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Edwin Charles Tubb (1919-2010)
by Philip Harbottle

Ted Tubb, 2002

At the London Book Fair, 2002

British science fiction author Edwin Charles Tubb has died in his sleep at his London home on Friday, 10th September, 2010. He was born in London on October 15, 1919, and married Iris Kathleen Smith in 1944. He is survived by their two daughters, Jennifer and Linda, granddaughters Lisa Elcomb and Julie Hickmott and several great grandchildren.

Writing as E. C. Tubb, he became particularly well known to readers of science fiction the world over, his work having been translated into more than a dozen languages. 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 in more recent years in Fantasy Adventures. Many of his short stories were reprinted in various 'Worlds 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.

His writing ambitions had been born shortly before the Second World War, when he became a fan of the American science fiction pulp magazines then being imported into Britain. 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 in his native London. The outbreak of the war put paid to his early writing ambitions, but after the war, the members of the old Science Fiction Association – who included Tubb's fellow enthusiasts Frank Arnold, John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham), Sydney J. Bounds, John Carnell, Arthur C. Clarke, Walter Gillings and William F. Temple – began to reform. Tubb became a regular attendee at their meetings, and 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 very first novel, Saturn Patrol (1951) Tubb's work was characterized at all times 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 story, so that by 1956 Tubb's short stories began to be reprinted in Judith Merril's prestigious Year's Best Science Fiction series of anthologies. Many of his short stories continued to be reprinted in various later 'World's Best SF' anthologies. His haunting short story 'Little Girl Lost' (1955) was adapted for American television for Rod Serling's prestigious Night Gallery series in 1972, and his story 'Lucifer' won the Europa Prize in 1972. In 1988, his novelette 'Kalgan the Golden' (1955) was adapted as a graphic novel by Philip Harbottle and artist Ron Turner.

Tubb's first major sf novels were Alien Dust (1955), a gritty story of Martian colonization, 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. In 1962, The Space-Born was adapted as a 90-minute television play by Radio Television Francaise.

When the British market for sf novels slumped in 1956, Tubb diversified into writing pseudonymous paperback Western novels. Many of them were based on actual historic 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, 1991) and to be reprinted fifty years later in both hardcover and paperback. Tubb later became very interested in Roman history, and many consider that some of his best written work was contained in his 'The Gladiators' historical trilogy, Atilus the Slave (1975), Atilus the Gladiator (1975), and Gladiator (1978).

Because many of his numerous sf short stories 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 short story 'Precedent' (1952), positing 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 America – and the rest of the world – for his long-running 'Dumarest of Terra' series of novels, beginning with The Winds of Gath in 1967. The galaxy-spanning saga of Earl Dumarest and his search to find his way back across the stars to the legendary lost planet where he was born – Earth. Its worldwide commercial success caused Tubb to more or less abandon the short story form.

Following the death of 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) However, the 32nd novel, The Return, had already been written, but at first was only published in a French translation. Its first English publication was by Gryphon Books, a New York small press, in 1997. 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 (Homeworld Press, 2009).

The Tall Adventurer, a comprehensive, worldwide annotated bibliography, compiled by Philip Harbottle and Sean Wallace, was published by Beccon Publications in 1998. This sparked a further wave of reprints by several publishers in the US and the UK, and throughout Europe in translation. Belated European critical recognition came in July 2010, when I Posseduti, the Italian translation of his novel The Possessed (1959, revised 2005) won the Premio Italia Award, being voted best International Novel.

Ted Tubb, ?1957

circa 1957

Ted Tubb, late 1980s

late 1980s

Despite failing health in later years, he continued to both revise old books and short stories, and to produce new novels. Amongst his later titles, of especial note were Death God's Doom (1999) and The Sleeping City (1999) featuring 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 major dystopian novel To Dream Again was accepted on the same day as the author died, and is set to be published by Ulverscroft in 2011. 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 E.C. Tubb (2003, US), and Mirror of the Night (2003, UK). A definitive French-language collection, Dimension, edited and translated by Richard D. Nolane, is set to be published by Riviere Blanche in 2012.

– Philip Harbottle, 10 September 2010

Funeral, 22 September 2010

Later: "I've spoken at length with Ted's literary heir – his granddaughter Mrs. Lisa John (nee Elcomb). She loved Ted (as a young girl she lived next door) and will be preserving his books and papers etc, and wants me to continue full belt on keeping his stuff in print. Lisa is also his executor, and has now arranged the funeral. Sadly I can't attend, but Lisa will read something from me based around the obit. She says any fans are welcome to attend. If you happen to be in touch with any London-based fans who might be interested, the funeral is to be held on Wednesday 22 September at 9.30 am at Hither Green Crematorium, Lewisham, London." – Philip Harbottle