fans throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.... until now,
it’s the 2000’s, ‘EARL DUMAREST’ has finally came home
to Earth – leaving Tubb with new projects to write...!
Andrew Darlington meets the Man who invented worlds

“Reading can be a dangerous pursuit, Sam. Men have
ideas, and they write them down so that other men can
absorb them. Some men even act upon them.
Revolutions have been caused that way…”
(“The Captain’s Dog” in ‘Nebula no.35’, October 1958)

Supposedly, health problems mean that E.C. Tubb has now finally and absolutely retired from writing. This event-horizon was supposedly crossed during the early months of 2003. As if. It’s difficult to imagine any circumstances capable of conspiring to staunch the irrepressible flood of this unique fictioneer’s word-flow. Ever. But even if this date is to be considered some kind of last hurrah, it is significant in that it provides a precise punctuation to a half-century of stories. Five decades of fabulous tales unequalled in their compulsively accessible readability.

Born in London, on Wednesday 15th October 1919, Edwin Charles Tubb can be amazing. He not so much hit the ground running, as impacted the fictional space-time continuum at a striding lope the speed of light, and just kept accelerating. Finding his feet in the indiscriminating ‘Mushroom Jungle’ of the post-war ‘Pocket Book’ and Pulp magazine proliferations, a volatile and devious market, an incandescent, grubby, intermittent and ever-shifting phenomenon, his writing was always far less formulaic than it needed to be to achieve such a readership. And he rapidly outgrew its decline – riding, and occasionally influencing the changes, to dominate the late 1950’s and early 1960’s generation of Science Fiction magazines, ‘New Worlds’, ‘Science Fantasy’, and ‘Nebula’, while editing eighteen months of ‘Authentic SF’ himself, black text punched out on cheap white paper between garishly alluring covers. Yet each issue – to its readers, unleashing new Tubb starburst configurations of future imperfects, changing voices and personalities mutating into golden spirals of sweeping comet trails, flickering implosions illuminating dark worlds, the black void remaining fixed but the planetary action never stops, aggressively paced, tense, expansive, ecstatic, yearning, and poignant.

Graduating into novels in the 1970’s, and beyond. Space Operatics set in constellations of bewildering brightness. Old-School lack of pretensions. But he’s never less than a natural story-teller. And each phase of this apparently chaotic career across those convulsive decades is also one of a seamless and immaculately articulated progression. So many visions. So many sensations. Yet somehow sustained with a single coherence.

Now – here, seeking explanations, invited to investigate his stories as brain-teasers to be solved, he eloquently sets out the ground-rules of his technique. No secrets. No guile. Some self-deprecation. The technology is limited to a battered typewriter and a supply of cigarettes, the discipline extreme – with little to no revision-time, and a two-fisted action-methodology that could scarcely seem more pellucid. Plots constructed by genre mix ‘n’ match, but put through their paces like cosmic dancers. It’s tempting to assume that – through closer scrutiny, you can deduce the operative principles on which Tubb’s stories work, given time. But for all their apparent clarity, the more you analyse, the more they yield something deeply elusive. There in black and white, yet so mysterious a process.

You can explain it so far. The routine operation of ideas, the predictable behaviour of narrative. But no further. None of this can ever begin to define or traduce the lure of his words. Or the sureness of touch he brings to everything he creates. And it’s difficult to think of another writer of his generation responsible for so many astonishing new experiences for the reader’s eye, or one who is capable of evoking such a range of reactions. Cleverness or intelligence, artifice or style doesn’t come close.

Going back to the beginnings of your career – in the early 1950’s, there were two elements influencing novice genre voices. Firstly, emerging as a new writer, there was a ready market for people like you to sell to… but second, they were low-prestige low-paid publications. They were indeed. They didn’t pay. I was lucky when I came into writing because it was a time when – shall we say, those who could write, could sell. Because there was suddenly a tremendous demand for ‘Pocket Books’. This probably came about because it followed the period of paper shortage during the war. So first, there was the lack – combined with an affection for this stuff. Then publishers saw a chance, and started new launches. Now, there was I – without attainments or achievements of any kind, I had nothing to sell the public. I was a lorry driver, then I became a shop manager. No – I didn’t become a ‘shop manager’, but I worked in a shop. Then I sold this story. I wrote my first short story in 1950. It was published in 1951. That was for ‘New Worlds’ (“No Short Cuts”, in issue no.10, Summer 1951). And that changed my life. I suppose I’d written about thirteen stories before I sold that one. I was writing for a hobby. Then I found that I could sell. I won’t go into the economics of it because by today’s standards it sounds pathetic. Ted Carnell bought the story, and alright, this isn’t saying very much, he was starving for material, and everything was – shall we say? on a low level of acceptance. I think I got about £7 for it, something like that. But don’t forget – that was a week’s wages! So it wasn’t to be sneered at. I bought my oldest daughter a tricycle out of it. But that wasn’t the most important thing. I’d found something. I suppose it was the ego-boost of being accepted, that I’d actually been taken, actually been printed. And what I’d done once I could do again… although it didn’t quite work out like that immediately. I began to sell Ted a few things. And then, other shops opened up. The ‘Pocket Book’ market blew up. Longer stories. More money. I’m not saying those early stories are bad, but there were few other genres of publishing that would have taken them. Most other markets were – y’know, ‘literary’…

It’s a confusing period to research, because writers were working under numerous pseudonyms, complicated by crooked contracts through many devious over-night publishers. Tubb’s first novel was ‘Saturn Patrol’ – published under the alias ‘King Lang’, it was followed by ‘Planetfall’ as by ‘Gill Hunt’ (both 1951). Yes, you did turn them out fast. Because, like everything else – in a very miniscule way, you’ve got the reputation. It’s like the films, you know. ‘Cos your name’s there, they want you. So I branched out. ‘Scion Books’, and after that ‘Milestone’. And I used to churn them out. Basically, they were valueless. They were just something to get down on paper, it didn’t really matter what you put down – I was going to say ‘what kind of crap you put down,’ but that’s a little bit too strong perhaps? But you did have that attitude that it didn’t matter. That it was quite transient. It would never last. I suppose a journalist on a newspaper must feel like this – the story of the day, you know? Tomorrow it’s fish ‘n’ chip paper, it’s never going to last. So it’s a shock to go to today’s ‘Pulp Conventions’ and find all of these old things there, so highly priced, so highly valued. Well, not exactly a shock because by then, of course, I was aware that the whole ‘Collector’s items’ thing was going on. But they were great fun to write – those pocketbooks, because your critical faculty was very low. You didn’t worry about what you were doing. Nobody else worried about what you were doing. They were taken. So you just take the old cork out of the subconscious and it flows. But it was speed that was essential then, because – well, you weren’t earning enough, you had to earn more than you were making normally, more than you could earn by driving a truck or whatever, otherwise there was no point in doing it. It wasn’t greed. And I’ve said it before – there’s no reason why I shouldn’t mention Dave Griffiths because he’s well known. He was the reader for the ‘Curtis Warren’ imprint. And he came into the pub where we were. ‘Don’t worry about it. Just write it. I’ll submit it as one of mine. They’re bound to take everything I write. And you’ll get your money – £27 10s’. So I did it. I did one, he took it, and it got accepted, and I got paid. Didn’t get paid for the next two, mind. Sucker. So – I learned, I learned. Oddly enough, some years later when I was the editor of ‘Authentic SF’ I received a story from – guess who? David Griffiths. Which I read, and sent back with a note saying ‘I enjoyed your story and I would love to take it, but first could you please settle the attached invoice for £54 which you owe me?’ And there was another off-shoot of that because around that same time Ken Bulmer apparently went to a local typewriter shop and the chap was saying ‘we’ve just had a fine machine come in, sir, used to belong to an author like yourself – chap called Dave Griffiths’. Poor Dave. The secret, I suppose, is to be careful who you’re dealing with, but anyway, that was that.

‘Shit has its own integrity’ says Gore Vidal. Meaning that even low-profile genre-fiction must have a degree of commitment. Just because a writer writes between formula-restrictions doesn’t mean he doesn’t also believe entirely in his own characters and stories. At least on one level. And Tubb’s very prolific production tends to obscure the fact that some of the material he produced at this time was also very good – like “Kalgan the Golden” which wasn’t even published under his own name (it was published in the ‘Vargo Statten British Space Fiction Magazine’ August 1955 as by ‘George Holt’). One of the best things I did – when I say good, the story was called “Sword of Tormain”. Now, I didn’t think this was any good at the timel, so I sent it off to the American ‘Planet Stories’ under the name ‘Eric Storm’. Stupid. ‘Cos they bought it. So I got no credit for it, no nothing. There it is – “Sword of Tormain”, not under my own name, but by ‘Eric Storm’ (‘Planet Stories’ March 1954). And – I didn’t really sell enough in America. I don’t know if I blame the agent for that, or blame me. You just wanted the money, and you wanted it quick. You couldn’t mess around. You couldn’t wait. To send stuff out to the States was heavy on postage, and it took a long time, especially thick manuscripts. I remember Bryan Berry (1930 – 1955, author of ‘The Immortals’) saying to me that he had done a couple of good things, and I said ‘what did you do?’ ‘I air-mailed them to the States.’ And I said ‘air-mailed?’ – I mean, it was expensive in those days. He said ‘well, if it’s something good I think it’s worth it!’ I don’t know if he sold them or not, he didn’t live long enough to make his mark. And – like the rest of us, he got ripped off. Another way the ‘Pocket Books’ worked was – you signed up, they took it all, and then they sold it to the States for ten times what they’d paid for it. And when he protested about this they said ‘look, I’ll tell you what we’ll do about this, we’ll be fair, we’ll give you a contract for two more novels on the old terms! – another two!’ And he got a bit disenchanted with it. It’s a shame. But that was the way it went.

Of course, writers were ripped off. But no-one was making huge profits from it, all the magazines and publishing imprints were low-budget shoestring operations one step away from bankruptcy. Certainly. And Alistair Patterson – who was also running around at the time, he was a helpful man to me. He was the editor of ‘Scion’, a sort-of old-time editor. He’d take you out and buy you a drink. Get you three parts cut and say ‘I’ll give you something. I’ll give you a commission, Ted. I want a 21,000-word three-part serial for whatever it was – the ‘Vargo Statten (British Space Fiction) Magazine’ . Which turned out to be “Ultimate Conflict”. (I jog his memory) No “Inevitable Conflict” (from the Jan 1954 issue). Things like that, you know. So I liked the man. I think he eventually got the chop and he was scraping the barrel one way or another, and oddly enough in a reverse kind of way, I did to him what Dave Griffiths had done to me. I didn’t rob him, don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t rob him. But he knew I was selling to – not the ‘Badger Books’ people, I forget the name, the title – Phil (Harbottle, SF archivist) would know. ‘Spencer’, that was it! they did my ‘Supernatural Stories’ in one bundle like that (issue no.9, published April 1957, is entirely made up of Tubb stories under six different aliases – Edward Richards, John Mason, Richard D. Ennis, L.C. Powers, Andrew Sutton, and Raymond L. Burton!). So old Patterson gave me his Detective manuscript and said ‘can you put this in for me?’ He was giving me something to sell to them. So I said ‘yeah, I’ll do it under the ‘Charles Grey’ house-alias, it’ll see you through.’ So I delivered it for him, they accepted it, but soon he was complaining ‘cos they took their time paying. Alistair couldn’t wait. I said to him ‘look, I haven’t received the cash myself yet.’ ‘Well, why can’t you give me an advance?’ ‘I haven’t got the money! We’re all a bit strapped around here.’ ‘Well, who’s publishing it?’ I made the mistake of telling him. ‘Spencer’ – I said, ‘they’ve got it’. So he goes down to ‘Spencer’ and demands ‘can you pay me for my novel?’ – which, as you recall, had been submitted by me, their author, under my alias. I have a feeling that’s why they didn’t take any more from me after that. He got paid though. That was Alistair, a nice person, a funny man, but he was fun.
There was an over-lap of genres, especially in those ‘Pulp’ days of the ‘Pocket Books’. His story “Spawn of Jupiter” in ‘Visions of Tomorrow’ (no.11 August 1970) starts off in a near-Western style. The Prospector coming into the saloon. Just that the setting happens to be on the moons of Jupiter. Ah, that’s the old saloon thing though, isn’t it? That’s the classic ‘tavern’. Obviously it couldn’t have been a Western, not with a title like “Spawn of Jupiter”. But it could have been Western-orientated. They all are. That’s what I was talking about earlier. When I had to write an additional sequence into the beginning of the short novel ‘City Of No Return’ to bring it up to the required word-length, I inserted a ‘tavern’ scene, it really had nothing to do with the novel at all. It merely introduced the characters, brought two people together. It’s one of the standards to me, of any novel – or any Western. You get a group of people together – in an environment where anything can happen. It’s a sort of repetitious thing you can use. I’ll have to read “Spawn of Jupiter” again, I think I’ve got a copy somewhere. After that… er, what happened after that?

Then the ‘Pocket-Book’ market imploded, and you became editor of the ‘Authentic SF’ magazine (from issue no.66, 15th February 1956). Yes, I churned them out, until the dreadful year 1954. Where the whole thing blew up, because of – Stephen Francis wasn’t it? They had this obscenity case, and the purveyors – the booksellers, were so scared about being swept up in the net they just wouldn’t touch any of it. ‘Pocket Books? – don’t want that, don’t want that!’ ‘Yes, but this is Science Fiction, this is Boxing, this is a Western’. ‘No, don’t want any of it, don’t want to know, they could have something nasty in there…’ And the whole thing went down. This wasn’t nice for me. I’d just got the house. So I had to get my old job back. And start working, and writing. And I’d write anything for anyone at that time. It was about that time that I did that Foreign Legion book. Then, it must have been about that time – ‘Authentic SF’ came along. Of course – with Bert Campbell initially running the thing, it was a little bit different to the rest. I mean, at least he had an idea what he wanted to do. But he was, at the same time, a realist. And honest enough to admit ‘I realise I’m paying you pennies’. And that was it. So I did a couple of things for him.

One of the things that characterised your period as editor of ‘Authentic SF’ was that many of the stories included were your own, under a variety of assumed guise. You didn’t always have a great deal of choice of material when I was doing ‘Authentic SF’. If people were good they were sending to the States. If they weren’t any good, you didn’t want to publish them. And that’s why quite often in ‘Authentic’ – it wasn’t big-headedness or anything, deadlines come and you’ve got to fill out, there’s nothing good come in, so I’ll write something myself, or I’ll put in one of mine. That’s why there were so many nom de plumes spread around in those issues. But it wasn’t because of greed or anything like that. We were offering very low money, and one of the things the publishers kept going on at me was ‘we need American authors, can’t you get some American authors?’ So I said ‘do you realise what you are paying these people?’ I forget. I could tell you, but I’d have to dig out the information. It’s gone clear out of my mind.

You managed to get Van Vogt into the mgazine. Yes – I got Horace Gold and I got Van Vogt and a few people like that. I think Van Vogt came to me through (Forrest J) Ackerman (SF archivist, super-fan, and ‘Authentic’s American correspondent). But I contacted Gold direct. Because he published some of my stuff. So he said – in a sense, ‘you rub my back, I’ll rub yours’. I said ‘I can’t give you much’. He said ‘doesn’t matter, it gets the name in print, I’m getting what I want to get’. So I ran several of Gold’s. And I went to the publisher and I said ‘there you are, I’ve got you some top-line American authors in the magazine’. And nobody knew who the hell they were! The ‘Authentic SF’ readership obviously wasn’t the ‘Astounding’ readership. So that was that.

‘Authentic SF’ was unusual for the time in that it also published a number of female writers. No, there was not a great deal of women. A great deal of ‘Alice Beecham’ was me. That was one ‘woman’. I don’t know if there were any others. There may have been a couple, I’m not sure if Hilary Bailey was one? but I wouldn’t know them, you see? All I went by was the names on the manuscripts. There was Joy Goodwin, I’m not sure if she was in there – or was that ‘Nebula’? There weren’t very many authoresses about. There weren’t many authors about. We were all doppelgangers of each other.

Yet one of the fine writers you helped discover was Barrington J Bayley. I don’t know if I ‘discovered’ Barrington J Bayley.

He was certainly frequently published in ‘Authentic SF’ – although he may have started in ‘Vargo Statten’. Yes, I’m trying to think who… he was one of Mike Moorcock’s friends. That’s right. He was one of that group. I published him, of course. You did, didn’t you? – he was a mate, so you put him in if you could. Not that they were any worse than anyone else. It was an interesting time, because you were young, you had the energy – and you had no critical faculty at all!

You frequently appeared in the very fine ‘Nebula’ magazine. Did you ever meet its editor, Peter Hamilton? Peter Hamilton… and ‘Nebula’. We have crossed each other’s paths. But I can’t visualise him. I not sure if we ever met. Yes we did. No – I’m thinking of Philip Harbottle now, when he was doing ‘Visions of Tomorrow’. So no – I don’t know if I ever met Peter Hamilton. I don’t know if he ever came down (from Scotland). He may have done. But he was a great source of… a lovely market for me. I used to like the stories in ‘Nebula’. I thought ‘Nebula’ was a very good mag actually. There was some very good stuff in it. And he seemed to like what I was doing. So we got on quite well. But it’s odd. Now people say we were doing it wrong. Ken Bulmer says we did it wrong. And I tend to agree with Ken, because he was saying we fell into a trap. We got into a trap where we had to write for the money, and because we had to have that money we had to write for the available markets. If you could do it again – you’d start writing slightly better, take a little bit longer over it, send it to America, get your name known over in the States, then we could do an Asimov, or a Pohl, or a Van Vogt. Then you think – well, yes, but could we have done that? Could we have afforded the time? And the answer is – of course, no. We couldn’t. The mortgage needed to be paid. And it needed to be paid now… not maybe, not in a year’s time. So it was really difficult.

The Martian story-cycle which became your well-received novel ‘Alien Dust’ (Boardman, 1955) came originally from stories featured in ‘New Worlds’. They were all put together under the title ‘Alien Dust’, yes. Not all of them – yes, I think, all of them. That’s right. And then again, one of those stories is the perfect case of me missing the boat entirely. It’s one of those – I won’t say ‘peevish’ things, because it’s nobody’s fault, it just happened. I wrote a story called “Precedent” about a stowaway on a ship bound for Mars. And they find him, and they have to throw him out. It was just a story. But I think it was Tom Godwin who wrote a story – “The Cold Equation” (‘Astounding/Analog’ August 1954), where they find the stowaway on the ship, but it’s a she. And they have to throw her out. And I look at that, and I think ‘oh dear’ – and I know I was first, not that it matters because you get overlap anyway, but why didn’t I think of a GIRL? Why did it have to be his bloody son-in-law or his brother-in-law or something, and the moral dilemma is ‘what would the wife say?’ Because logically again, at that time it would never have occurred to me that a woman would do that. It was just one of those things. It was a good story. But he got anthologised and lauded, rightly so. It even got on TV. While poor old “Precedent” just sat there, twitching…


Tuesday 28 September 2010

EC Tubb: Two Novels

Book Review of:
(Cosmos Books – ISBN 0-9668968-0-7 – £6/$10)
(Gryphon Books – ISBN 0-936071-83-4 – $20)
by E.C. TUBB

Tavern. Serving Wench. Enigmatic Mercenary with a mythic past. A Merchant ‘more bone than flesh’. Then a magical quest to find ‘Gualek The Golden, the City of Eternal Life lost in far ensorcelled Dashkit’. All predictable heroic fantasy ingredients at least since Robert E Howard first marketed the Conan franchise. Through Fritz Leiber’s mischievous ‘Ffahrd & Grey Mouser’. Until it explodes graphically into ‘2000AD’s Slaine, via Michael Moorcock’s doomed albino anti-hero Elric Of Melnibone. But those who know EC Tubb only through his long-distance ‘Earl Dumarest’ hyper-romps – or those who caught TV’s ‘Space 1999’ re-runs (he wrote some spin-offery for that too), might be unaware that in the 1950’s when Tubb’s domination of domestic pulp SF was virtually complete, it was he who first created a character called ‘Elric’. But this, he concedes generously, was probably just ‘a coincidence’. EC Tubb is now eighty, yet shows few signs of reducing his phenomenal creation of fictional worlds. Malkar’s fantasy medievalism was first glimpsed in Sam Moskowitz’s legendary ‘Weird Tales’ in a story editorially compared to the very finest of CL Moore. Now Malkar gets re-animated at (slim) novel-length, to battle the Elkite Pirates until ‘the deck ran red with blood that dripped into the sea where the creatures of the deep waited to feast on human flesh...’, and then penetrate a besieged city only to find himself trapped between dimensions by the satanic Lovecraftian demon-deity Phang. While the incidental death-toll multiplies at an absurdly horrific rate. Malkar’s entire company get monstrously-massacred – against the reader’s expectations, on two distinct occasions, and Malkar’s sole concession to human compassion reduces down to slaughtering the wounded to ‘end their suffering’. Death? ‘what matter when men are so plentiful?’ asks Seer logically. And although these escapades are eminently readable, Malkar never actually gets to reach his Lost City, it says so on the book-jacket so no plot-secrets are betrayed by so revealing. Tubb – it seems, is already saving Gualek for the soon-come sequel – ‘The Sleeping City’.

But as new hugely oaken gothic doors creak open for Malkar, they seem to be finally closing on Earl Dumarest. Since he first rose ‘through interminable strata of ebony chill to warmth, light and a growing awareness’ in ‘The Winds Of Gath’ (1967) the star-lost Dumarest’s quest to re-locate mythic Earth through galaxies of strangeness and Space Opera heroics was spun out on a two-books-a-year schedule throughout much of the 1970’s. Until the unpredictable vagaries of publishing, rather than the hideous machinations of his Cyclan cyber-adversaries brought the cycle to a premature end... if, indeed, thirty-one volumes later can be described as ‘premature’. Yet Tubb himself, and Dumarest-ophiles – who remain legion, continued to need the full closure that only Dumarest setting foot on Terra could provide. Hence ‘The Return’, rescued from a rare 1992 French-only edition, and wrapped in a new Ron Turner art-embellished English (and American-language!) format for the first time. So here is an older, meaner, more ruthless Dumarest, so close to journey’s-end that he’ll allow nothing to stop him. First escaping from what the computer-for-brains Cyclan calculate as a 99% probability of nuclear incineration, and using Raniang co-ordinates salvaged from the Cerevex Temple in ‘Dumarest 31: The Temple Of Truth’ – Dumarest planet-hops from fragrant Arpagus to the Space Scavenger’s world of Kaldar in the Lonagar Drift in the devious company of the beautiful but deadly Zaheva Postel. He kills Toibin in a knife-fight, to avenge the death of Dren Ford, thereby acquiring the Geniat, a Kaldar ship – and then it’s via stop-over journey-bites to encounter the lethal secret of ancient Fionnula – ‘redolent of decay’, to... well, Earth. But there’s time for a partial re-union with long-lost love Kalin of Solis (‘Dumarest 4’) and a final Cyclan face-off. So there’s some tying-off of loose strands. But not all. Tubb leaves questions dangling, and... without giving too much away – he never actually gets to land on Earth. So there’s still a potential ‘Dumarest 33’ lurking in there. Meanwhile, Tubb’s universe remains cruel, mean-spirited and unrelenting, as physically punishing as it is unforgiving. And there’s little in the way of cutting-edge high-tech hardware either – star-charts are listed Yellow Pages-style in printed almanacs, they still use radios, and its politics make Brute-Monetarism seem like a rest-cure, with just a slave-economy there for losers. His Raiders are strangely stylised pre-Mad Max curios who manifest villainy by singing raucous songs in taverns, and even gender roles are monochrome traditional. You suspect this is not deliberate retro, although it could be read as a kind of ironic post-modern 1950’s Steampunk-variant. Transistor-Punk perhaps, or SF-at-78rpm? You don’t come to Tubb expecting sophistication, but sometimes you get it anyway. You do come to Tubb for superlative story-telling skills. And that always comes as a given. At eighty years old, the man his biographer named ‘The Tall Adventurer’, can still be awesome.

In case of problems enquiries concerning Cosmos & Gryphon Books can be directed to Philip Harbottle, Cosmos Literary Agency, 32 Tynedale Avenue, Wallsend, Tyne & Wear NE28 9LS

Published in:-
‘ESSENTIAL SF no.4’ (UK -Feb 2000)
‘G.C. ROCKS no.9’ (UK - July 2000)

Interview With EC Tubb: Part Two

(Part two)

“There is a morbid streak in us which finds a
fascination in things of horror. Ghouls, ghosts, goblins,
things which lurk in darkness. Every circus has its freaks.
Every carnival its share of grotesque monstrosities…”
(E.C. Tubb, “The Return: Dumarest Saga no.32”)

To SF historian Mike Ashley, E.C. Tubb is ‘an inspired fiction machine’. His stories are constructed of prose with tentacles. They extend into every area of your life, tickling, irritating and provoking, while also leaving you with unforgettable impressions of what he terms ‘the numbing majesty’ of the universe. And I’ve travelled down here on the South London Grey Line to Forest Hill to seek him out. He answers the door himself. A tall, courteous host, with slicked-back silver hair. Now in his eighties, age has hardly loosened the sharp, aquiline features I recall from the book jackets and magazine profile pages. He leads the way down the entrance hall, into the front room and asks whether I want tea or coffee. In his fiction there was a lunar Tycho Base in 1995, the same year that the first colonising expedition lands on Mars ‘like two dreams and a nightmare’. Reality has proved incapable of bearing the weight of such dreams. ‘Mars! Even now it seemed a dream, the culmination of a lifetime of hope…’ (“Operation Mars” ‘Nebula no.11’ December 1954). Instead I’m here, not exactly checking out the contents of his fridge, but at least snooping through his bookshelves. He, it seems, has less examples of his own published work than I do! And I have plenty…

One thing that struck me about the interview you did with Charles Platt (published in ‘Who Writes Science Fiction?’, Savoy Books, 1980) is that – even having been published regularly since the 1950’s, you were still having to work a ‘day job’. Oh yes, yes. It wasn’t until fairly late that writing became a full-time thing. I think I quit full-time work in 1968. As I told you, before that – around the time I got my house, the bottom dropped out of the pulp market, and I had to go back to work, working for a printing-machine firm called Adana. Later I worked part-time there because things were getting better, and I got an agreement with the Guv’nor to work when he needed me. It suited him ‘cos he was saving money too. Then they made me manager. I said I’d never been a manager before and I was the worst man they could’ve picked. It was a Mickey Mouse firm anyway. I didn’t want to do it, but I was a manager for a while. I was there. And it was regular money. But in 1968 we finally parted company, and I went writing full-time. Then – after a while, I suppose if you want to get a bit philosophical about it – as I was saying at a recent Pulp Convention, you pay a lot, in a way, because you’re not living. You’re writing about living. And it’s a phoney life. And oddly enough – this is the room, this is where you spend your time, day after day, sitting at the typewriter. You get tense. You get strained, because you don’t want to do it. You get this adaptation-syndrome coming on. Your back aches, and your mind aches. And it’s a load of crap you’re doing. (Graham Greene writes about the same syndrome as a ‘melancholy which falls inexorably round the novelist when he has lived for too many months in his private world’). So, I began demonstrating, ‘cos – you see, you desperately had to do something else, otherwise it would drive you mad, just sat in this room, you didn’t know what to do. And by this time I’m slowing down, that’s the snag. This time it’s getting harder and harder to write. So I went demonstrating, which is nice. I liked that. Then that dried up, inflation was to blame. By the time I’d paid expenses there was nothing left. I was actually paying to go to work! Then I got the last job, as a Traffic Warden. I was only doing it for six months when I got punched in the mouth. I’d put a ticket on his car, so he came up and punched me in the bloody mouth. Got a cut lip. I was the only Traffic Warden on that particular patch to be physically assaulted. Forget how much compensation I got. Then I had a run-in with somebody else and I thought ‘I’m not going through this again’. The abuse you get in that business. I just couldn’t stand it. So I quit. And since then I haven’t worked.

Doing a ‘day-job’ seems to have been a not-uncommon experience among your generation of writers. Philip E. High was a bus-driver. E.R. James was a postman. The money wasn’t in there you see, that was the trouble. In our day-and-age, the money wasn’t there. But in the Platt interview – and from what you’ve just told me, you also seem to imply that working a day-job can be an advantage in that it also stimulates your creativity, throwing up situations and incidents. It’s wrong to stay in-doors, that’s true. Because you’re bound to restrict yourself. But coincidentally this all started when I stopped smoking, believe or not. I was alright until I stopped smoking. Or smoking stopped me – it gave me up!

You put in a story once, that humans were the only species in the universe with the irrational compulsion to smoke. Yes, because, I mean – nicotine is a brain-stimulant you see? And when I stopped doing this in 1972 – no, 1975, that was it, I remember the date, because I was on this demonstration job, the last demonstration job I did, I’d been to a party, I came back from this spell down in Brighton – not smoking any. Got back, lit up – and I’d never felt so ill… I was terrible, as if I’d never smoked in my life. And I’ve never smoked since. But of course, it made life very hard for two reasons – when you’re smoking and you’re writing, you stop writing to light the cigarette and have a puff, and it gives you a pause to think out the next line. But when you’re like this – AAAGH, bloody crap, and you look at it, it’s not crap at all, it’s just you who don’t know where to go next, you’re stuck on a line. So the writing really slowed right down. As an illustration of what I’m saying, I used to write with a minimum of waste. Then it got so that I was wasting three sheets to every one finished. I can tell that because I’m starting off with two reams of paper – fifty sheets of finished product. It got stupid. That’s when I almost clipped off – and stopped writing. But getting back to talking about this concept of writing – being isolated, with a super-active imagination, you are god, writing about people and ordering their lives. Then you enter the real world, and you find it very very hard to communicate ordinarily with people. I did. I couldn’t talk to people. I could talk at them. I could do that on a demonstration wonderfully. But talking to them, I always found that very difficult. Because we don’t seem to think alike. I mean – you’ve got a different sense of humour. Or you’ve got a grass-hopper brain. You might say ‘ah, we couldn’t do this on the moon’. ‘Eh? – funny sod this, keeps talking about the moon’. Or Einstein. Or Darwin… so your conversation begins to get a little bit odd.

Philip E. High would say that as he was driving his bus, or as E.R. James was delivering his letters, they would be working on ‘automatic pilot’ while their minds were elsewhere, on different imaginary journeys. That’s right. You do that driving a lorry. I used to say to people ‘if you were to ask me ‘what did you see?’ while you were driving that lorry, I couldn’t tell them. I could tell you what didn’t happen. I didn’t have an accident. I didn’t kill anyone. But I couldn’t tell you what happened. Because your mind switches into overdrive while your body operates on an automatic level.

You bought several Philip E. High stories for ‘Authentic SF’. He told me he was very pleased with the cover-art you commissioned for one of them. No, I didn’t do the covers, that was the trouble. I had nothing to do with covers. Covers and magazines were two different things. I don’t know how it works now, but then you never even saw the artist. We were never up in that editorial bracket. No – Christ, you didn’t know what the hell they were doing when they were illustrating your stories. Usually, what they’d do, they’d have a cover or two put by, and they’d think ‘well, this one would do it!’ So we’d get into the ridiculous situation where – was it with ‘Authentic SF’? No – it was ‘Scion Books’, where we had identical covers used for two entirely different stories. One was called ‘City Of No Return’, and the other was called ‘Hell Planet’. Phil (Harbottle) will confirm this. That they both have the same cover. It’s just – ‘we’ll use this one again’. It didn’t matter. The artists used to suffer quite a bit in those days, too. All in all they had a hard time. As bad as the authors. It got to the point where one artist went in there, he’d had a gut-full of them, he was going to punch the publisher out. Not only were they not paying him but they were ripping him off by re-selling his stuff and re-using it. Now – of course, they are highly respected individuals, they retain control of their covers and all this business. They didn’t in those days. ‘Do a cover with a spaceship on it’, and they’d bring it in, and they just sold whatever it was, for £10, £20 each. Very rarely did they even get to see the stories in those days. Although sometimes the author would be given a cover to write a story about, to justify it being there. And you could usually tell when that was the case, because you always found a very concise description of the cover-scene in the story. A dead give-away really. That happened quite often on all the magazines. The pulps as well.

Yet there were some very fine artists working for the SF field at that time, people like Alan Hunter, Brian Lewis, Ron Turner, Harry Turner. There were a lot of good illustrators. I always thought they were undervalued. And under-paid. I saw some examples recently at a Pulp Convention (by James Rattigan?), and the detail is incredible. I envy artists. I wish I could do that – speak with a brush! This, to me, is really good. And another work-of-art was the blurbs that were used on the old ‘Pocket Books’. Which the author was supposed to write. Some of them were more fiction than what was found within the covers. (‘Through the street of Staren he passed, an ever-young golden figure. Kalgan was immortal, but for this there was a bitter price to pay. And when the mighty Tharg also wanted immortality, Kalgan was prepared to give it to him, providing…’ – “Kalgan The Golden” in ‘The British Space Fiction Magazine Vol.2 no.3’ August 1955)

I always enjoyed Science Fiction that restricted itself to a Solar System setting. Known worlds with mythologies built up by a succession of writers. I know. Science shot us down, didn’t it? We had a Mars, it was ideal. We had a Venus too – all swamp, with dinosaurs running around. We had asteroids out there. It was perfectly nice. And they go and ruin it. They’ve even made a mess of the Moon now.

Setting stories within the bounds of the Solar System must have forced you to write within a kind of discipline. Even though many of the ‘facts’ you adhered to have subsequently been proved wrong. It did. It was a help really because you were operating against a ‘known’ background. Which meant you were writing near to reality. Again, the only difference was that you hadn’t actually been there. You could have your characters on Mars. And you did know… I mean, when you think about it really, if you wanted to be really cynical you could’ve put them in any desert, in the middle of the Sahara, and the story would’ve been exactly the same. Freezing at night. No air. No food. No nothing. They’re really stories of conflict among people set against themselves in a small community. But then, most Science Fiction was like that. Your monsters weren’t just giant ants or slugs, your monsters could just as easily be the locusts eating the crops from under you here on Earth, or all that kind of thing. So really – getting back to the original question, there are only a certain amount of situations, as there are only a certain amount of plots, as there are only a certain amount of character-types. And they’re just interchangeable, one against the other. And so, it’s hard – I should think, now, to come out with a completely new and novel idea, one that is not just retrieved or refashioned in the usual way. I mean, Arthur Clarke made his things very very big, and so did Larry Niven in his ‘Ringworld’ series. All the descriptions are in miles. It was so big that the mind couldn’t comprehend it. But really, it didn’t mean anything, did it? Just ‘cos something’s so bloody big – a five-mile-long spaceship, it’s in no way really different to a half-mile-long spaceship. It doesn’t make it necessarily any more awe-inspiring. It just makes it larger.

You did a novel called ‘Hell Planet’ set on the traditional-SF idea of a Mercury with one side hot and the other side cold – as astronomers of the time believed. It still is that way so far as I’m concerned! I suppose you were limited. So you had to try and – sort of, be a bit different. Invent different civilisations. Getting back to that. On the Moon, it’s obvious what you have to be because you have an environment which determines you’ve got to live like a bee in a hive or something like that. But that’s no excuse for doing exactly that sort of thing. And then, after you’ve done that, you move outside the Solar System, because you can’t do that anymore. Because that whole painstakingly-constructed consensus mythology about the Solar System has been steadily broken down by probes and better science. It has. That’s the trouble. Years and years ago I used to pose this kind of question – ‘what’s going to happen when Science Fiction comes real?’

To me, the landing on the Moon seemed like a significant terminator, where it tilted emphatically from Science Fiction into science fact. And since then… I suppose so, yes. And you actually contributed to the commemorative anthology of Science Fiction writers’ reactions to the event, ‘Men On The Moon’. It was one of those things (laughs). That was just… extrapolation. I suppose, it had happened, and to me – I could never understand at the time, when Yuri Gagarin went around the Earth, when he had PROVED Science Fiction not to be the giggling silly thing people thought it to be. Not like the Royal Astronomers who called it a ‘whole load of rubbish’. Then we actually got to the Moon! We – as Science Fiction people could at least have had a party to celebrate the culmination of a dream. We didn’t. Nobody did. Nobody cared. Reaction was non-existent. They’d proved it could be done. This was what all of the stuff is about. Doing it. Only it wasn’t, of course. What we were looking for was escape. And really, we resented them getting to the moon. Because that was the best avenue of escape we’d ever had. And they showed us what going to the Moon was really like. And Mars, of course, was worse. No more Dejah Thoris, no more John Carter, no more Lost Cities where anything could happen. We couldn’t do that anymore, you see. So we had to travel further out, didn’t we? Never mind Einstein – he was wrong. We got out of the Solar System to the stars. And that’s really the story-teller always running away from reality all the time. Getting away from it. Then fiction-writers began going backwards as well, back in time to re-invent the old sooth-sayers, sorcerers and witches, elves and hobbits. The bloody ‘Middle Earth’ thing – oh god! What was it – ‘Lord Of The Rings’? Which might be a wonderful story and all that, but it’s not for me. I just can’t. It’s a kiddies yarn, and that’s all there is to it.

Another effect of the ‘intrusion of reality’ onto Science Fiction was the so-called ‘New Wave’ which happened in Britain when Michael Moorcock took over as editor of ‘New Worlds’. Well, I don’t know. It had an effect on it. But I don’t know if it was a good one. Because the writing they were doing could have been anything. It was kind-of ‘novel’ writing. To me, it wasn’t a direct off-shoot of Science Fiction or anything like that. It was ‘Speculative Fiction’, in the real sense of the term. But to me it was more than an off-shoot. It was something different. I mean – it had been around before, and it’s still around. It’s like poetry. What is poetry? It’s what we choose to call it. So – you’re getting my concept of poetry, which is rhyming – the old ‘the moon’s a ghostly galleon’, or you’re getting the so-called free modern poetry which to me is just prose cut-up and stuck together. So the ‘New Wave’ writing… it did break down barriers, it was good in many ways, but it didn’t really carry everything with it. Because you got a lot of emulators, and they normally write pretty-much the same sort of stuff. That’s fine. And there again, not to denigrate anyone, but John Brunner did it with his ‘Stand On Zanzibar’ and his ‘Jagged Orbit’, ‘The Sheep Look Up’ – all very good books, all with a message. You can go so far down this route, and he did, he carried it very well indeed – ‘The Sheep Look Up’ is a great and horrifying book, if we’re talking about horror. But there it is. We’re living in it. It’s no longer in the future. It is now. Well – ‘Stand On Zanzibar’, that will be next week! But still there’s room for the so-called ‘Space Opera’. The action story. Not just the sort of ‘see-how-clever-I-am-that-I-can-produce-this-sort-of-thing’.

It seems to me that the Moon Landing, as you say, closed off one particular area of writing, therefore the ‘New Wave’ had to look for new avenues. But it also bears on what you were saying about ‘how close can you get to reality and still be SF?’ Exactly. So they tried to go inwards, exploring inward motivation. Which I think is very interesting – no doubt. I suppose, when you get into the ‘speculative’ going inwards, you’re starting to explore, let’s call it – for want of a better word, a state of ‘lunacy’. When I say ‘lunacy’, I mean not normal, in the sense that there’s no absolute definition of lunacy. When I say lunacy – if you’re going to talk about a normal man doing a normal job, you haven’t got a story. So you’ve got to sort-of stretch it a little bit. ‘He looked at the legs that were passing, and inwardly drooled…’ Now you’re talking about a man with an obsession. Now – how far does the obsession go before it… and this might be a great deal of fun for you and I to write about. But there’s stuff I can’t tolerate reading, and never write. Sort-of depicting cruelty to animals, and people do that. I always remember the beginning of the movie ‘The Wild Ones’ where they’ve got this scorpion surrounded by ants. I saw nothing in that. Nothing entertaining. Educational. Or necessary in any way. Why the hell do it? So when you get people doing this – probing inwards, I’m not saying people don’t think this way, but I don’t want to read about it, I don’t like it, and I’d rather it just wasn’t there. But that’s just me.

You proved in a sense that you were more than capable of doing that yourself as well as they could, when you wrote “New Experience” – which was about drugs, for publication in Moorcock’s ‘New Worlds no.144’ (Sept/Oct 1964 – collected into ‘The Best Of New Worlds’ Compact Books 1965). Well, I can do it. But no – if I’m getting this story right, this was… a funny story this one. ‘Cos I wrote it twice. And it was the only story I’ve done which obviously came from a dream. I’d had this dream, and I was woken up, and I was telling Ken Bulmer about it and he said ‘why don’t you write it up?’ So I did. And I couldn’t find any way to account for what was happening in this dream, except for loss of memory. Because in this dream I was in an auditorium, and it was empty, and then it was full, and then it was empty, and then it was full. And I thought ‘well, this is weird, this is absolutely weird’. So, on the “New Experience” – I don’t know which particular version, I think I wrote two, there was one where the character was drugged and he had gone away – he had gone out and he was wandering around, that was it. I forget what the other one was now, but everything that he saw he remembered only for a fraction of time, so everything he looked at was perpetually new. And it was strange. Because I don’t know how well I did the story. But that was it. There was another version of that story – I don’t know if that appeared in ‘New Worlds’ too? I can’t even remember the title now. But I tried to tackle it from a slightly different viewpoint – ‘the enemy within’ kind of style. This could have been scope for a great introspective soul-searching novel, you see – ‘this is what I’m talking about’. But I lacked the skill to do all that. It was just an odd thing. Something that – ‘how do you account for?’, ‘what would happen if?’ But I suppose when you do dream, and it’s easy to see how you could just slide into all this, sometimes you dream and don’t realise. You think you’re awake, and then you wake up and realise you’ve been dreaming. Usually it’s to the cost of a good dream. If you experience joy – and it turns out, ‘Christ, I was only dreaming that’. And this has happened to me a couple of times. Once I remember, many years ago, I remember so well, getting out of bed, crossing over to the kind of paraffin fire they had at the time, doing something to it, and going back to bed. Only we didn’t have a paraffin heater. I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘I know I did this!’ – I just know I got up, went over there, turned it off, and went back to bed. Other people have this experience too. Most people have. Or you wake up and think ‘that’s a bloody good book, I really enjoyed it, I’ll re-read that book’ – then you realise, wait a minute, there is no book. You dreamt the book. And yet you go looking for the book that’s not there… But that’s the sort of thing you’re talking about in that story, “New Experience”. It’s not unhinging yourself with drugs. It’s just changing perspectives, I suppose you’d call it. But there again, when we talk about that, are we still talking Science Fiction any more? Or exploration – either that’s all been done. Or it can be done, again and again. You get souped-up on mescaline. Aldous Huxley did that, didn’t he? We’ve had the opium dream. I know. I suppose the problem is, though I can read this – your experiences under drugs, or your experiences under any thing you might try… But I can never be you experiencing it. I’ve only got your word that you saw whatever happens. I mean – read an account of someone who’s taken LSD, and I can’t – sort-of, fit in with it. I can understand you saying ‘the cushion opened its mouth and spoke to me’ – so what? That’s not me seeing a cushion open its mouth. So the personal experience of it has its limitations. Then there’s always the suspicion of disbelief. Did it really happen? Has it been souped-up, polished, edited, revised, made to look good. We won’t have two virgins, we’ll have seven. We won’t have a hundred-story building, we’ll have a thousand storeys. You never know. It’s impossible, because when you try to write down your own dreams you find it almost impossible. They vanish…

As ‘New Worlds’ was going into its experimental phase, Philip Harbottle’s ‘Visions of Tomorrow’ continued to champion the more traditional style of SF narrative. Yes, they were. That was deliberate, I think. But old Phil was unlucky on that. It’s a shame. It was a bloody good mag. And it did turn out a very good thing. The stories were good. The publication, the whole thing was nice. It just had distribution problems. There was a rupture in its distribution. It was timing – had he done that in the 1950’s, for example – you see, no problems! But it was the same with ‘Nebula’. ‘Nebula’ again was a good mag, which could not break the distribution network. Unless you’re in with WH Smith and people like that, you’ve had it. And obviously – unless they’re displayed, they can’t be sold. My own trouble with ‘Arrow Books’ was similar. I used to go to the person at the publishers and say ‘look, I’m walking through a train station, Victoria or Waterloo, and I go along to the bookshop, and I cannot see my work, I cannot see my books. Why aren’t my books being sold there?’ That’s when I learnt, yes – we do sell there, they buy half-a-dozen. But when they’ve gone they won’t re-order. The managers won’t, they’ve sold their half-a-dozen, that’s it. And the mechanics of this are cruel. ‘Cos with Smiths and Menzies, one or two people have the distribution monopoly by the shelf, and unless you play their way by their terms – y’know, if they don’t want you, that’s it. They are the ones who call the tune. So my stuff was never sold as it should have sold simply because it wasn’t displayed as it should have been displayed. So – in the publishing world it’s not what’s good, it’s what is sold. What they choose to hype up, what they choose to launch or push.

Your ‘Earl Dumarest of Terra’ novel-series sold very well in the USA. The ‘Dumarest’ novels did. They’ve been a great friend to me – old ‘Dumarest’. My saviour you might say, literally my saviour. That’s another thing. For ‘Ace’ – for the first eight books they ran to 50,000 words. I’d already done no.9 – then ‘Ace’ goes over to somebody else (‘DAW’). And they want 60,000 words. ‘Mayenne’ was the story. So we have to put in more words. How do I put in 10,000 extra words? They go in the middle of it actually! That was another stretching exercise! But ‘Dumarest’ books went on and on… until, eventually they dried up. They continued going in France. They reprinted the whole run in France. Plus novel no.31. Novel no.32 was written and a contract was signed. But whether 32 will ever see the light of day in an English publication is something else, I don’t know. I’d like to see it (in fact ‘Dumarest Saga no.32: The Return’ was eventually published by Gryphon Books - ISBN 0-936071-83-4). And I’ve since hoped that someone would reprint them – all the ‘Earl Dumarest’ books, in a thicker format. I don’t know what it was with the ‘Dumarest’ books – perhaps they were too thin? That’s another possibility, the era of the thick book began creeping in. People buy by size. And these were all done on 60,000-word length, like I say, 50,000 originally. But they could all be put together. Several of them were written as sequels to each other. There’s one that’s really a triple, there are two that are triples. So they could make a nice thick book. Omnibus editions. A bloody good thick book too, because I’d revise it – I’d put some more in and take some out. A nice 120,000-worder with bags of action in. But no.

The ‘Dumarest’ series must stand as one of the longest-ever SF novel-cycles. I don’t know. I don’t know about the ‘Perry Rhodan’ series, you see. They came out. You see, the trouble with the ‘Dumarest’ one is, I was only producing two novels a year. If I’d done three a year it would have been a lot better all round. I was all set to do the same thing with my ‘Captain Kennedy’ novel-series, but they hammered that one on no.17 – or was it 16? (novel no.17 – ‘The Galactiad (The Cosmic Duel)’ was only published in Germany, in 1976). The ‘Captain Kennedy’ books were done at a rate of one-a-month. Which means you sort-of don’t have to put in so much explanation, because the reader had read the previous one only last month so he didn’t need to have… or, you only need put in a line or two. On the ‘Dumarest’ ones I had to sort-of base the things on ‘nobody may have read the previous book’, so I had to make it complete in itself…

My conversation with the ‘Tall Adventurer’ winds down, moving into related areas such as his scripting for comic-books, his tie-in novels for the ‘Space 1999’ TV series, his ‘Atilus The Gladiator’ novels set in ancient Rome, his Westerns (as Chet Lawson, among others), his Foreign Legion tales (as Jud Cary), and more… far too wide an expanse of literary terrain to be completely covered even in a feature of this length. He signs his stories in magazines I’ve brought for the purpose, and selects some rare editions from his own shelf to gift me with. He’s never less than a commanding figure. Odd to imagine now that, as a kid, I would hang on every word he wrote. And that, preparing myself for finally meeting him, re-reading those same stories, they work exactly the same kind of magic. We shake hands. And E.C. Tubb smiles, “it’s been a great shakedown…!”


With grateful acknowledgements to Philip Harbottle and
EC Tubb for help, inspiration, and for their kind indulgences.

Eddie Cochran CD

Album Review of:
(Thunderbird CD0013)

Writer Mick Farren claimed the lines ‘I called my Congressman but he said, quote, I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote’, constitute the first genuine political Rock ‘n’ Roll statement. Well, maybe. But as an early Rocker with an abbreviated life-span Eddie did pack a lot into his years. Valuably, the Rockstar label ransacked his posthumous archives, salvaging raw and curious formative stuff, session work, studio try-outs and instrumental blue-prints into a series of albums, the best of which forms the source for the thirty tracks collected here. The earliest, “Hearts Of Stone”, is a two-track home recording done at Chuck Foreman’s home in Bellflower, LA, when Eddie was just fourteen. Soon, he was making himself a useful guy to have around, not only adept at fingering a fretboard, but picking up and adapting new-style techniques that gave him a session edge. Eddie’s big Gretsch guitar was gainfully employed around local shotgun studios, where he became familiar with the tricks involved in shoving primitive dubbing technology beyond its natural limits. While sitting in on songwriter demos too. A session for the Bo Davis ‘A’-side “Drowning All My Sorrows” is a Sun Rockabilly version of “Heartbreak Hotel”. Producer and long-term collaborator Jerry Capehart’s Western Swing version of “Latch On” is evolved into proto-Rock by the Cochran Brothers, with Eddie’s grunts and back-chat. Despite not being real brothers, the duo formed a convenient vehicle and a Rocking proposition, no harmonies, but instead trading lines and contra-lines with “Slow Down” and the lost ‘A’-side “Tired & Sleepy” about ‘an uptown cat living in a crazy pad’. Eddie’s first US Top 20 single “Sittin’ In The Balcony” – no.18 in March 1957, appears as a live TV version. Endearingly, as he’s smooching his girl through the movie they ‘stop loving to watch Bugs Bunny’, before resuming again. This is not a hit’s compilation. Which is not to say there’s not brilliant stuff. “Mean When I’m Mad” is moody macho posturing, “Pink-Peg Slacks” borrows its sartorial style from Carl Perkins. “Cruisin’ The Drive-In” is irresistible teen Pop-Rock. And “Nervous Breakdown” is not only a dry-run for the three CF&G riff-chords of “C’Mon Everybody” but the ‘no more cruisin’ for a week or two, no more runnin’ round with the usual crew’ lyric too. As a bonus there are four strong live hit performances from Jack Good’s TV ‘Boy Meets Girl’ show in early 1960, just three months before Eddie’s fatal A4 collision. It’s a cliché to ask what might have been, but on the evidence of this career overview his prolific talent and voracious appetite for experiment was on a stratospheric rising curve when it was abruptly terminated. “Summertime Blues” has since been blustered and inflated into Pomp by the Who. “C’Mon Everybody” and “Somethin’ Else” done with snotty comic-menace by Sid Vicious, more in line with Malcolm McLaren’s masterplan of integrating Punk into long-term insurrectionist tradition. But no-one’s ever bettered Eddie’s originals