Pawn of the Omphalos is a science-fantasy novel by E.C. Tubb, a departure from his Dumarest cycle in content and genre but retaining the gritty storytelling style and character themes. I love the Dumarest stories, so I picked this up at a used bookstore a few years ago.
Why talk about it now? Because I just realized this should’ve gone into my Gods of Gondwane bibliography too. That’s an oversight I’ll fix in the next version.
Pawn of the Omphalos begins with intergalactic gambler and skimmer pilot Mark Carodyne being lured into a high-stakes race where he has to run near the perilous space enigma called the Omphalos. This being an adventure story, he of course winds up in it, and appears before two sibling gods who will use him as a piece in some kind of game. The prize: his freedom. He is then transported to a planet of pre-gunpowder technology and magic.
Carodyne ends up escorting a fat merchant to a fateful rendezvous, fighting pirates on triremes, and finally leading an assault on a walled city where he battles a Cthulhuvian-like being in a temple and wins. One of Tubbs’ themes for this novel seems to be the power of human will and daring; Carodyne, possessed of no particular skills or powers, is thrown into a savage world and survives by sheer guts and wits.
Some memorable moments include Carodyne’s saving the merchant caravan from a limnic eruption like those recorded at Lake Nyos. Using his basic scientific knowledge, Carodyne correctly surmises that a campsite has been blanketed with carbon dioxide or other poisonous gas, and knowing it hugs the ground, gets everyone to stand up. Those who don’t die. Good reason not to fall asleep in science class, hey?
Pawn of the Omphalos doesn’t let up with its action and makes a good rainy day’s read. However, if you’ve read some of Tubbs’ short sword and sorcery fiction you may be surprised, and a bit put off, by his importing entire scenes from other stories wholesale into this work and just changing a few lines.
Were I not aware of this it’d have been fine, but since I am, reading Spawn of the Omphalos makes me wonder if Tubb spun this out to make a quick buck when he needed it. (Of course, it may have been the reverse, with Tubb scavenging parts of this novel to make his short stories.)