E. C. Tubb (1919-2010) was a well known British writer who wrote over 140 novels and hundreds of short stories under as many as 58 pen names. Most of his output was SF, although he also wrote fantasy and westerns. His best known series is the “Dumarest of Terra” SF series, numbering 33 novels. His best known pen name, at least to me, is Gregory Kern, under which he wrote 17 books in the Cap Kennedy Space Opera series.
I’ve read quite a few of each series, though slightly more of Cap Kennedy. Critics and SF historians generally consider the Dumarest series to be superior, but I have to admit that when I reach for a space opera I’m more likely to choose a Cap Kennedy than a Dumarest. I recently tried to analyze why.
First, there’s no doubt that Earl Dumarest is a superior character to Cap Kennedy. Dumarest has depth and we get to see his emotional ups and downs. He’s tough but vulnerable to love. He has moments of doubt. Kennedy is always focused and disciplined. He gets lots of opportunities for sex but turns them down because he’s committed to his mission, to protect earth’s civilization from its many enemies. Kennedy is very nearly a superman, and is pretty clearly modeled after Doc Savage. He even has a crew of associates, much like Doc, although his assistants are a lot more sophisticated and I like them a lot better. Dumarest travels alone, although he often picks up a companion, usually female, during each novel. You feel like you could be friends with Dumarest, not really with Kennedy.
Now let’s consider setting. The settings for the Dumarest series are slightly more varied than for the Kennedy series, but in general there isn’t that much difference. In each case we have exotic settings in the space opera tradition. There are desert worlds, ice worlds, etc. The Dumarest settings often seem somewhat more realistic to me, while the Kennedy settings are more dramatically presented. I think I like the dramatic presentation a little better. Storytelling is so much about heightened focus on specific details.
The big difference between the two series is plotting. The plots for the Dumarest novels are much looser. The ‘series’ plot is that Dumarest is trying to find his way to Earth, which in this future history is so completely forgotten that it’s considered a myth. The ‘series’ plot for the Kennedy series is that Cap is a kind of secret agent who travels the galaxy on missions to protect the Terran federation. This means the Cap Kennedy series is more tightly plotted, with each story focused on a specific threat to the Federation. The Dumarest stories, on the other hand, generally give lip service to the overarching issue, the search for Earth, while focusing on Dumarest as he gets involved with a particular character and some problem she (or less commonly, he) is having. This means the Kennedy series has a lot more continuity from story to story than the Dumarest series, and that means less time needs to be used on set up and story development. This allows the Kennedy series to get into the action much more quickly, and that is the main reason I prefer the Kennedy series to the Dumarest.
I appreciate the Dumarest stories and enjoy them, and actually wish I liked them better because I do really enjoy the character. But for just a quick, enjoyable read, I pick the Kennedy series.