Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life Was Sacred To You Then: Star Trek episode 9, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

Dr. Korby has discovered that as their sun dimmed, the inhabitants of this planet moved underground ... from an open environment to this dark world.  
When you were a student of his, Christine, you must have often heard Dr. Korby remark how freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit; the culture of Exo-III proved his theory.  When they moved from light to darkness, they replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture.  
Dr. Korby has been able to uncover elements of this culture that will revolutionize the universe when freed from this cavernous environment.
One of the predominant concerns of science fiction at large and Star Trek (in most of its incarnations) in general is delineating the place where humanity ends and artificiality begins.  Put another way, science fiction often seeks to answer the question: what is real?
This isn't even the first time Star Trek had wrestled with the issue; early in its run, we'd already been gifted meditations on the question in "The Cage," "Mudd's Women," "The Enemy Within," and "The Man Trap."  Spoiler alert: we'll revisit the question a great many times.
I don't see it as a bad thing.  It's an important question, one that bears asking over and over again.  Even if you never land on a firm answer, the process of asking the question is enriching.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

They Had One Weapon Left and Both Knew It: Dune Club, Session 12

Well, y'all, here we are: our twelfth and final post on Dune.  (I say "final," but you can count on there eventually being a series of posts about the various film adaptations.  Plus, with a novel as good as this one, there's no such thing as having said it all; I didn't even scratch the surface, I just felt the itch and twitched my finger a bit.)
And it came to pass in the third year of the Desert War that Paul Muad'Dib lay alone in the Cave of Birds beneath the kiswa hangings of an inner cell.  And he lay as one dead, caught up in the revelation of the Water of Life, his being translated beyond the boundaries of time by the poison that gives life.  Thus was the prophecy made true that the Lisan al-Gaib might be both dead and alive.
Princess Irulan's epigraphs are almost always worthy of attention.  Some are more worthy than others, and this is one of them.  Consider the phrasing in that final sentence: "thus was the prophecy MADE true" (my emphasis).  This implies that there was a scenario in which the prophecy was not true in and of itself, which surely misses a bit of the point of a prophecy.
Or does it?  It's a matter that could be debated, and one could also debate whether Irulan is -- in her texts -- attempting to subconsciously hint that Muad'Dib really isn't all he's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Little Enough Profit in Our Venture: Dune Club, Session 11

You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion.
Can of sandworms avoided...
  • "Suddenly he understood why Stilgar had warned him once about brash young men who danced and played with these monsters, doing handstands on their backs, removing both hooks and replanting them before the worm could spill them." -- This brings up an axiom: on all planets, in all cultures, are there teenage dirtbags.  Do the young men of the Fremen sometimes listen to Megadeth and hang around in Kmart parking lots?  I'm certain of it.
  • "But he knew he could not let any consideration deflect him.  He had to remain on the central line of the time storm he could see in the future.  There would come an instant when it could be unraveled, but only if he were where he could cut the central knot of it."

The Illustrated Dune p. 403

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fate Was Sometimes Inscrutable: Dune Club, Session 10

No woman, no man, no child ever was deeply intimate with my father.
  • The epigraph which begins this chapter is about Count Fenring, who is said to have "refused to kill a man even though it was within his capabilities and my father commanded it."  Irulan ends this epigraph by saying "I will relate this presently," and it's been long enough since my last read of the novel that I can't remember who Fenring refused to kill, or if we ever even find out.  He's a fascinating character, especially considering how little time we spend with him in the novel.  
  • Nobody beats Emperor Shaddam IV for being a great "off-screen" character, though, unless maybe it's Irulan herself.  (Granted, she does become a major on-screen player in the sequels.)
  • There is a leap forward in time of several years here, and he find out about it -- and about the rise on Arrakis of a new religious figure, "Muad' Dib" -- via the Harkonnens.  Earlier in the novel, we were finding out about dangers to the Atreides via the Harkonnens; now we are learning about the (as-yet unknown) resurgence of the Atreides via the Harkonnens.
  • The Baron upbraids Feyd-Rautha for unsuccessfully attempting to assassinate him, which is a lot of fun; he's also disdainful of his nephew's lack of finesse and subtlety.  "And as he had done many times since that terrible day on Arrakis," Herbert writes, "he found himself regretting the loss of Piter, the Mentat.  There'd been a man of delicate, devilish subtlety.  It hadn't saved him, though.  Again, the Baron shook his head.  Fate was sometimes inscrutable."  Paul, of course, would be able to give his grandfather some counsel on this subject.  Herbert, here, is accomplishing some significant tasks: he's allowing us to be somewhat admiring of (and sympathetic toward) for the Baron AND his nephew.  He's pulled that off elsewhere in the novel, too, and it is striking.  I think we naturally do that for any POV character; the mere process of aligning ourselves to another person's mind (even a fake person's) pushes us in that direction.
The Illustrated Dune p. 371 (art by John Schoenherr)


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Things We Do in the Name of Humanity: Dune Club, Session 9

Apologies for the tardiness on this one!  I will explain it away in two bulletpoints:
  • My reading time got subsumed by seeing the new movie version of It last week (twice).
  • My writing time got subsumed by having to work on Sunday (one of my normal days off).
These things happen!  I didn't have to deal with a hurricane, so you'll hear no complaints from me regarding distruption-of-routine issues.  Just wanted to make it plain that it wasn't due purely to being a lazy, water-fat outworlder.
The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.
Yeah?  What, then, is the act of progress?
A large topic, and one that is outside the intent of this series of posts, so we'll just drop that there and let it lie.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

She Was Like A Touch of Destiny: Dune Club, Session 8

Prophecy and prescience -- How can they be put to the test in the face of the unanswered question? 
This is the chapter in which Stilgar and the Fremen attempt to take Paul with them while abandoning Jessica.  It's good stuff.  The entirety of the sections covered today are quite memorable, in fact; this joining-with-the-Fremen aspect of the novel was probably always my favorite.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Mind, Long Fixed On A Single Track: Dune Club, Session 7

We return to the dry heat of Frank Herbert's Dune, picking up this week with chapter __.  Frank, would chapter numbers have killed ya?
We will continue to mark the chapters by quoting the first sentence (or thereabouts) of the epigraph that mark their beginnings.
For example:
What do you despise?  By this are you truly known? 
Hmm.  An interesting thought, but I'm not sure I agree with it.  Things I despise include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • spiders
  • tomatoes
  • black holes
  • wearing your pants pulled down to mid-thigh (it's idiotic and makes the wearer look like an idiot and is also stupid and dumb)
  • Kardashians and similar scum
  • people who willingly pay attention to Kardashians and similar scum
  • the fact that chili-cheese dogs are unhealthy
  • the unceasing passage of time
  • Joffrey
  • people who leave the shopping carts in the middle of a parking lot
  • people who don't flush public toilets
  • post-1990 slang

I could go on at some length.  And I'd imagine that by the end of the list, you'd have a strong working knowledge of who I am.

So hey, you know what?  I think I agree with Muad'Dib on this one.

Moving on...

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Undemanding Emptiness of Her Words: Dune Club, Session 6

Let's dive right in.
When my father, the Padishah Emperor, heard of Duke Leto's death and the manner of it, he went into such a rage as we had never before seen. 
  • Toward the beginning of this chapter, which finds Paul and Jessica (pardon the pun) still inside the tent, Paul flies into a quiet sort of rage while pondering "the very substance of this planet which had helped kill his father."  Jessica makes a bland comment about having heard the storm that raged outside between chapters.  Paul's calm is partially restored by the "undemanding emptiness of her words."  I was struck by this phrase and could not immediately identify why.  I think it has to do with the notion that Paul's mind has become so incredibly active, so freighted with import, that a simple and unambiguous observation brings him back -- if only for a moment -- down to a level of base humanity.  (I don't necessarily mean "humanity" in the Bene Gesserit sense, of course.)  Paul is losing his ability to live merely within a single moment, and Jessica's statement keeps him there, if only briefly.
  • Jessica has had a dream about Leto: "She had held dreaming hands beneath sandflow where a name had been written: Duke Leto Atreides.  The name had blurred with the sand and she had moved to restore it, but the first letter filled before the last was begun.  The sand would not stop."  This is a fairly obvious bit of symbolism, and in my experience, dreams rarely work on so obvious a level.  Do I care about this?  Nope, not really.  It's a compelling thing to imagine Jessica dreaming. 
  • The dream culminates in Jessica hearing the wailing of a "woman not quite visible to memory" as she departs in some way.  Part of her mind realizes that this is "her own voice as a tiny child, little more than a baby."  I wonder if instead this is the first stirrings of consciousness from Alia, who may be already affected by the omnipresence of the spice just as Paul is.
  • "For now is my grief heavier than the sands of the seas," Jessica thinks.  "This world has emptied me of all but the oldest purpose: tomorrow's life."  Jessica seems almost to be channeling Gurney Halleck here in her florid thoughts.  I don't necessarily think this is an accident on Herbert's part; the connection implies to me that Gurney's entire existence in this novel is the result of his having been emptied in similar fashion earlier in life.  He has devoted his existence to fighting the Harkonnens, and his method of doing so is by assisting tomorrow's Atreides lives.  And today's, of course, but always with an eye on tomorrow's.
  • Herbert gives us some lovely descriptions of seeing enemy ornithopters in the distance, carving up the desert floor with lasguns in an attempt to find and kill the needles-in-haystacks that are Jessica and Paul.  There is a great deal of lovely writing in this chapter; far too much to list.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Loud Silence of Clocks: Dune Club, Session 5

We now join the previously-scheduled program, already in progress...
There should be a science of discontent.
In this chapter, Jessica and Paul are consigned to the desert by the Baron and Piter.
Good chapter, but I don't have much to say about it.


Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife -- chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."

One thing I noticed on this reread -- and it was only my second, notetaking exploration only -- is that we potentially get a bit of light shed on the manner of Duncan Idaho's drunkenness.

Monday, July 31, 2017

You Tarried With Trifles: Dune Club, Session 4

Apologies for the later-than-intended post this week.  I'd like to think that eventually, I'll be able to rely on work NOT depriving me of all my energy, but this week -- like most of the summer -- has been no friend in that regard.  No big deal, just longer-than-optimal hours.  
Which, of course, leaves a smaller amount of contemplating-the-Atreides time.
Here we are, though, so let's get to the contemplatin'!
There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man -- with human flesh. 
I don't have much to say about this brief chapter, in which Leto tells Paul about the ruse related to Jessica being "suspected" of being a traitor. 
The Illustrated Dune, p. 106
The chapter contains some solid foreshadowing, including one moment where Leto points to the Atreides banner and says that in time, it come to stand for "many evil things."  
I also like these lines of dialogue from Leto: "The people must learn how well I govern them.  How would they know if we didn't tell them?"  This speaks to a sardonic quality in the Duke, but also a realistic one.
My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. 
The Illustrated Dune, p. 133 (I believe this is supposed to be Kynes, but am not 100% certain)


In this chapter, we meet Kynes, the Imperial planetologist, who will eventually be revealed to be much more than that.  This chapter involves him taking Leto, Paul, and Gurney on a visit to a spice-harvesting operation.  Much of the opening of the chapter is devoted to Kynes' contempt for the Atreides, which Herbert shows us via occasional interior monologue from Kynes.  For example, recalling the question about Imperial facilities he underwent from Hawat, Kynes thinks, "They'll learn soon enough who's master on Arrakis.  Order me questioned half the night by that Mentat, will they?  Expect me to guide themon an inspection of spice mining, do they?"  And then, a bit later, "I will have Stilgar send Idaho's head to this Duke."
Kynes' stance begins to become uncertain once he is introduced to Paul, however.  The reality of the young man matches the prophecies so well that even Kynes finds himself shaken and in wonderment.
But even the Duke himself grows on Kynes, particularly in the way he shows evidence for how much he cares for the men in his command.  Herbert ends the chapter by giving Kynes a simple line of interior monologue: "I like this Duke."  It is an extremely effective way of showing us the process by which the Atreides begin to truly win the Fremen.  Momentous things have occurred in these thoughts.
The chapter overall is excellent, and I should probably make more time to analyze it.  Time is quite short this week, however, so I'm afraid I have to press on.
One quick thing before I go: I am fascinated by the notion of the ornithopters, because why and how are they?  Not nromally-phrased questions, I'll grant you, but questions I nontheless possess.  (In National Lampoon's Doon, by the way, they are called "orthodontothopters" and are apparently powered by taut rubber bands, which cracks me up.)
The Illustrated Dune, p. 114

One more quick(ish) thing before I go.  At one point, Paul reflexively intones a quotation from the Orange Catholic Bible: "The gift is the blessing of the giver."
As I mentioned before, I'm actually reading these chapters twice, once via the above-pictured Illustrated Edition for the pleasure of reading, and once via the Ace Science Fiction edition for note-taking.  In the Illustrated Edition, the quote is given as "The gift is the blessing of the river," and I stopped when I got to that point, because I was completely puzzled by its meaning.  Then, in the Ace version, I found it as "blessing of the giver."  This makes more sense, and I was halfway convinced I'd simply misread it in the Illustrated Edition.  but, no; it definitely says "river."
This got me curious as to what other editions said, so I checked the ones I have.  Of them, the only ones that give the quote as "giver" and not as "river" are this Ace edition and the original Chilton hardback.  So obviously, at some point, somebody made a transcription error, and nobody caught it for decades.  Proofreading: vitally important, guys; vitally important.
One FINAL quick thing more: this chapter marks the first appearance of a sandworm.  Those are surely among the most intriguing alien creatures in all of science fiction, so bless the Maker, bless his comings and his goings, etc.
The Illustrated Dune, p. 127
Greatness is a transitory experience. 
This is the chapter in which a bunch of people sit around a dinner table and talk.  I can remember being perplexed -- and somewhat bored (though also oddly fascinated) -- by this chapter as a child during the first however-many times I read the novel.
Eventually, though, I got over that.  There's nothing boring about this chapter, which is largely composed of Jessica and/or Paul using their talents to read the situation and its cast of participants.  The scene crackles with energy and portent.
Again, I feel as if I should have much more to say about all of this.  I'll settle for making note of the elements I most enjoy:
  • Leto's melancholy, which seems to be ramping up.  "I've felt the cold hand of my mortality," he thinks after denying an old woman the right to sell purposefully-wasted dinner-party water to thirsty beggars.
  • Leto's dramatic reading of the lyrics to one of Gurney's songs, which begins, "Review, friends -- troops long past review."  I'm not always a fan of the poetical/lyrical content Herbert gives to Halleck, but this tone poem or whatever you'd call it is quite good.  It's a thinly-veiled fuck-you to the majority of the assembled guests, and arguably a pledge of friendship to the others.
  • Paul forking a piece of food off a young woman's plate to make a point about inter-species competition.
  • Jessica's statement of a planetological concept: "Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount.  And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate."  I'll accept that as a truism, although I'm aware that it might be anything but.  Nevertheless, it passes the smell test for me, and so I am indeed accepting it for at least the moment.  With that in mind, I find my thoughts turning toward an application of this concept the overarching problem that is Right Now In 2017.  How have we gotten to this place?  If Herbert is to be believed, then it is by way of whatever precious commodity -- be it physical, mental, or spiritual -- we possess in the least amount.  I won't go further than that; but it seems like a thing worth pondering.
  • Jessica's line rebuking -- and defusing -- the Guild banker, who has just been on the receiving end of a cutting anecdote Paul tells (after himself being outwardly insulted): "My son displays a general garment and you claim it's cut to your fit?"  I'll never in my life be that witty on a moment's notice; and probably not on a week's notice, for that matter.

And plenty more besides.  Deeply good stuff here. 

One thing I don't entirely understand: is this dinner taking place on the same day as the sandworm/spice-harvester incident?  I feel as if it probably is, but Herbert does not always make the timelines absolute.  For that matter, do the following two chapters take place on the same night?  I feel certain the one immediately following this one does, but I'm less sure about the one after that.
There is no escape -- we pay for the violence of our ancestors. 
In this chapter, Jessica is awakened by a disturbance from Duncan Idaho, who is drunk on spice beer in the great hall and causing a ruckus. 
The Illustrated Dune, p. 152

This leads to his revelation that Jessica is suspected of treachery, and her confronting Hawat with that accusation.
The meat of the chapter lies in that confrontation, in which Jessica uses Voice on Hawat and shakes him to the core of his being.  "You've glimpsed the first within the Bene Gesserit glove," she tells him.  That line never fails to make me want to stand up and applaud.  I am apparently Team B.G.  Don't hold that against me!
As the chapter nears its conclusion, Hawat finds himself thinking back to a time when the Old Duke stood in the arena, his back turned to a stunned and immobilized bull.  "I am the bull and she the matador," he thinks, in yet another bravura moment from Herbert.  And yet, it is impossible not to think of the fact that the Old Duke was eventually killed by a bull; not, apparently, THAT bull, or at least not on that day -- but a bull nevertheless.  This thought does not even seem to be in Hawat's mind at the time; he does indeed accept that he has been defeated.
We, however, almost certainly think of the Old Duke's means of death, and this is a valuable way of subtly reminding us that Jessica's position -- if not with Hawat then in life generally -- is extremely tenuous.
As we occasionally do, let's have a look at the entire paragraph for this chapter, which comes in the form of a song:
Do you wrestle with dreams?
Do you contend with shadows?
Do you move in a kind of sleep?
Time has slipped away.
Your life is stolen.
you tarried with trifles,
Victim of your folly. 
This is attributed to the Songs of Muad'Dib and is titled "Dirge For Jamis on the Funeral Plain."
First-time readers will likely think nothing of the name "Jamis," but anyone reading the novel for a second time will possibly raise a couple of eyebrows at this and think about a scene which comes later in the novel.
But the song has immediate relevance to this chapter, which is where Leto is defeated when Yueh plays his treacherous hand.  It could almost be a song Leto has been singing to himself throughout the duration of the novel thus far.  For Leto, time has indeed slipped away; he has tarried with "trifles" such as kanly and politics, and has allowed his life -- with Jessica, with Paul -- to be stolen from him.  As we've discussed previously, a great deal could be written in speculation of how much of this Leto is consciously aware of, and what his specific plans are.  For my part, I am pretty sure I believe that he knows he will be defeated and die.  I think he believes he has more time than he actually has; but isn't that always the case for those of us tarrying with trifles?
What's even more interesting is to consider that this song may have been written by Paul himself.  If so, then the lyrics take on even deeper meaning.  I'm reluctant to talk here about future events from later in the novel, though, so let's table those thoughts for now.  I'll try to remember to come back to it when I do the inevitable wrap-up post that can encompass the entire novel.
A few notes from this chapter:
  • I'm somewhat unclear as to why Esmar Tuek is killed.  Or, for that matter, why he is even present.  Perhaps this is indeed the same night as the banquet, and he is a guest in the castle; that explains his presence.  But his murder?  I'm tempted to think it is mere coincidence, that Yueh killed him purely because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Either way, the function is to take away from our understanding of events a degree of safety for Jessica and Paul.  During the banquet scene, Jessica thinks of the smuggle Tuek as a man who might be able to be used to get them to safety in an emergency; so whether he has or has not been hired in that capacity, that possibility is now removed.
  • Mapes, too, has been killed, though she is not quite dead yet.  Clearly suffering the effects of the same drug Leto will be hit with soon, she is on the ground, laboring to talk.  Leto hears her words, and Herbert gives them to us from Leto's perspective: "S'you," she gasps.  I'd never noticed this before, but she is obviously trying to tell her Duke that "It's Yueh."  Chilling little moment, there.
  • That business with the poison tooth has stuck with me ever since I first read it.  And there's more to come with it, obviously.  But when Yueh hisses, "Remember the tooth," I apparently listened.
The Illustrated Dune, p. 164

That's about it for this time.  Let's now get our Ellis Weiner in our hands:


We're only going to look at a couple of chapters this time, but I got numerous chuckles out of them:


What sort of man was Duke Lotto Agamemnides?  We may say he was a brave man, yet a man who knew the value of caution.  We may say he was possessed of a highly refined sense of honor -- yet, like all leaders, was he no less capable of acts duplicitous and sleazy.  We may say this, we may say that -- indeed, we may say anything we want.  We may say, for example, that he was not a man at all, but rather a highly evolved bicycle.  See?  We may say just about anything.

--from "House Agamemnides: Historical Perspectives and Worthless Digressions," by the Princess Serutan


The Arruckusian sun had milkied a depthless expanse of daisy-blooming morning sky lightened darkly to the distant broken horizon when Pall, his father, and Gurnsey Halvah approach the Arrucksack landing field.


"The hood is to be worn in open country," Keynes explained, adjusting the Duke's suit as Halvah watched warily.  "These sleeves can be drawn back slightly, to give a more casual, fun appearance, a kind of I'm-ready-for-anything look.  The pants have elastic cuffs for a snug, trim fit over socks.  I prefer a slight blousiness in the pants, I think it makes for a more airy, playful effect -- a sort of Renaissance fluffy concept that I think is really attractive.  You can tuck the shirt in or let it stay out.  I personally leave mine out, but that's me, I have this sort of crazy thing for shirttails."
     "I'll leave mine out, too," the Duke said.
     That was wise, Pall thought.  Leaving his shirt out as a token of respect -- men would be willing to die for such a leader. 
     Keynes turned to Pall, said: "Now let's take a look at--"  He stopped and stood back a step, frowning.  Presently he said, "You've worn sweatsuits before?"
     "This is the first time," Pall said.
     "Then someone showed you how to tie the drawstring . . . ?"
     "No, I just took a wild guess."
     The Freedmenmen guards, who had been idling near the 'thopter, suddenly stood and began to murmur among themselves.  One of them cried, "Lasagna Allah Mode!," was slapped in the face by another, who whispered something harshly to him.  Then the first one nodded, shrugged, and cried, "Laserium al-Dilah'!"
A mammoth curved thing rose up out of the collapsing hole.  Its largeness was extreme; it may have risen two hundred meters above the ground.  It was vaguely heart-shaped, its body describing three ring-like segments, one under two, all roughly equivalent in size.  Its color was a nicely-baked brown.  The central knot, where its length looped around itself, shuddered hideously.  At the four and seven o'clock positions its body ended in two overlapping segments attached to the central, bottom ring.  One of these was its head; there, its eyes glared with mindless malignancy, and huge jaws yawned a black cave of void into which Pall now watched the beerwagon fall in a slow, dream-like cascade.  The other overlap was its tail, a short quivering stub that throbbed.  Breat boulders of salt rained off the back of the pretzel as in rockslide.  The air crackled with static electricity.  With a deafening roar the pretzel burrowed back into the ground, and was gone.
     That's one of the biggest pretzels I've ever seen, Pall thought.
"What the Baron will, I may," Lotto said firmly, striking the desk with his fist.  "What I will, the Baron may or may not -- depending on whether I do."
     "And if," Halfwit added.
     Lotto paused, stunned by this last remark.  Treachery?  From Safire?  Impossible!  "What do you mean, Safire?"
     The Mantan frowned.  "My Lord -- what do you mean, what do I mean?"
     "I mean, man, what do you mean 'and if'?  Unless you mean what I think you mean -- in which case, I caution you, you play a dangerous game."
     Halfwit's eyes widened as he realized the meaning of the Duke's words, or at least thought he did.  "My Lord--!"
     Lotto nodded grimly.  "Precisely."
     "Um . . . precisely what, my Lord?"
     We are reduced to this, the Duke thought bitterly.  To uncertainty within uncertainty within uncertainty, gambits within gambits within gambits, redundancy within redundancy within redundancy-- 
See you in seven!