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!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Every Experience Carries Its Lesson: Dune Club, Session 3

Week three of Comic Book Girl 19's Dune Club has come and gone, and here are my thoughts on this week's reading:
As before, I'll be going chapter by chapter, with each one separated by asterisks and the first line of the epigraph serving to place us.
In the case of our first chapter for this week, though, we'll have a look at the entire epigraph, because it is terrific:
Many have remarked the speed with which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis.  The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed.  For the others, we can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn.  And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.  It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.  Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson. 
I mean, seriously, how great is that?  I was worried when I began this series of posts that I was going to end up basically just repeating variants on "this is great" and "Frank Herbert seems really smart" and "I wish I had good ideas and knew stuff 'n' shit like Frank Herbert did."  And I'm still worried that's all this is amounting to.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Now the Thing Must Take Its Course: Dune Club, Session 2

We'll dive right in to the second batch of assigned reading from Comic Book Girl 19's Dune Club.

YUEH (yΓΌ’Δ“), Wellington (weling-tun), Stdrd 10,082-10,191... 
If we are paying attention to this chapter’s epigraph then we note that Yueh lived to be 109 years of age.  This might strike us a couple of different ways.  If we’re reading the novel for the first time, we might notice it and assume that Yueh lives to a ripe old age, and therefore survives whatever treachery he perpetrates against the Atreides.  If we’re rereading the novel, though, we might take note of the age and realize that the man’s longevity is due to the geriatric qualities of melange. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Must It Always Be So?: Star Trek episode 8, "Balance of Terror"

"We have seen a hundred campaigns together, and still I do not understand you."
"I think you do.  No need to tell you what happens the moment we reach home with proof of the Earth men's weakness; and we will have proof -- the Earth commander will follow.  He must; and when he attacks we will destroy him.  Our gift to the homeland: another war."
"If we are the strong, is this not the signal for war?"
"Must it always be so?  How many comrades have we lost in this way?"
"Our portion, Commander; our portion is obedience."
"Obedience; duty; death and more death."

It's an interesting title, isn't it?  It seems somewhat incongruous to think that a "balance of terror" could even exist.  After all, terror, as a concept, is fundamentally wild and ungovernable.  How, then, can it be balanced?
I don't know that this essay will answer that question, or even seek to answer it; but it's worth keeping in the back of our minds, maybe.
The episode-analysis portion of this post is going to be a bit more abbreviated than has been the case with other episodes.  This is not necessarily because there is less to say (there's plenty to say), nor is it necessarily because I'm disinterested in saying it (I'm plenty interested).  No, it's necessarily because of the willful obstinance of our mortal enemy: time.  I've had relatively little time for blogging lately -- a recurring theme of all my blogs -- and have been letting this post sit, unfinished, until such time as more ... well, more time ... materialized.  It's looking like weeks before that will happen, though, and I thought maybe it was best to just get a few thoughts on the episode out and move on.
With that in mind, I want to touch on a few things, beginning with this episode's blatantly militaristic -- and specifically naval/submarine -- backbone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

To Be Conscious By Choice: Dune Club, Session 1

Ever heard of Comic Book Girl 19?

I had not until earlier this year, when her show for, Greater Creators, was announced.  I wouldn't have heard of it even then if not for the fact that she was doing an episode about Stephen King -- and my Google Alert for Stephen King news helps me stay clued in to that sort of thing.
I reluctantly decided to check that episode out.  I say "reluctantly" because my perception of Comic Book Girl 19 -- based on absolutely nothing, I might add -- was that she was a "YouTube star," a la goons like the Nostalgia Critic.  I know people (including some readers of this very blog) enjoy that sort of thing, but it's just not for me.  In short, I expected Greater Creators to suck.  But since I'm inclined to experiment with things if my beloved Stephen King fandom is involved, I gave Greater Creators a chance, beginning not with the King episode but with the two-part Alan Moore episodes.
I ended up quite enjoying it!  You probably saw that coming, didn't you?   Subsequent episodes on Frank Herbert, King, and Stanley Kubrick were just as entertaining; and I still need to check out the ones I missed from before (including Gene Roddenberry, Hayao Miyazaki, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Frank Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Mobius, and Ray Harryhausen).
So when Comic Book Girl 19 announced that she was going to spend part of this summer doing a weekly live-streaming book club devoted to Dune (arguably my favorite novel of all), I knew that was a thing I was going to need to be a part of.  Excuse to reread the novel?  Fine by me.
It also seemed like a good excuse to write about the novel for this blog, though.  I don't really know what format that's going to take, but that's okay; if it ends up only being vaguely-organized notes, that's fine by me.  My inclination is to offer chapter-by-chapter thoughts, but that's the sort of thing that sounds great on paper and then ends up being considerably less great in actuality.  Also, from a purely practical standpoint, I don't know that I have time for it.

Because here's the deal: I could spend an entire year writing about Dune, I bet.  It's unquestionably one of my favorite novels, right up there with The Gunslinger and Lonesome Dove and It and The Lord of the Rings.  It's tough to pin it down to a specific order; but I believe if you put a gun to me temple and promised to pull the trigger if I didn't name a #1, the #1 I named would indeed be Dune.

So finding things to say...?  Not an issue.  Restricting myself; BIG issue.  (That, and saying anything coherently, which is always an issue 'round these parts.)

Here's where it all began:

This late-1984 movie-tie-in paperback from Berkley was my introduction to the world of Dune.  I was, at that time, a devoted reader of movie novelizations.  I can't remember when I developed that obsession, nor what movie kicked it off; it was likely Return of the Jedi or something like that.  It became a way for me to collect "movies" at a time when movies themselves were not particularly collectable.

Sometimes, of course, the "novelizations" were actual novels, and that was obviously the case with Dune.  I didn't see the movie itself for years; presumably my parents weren't interested in it, or maybe it didn't stick around in theatres long enough for us to get to it.  Hard to say for sure; but I didn't see it at all until it appeared on HBO, and even then didn't see it all, owing to the fact that Mom didn't like something she saw toward the beginning and made it off-limits.

I didn't much care, though.  I had the novel, and that was sufficient.  I read it, all 537 pages; and was utterly flummoxed by it.  It made no sense to me at all.

This was perhaps no surprise.  Dune was by far the most complex thing I'd ever tried to read.  It's not exactly clear sailing for an adult reader, much less a 10-year-old (as I was at the time).  Frankly, looking back at it, I'm astonished that I made it through.  The most challenging thing I'd read up until that time was probably The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl, and it earned that more by dint of its emotional complexity than via its prose.

So tonight, when I sat down to begin reading the novel for the umpteenth time, I was no more than a page or so in before I found myself really quite impressed by 10-year-old me.  There's a lot to fight through in the first chapter; I cannot, in late '84 or early '85, have understood more than 25% of what I was reading.  How, then, did I make it through?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

His Alien Love Could Victimize: Star Trek episode 7, "Charlie X"

We're seven episodes in, and already Star Trek is beginning to cannibalize itself.  "Charlie X" shares a few things in common with both "The Cage" and (especially) "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and while it aired before either of those episodes did -- it was the second to be broadcast -- it is nevertheless derivative of them in certain ways.
Is this automatically a bad thing?  Nah.  I don't think so.  I think of stuff like this as like unto jazz: you're interested in the changes moreso than in the melody.  And "Charlie X" is plenty different enough from those earlier episodes to keep it from feeling like a mere rehash.
If you disagree -- and you might -- then I honestly don't know you would bear watching the rest of this series, because (spoiler alert!) it won't be the last time this happens.  Not even with this plot!  You WILL get more petulant godlike beings; rest assured.  So if that bothers you, I'd recommend pulling the ripcord now.
I type that as though I'm addressing people watching the series for the first time.  Lol, like anybody is reading this at all, much less some hypothetical bodies who have never seen Star Trek!  Sometimes I just type this shit because that's what is in my head.  Am I doing that now...?
I'd kind of like for this post to be a bit more succinct than the last few have been.  We'll see if that actually happens, but it's the goal.
Don't think that's because I find this to be an inferior episode or anything.  No sir, I love this episode, and if anything I love it more after this deep-dive than I ever have before.

In the spirit of trying to be brief, there are three things I want to discuss regarding this episode.  Let's begin with the perils of adolescence.

Charlie Evans, you may recall, is a teenager who's been living all by his lonesome since (solely) surviving a crash on the planet Thasus when he was a small child.  He's reached adolescence and now, and has been found by a passing Earth ship.  They rescued him and are taking him to an Earth colony to live among his own kind, but the boy has some behavioral issues.  Nothing particularly unusual about having behavioral issues as a teenager (be you boy OR girl).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No Beach to Walk On: Star Trek episode 6, "The Naked Time"

"The Naked Time" is the episode that I spent years thinking of as "the one where everyone got drunk and acted crazy."  It's never been a favorite episode for me, but I think that might have changed this go-around. There's a deep lake of melancholy lurking beneath the surface of this episode; it's frozen over and covered by a thick sheet of excitement, and the combination of the two creates a heady mixture at times.



Let's see if we can get to the bottom of that lake.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Last of Its Kind: Star Trek episode 5, "The Man Trap"

One of the most celebrated aspects of Star Trek -- among its fans, certainly -- is the ethical nature of many of the inherent trappings of the show.  Go to a Trek convention, and you won't be able to take a step without tripping over somebody giving the show an attaboy for its diversity, its forward-looking optimism, and so forth.
I'm not always convinced that these sentiments are entirely earned by the series.  As expressed by Trekkies, these sentiments often feel smug and self-congratulatory.  I should know; I've found myself taking pride in them on occasion, too.  Regardless of whether the fandom could be convicted on charges of smugness, the fact is that the bulk of TOS -- and, for the most part, the series which followed it -- do indeed express an inherent sense of optimism and progressivity.  Here in 2017, we're in a weird place where it's somehow verboten to punch a god damned Nazi in his fucking face: an odd, disconcerting turn of events, and one which gives me pause when I'm considering doing things like criticizing Trekkies for being smug.
But I have the thoughts that I have, and the reason why I'm here is to explore them for myself.  And that being the case, I couldn't help but be a wee bit troubled by "The Man Trap," which in some ways is less an example of the optimistic and ethically-advanced Star Trek Trekkies declaim than it is a simpler thing: a monster-movie done for television.
Or is it?
In a way, it makes sense that the first episode of Star Trek to air was one which is not entirely typical of its philosophies.  Something like "The Man Trap" sits somewhat uneasily beside later episodes like "Devil in the Dark" and "Metamorphosis," or even "The Corbomite Maneuver."  But then there are other episodes like "Obsession" and "The Doomsday Machine" that are more akin to this one than to those.
The fact is, Trek has never been quite as consistent in its philosophies as its fans might have you believe.  It's almost as if the show was a raft of optimism that was afloat on a sea of pessimism, one that on occasion got a bit waterlogged and didn't float so much as tread water.  So while we might get something like The Motion Picture or The Voyage Home on occasion, we were just as apt to get something like The Undiscovered Country or "Q Who?"  In the latter, the Federation is confronted by an unstoppable force (The Borg) bent on subjugating and replacing everything in its path.  "The Best of Both Worlds" intensifies that conflict.
But then, lo and behold, the sequel to that episode turns it on its head somewhat, with the unstoppable enemy stopped not by force, but by ingenuity and trickery (Data giving their hive mind an order to go into a looped diagnostic mode, i.e., putting them into a sort of coma).  It's not diplomacy, but neither is it genocide; so that's kind of Trek-ish in its philosophy.
The franchise would not be able to maintain that stance on the Borg, however, and later episodes would revert somewhat.  Eventually they appeared in a movie (First Contact), where they are no more than monsters to be defeated.  Good movie; bad philosophy (at least within a Trek-ian context, or perhaps just within a Roddenberrian context).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Let's Stop Pretending: Star Trek episode 4, "The Enemy Within"

Tonight's episode:

It's a classic installment, one that has a great deal to recommend; but I'd be a liar if I said it's ever been a personal favorite.  In trying to figure out why that is, I've come up against a bit of a wall.  Here's a peek behind the curtain for you: it is currently 3:57 AM.  Earlier tonight -- when it was still yesterday -- I spent several hours laboring over five or six paragraphs for this post.  The intent was to express a simple idea: I've never been a big fan of this episode, even as a child, and _________ is the reason why.

Thing is, I didn't actually know why.  I kind of thought I did, but as I wrote it out, it made less sense to me every sentence further in I got.  Writing these posts is almost always an enjoyable process for me.  Duh!  Why else would I do it?  The latinum?!?  "Fuck" and "no," my friends, "fuck" and "no."  No, it's for the enjoyment of the thing, and that enjoyment is almost always present when I go looking for it.

It was utterly absent earlier tonight while I sat here and agonized over the words I was typing.  I was doing a poor job of convincing myself, and it showed.  I decided to take a break for a while, so I went and did some housework, and came back to it.  The result: delete, delete, delete.  All that shit had to go, and go it went.

When I find myself in a pickle of this nature, what I often do is steer into it.  Driving on an icy road and your car begins to swerve?  Steer into it.  Blogging about a favorite subject and your thesis abandons you?  Steer into it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Westworld" Before "Westworld"

Since it's been a thing a lot of people have talked about recently, I thought it made sense for me to say a few words about Westworld.
Good show!  I love it and am glad it's doing well and will happily continue watching.
And that's all I have to say about that, at least for now.  If that doesn't look like anything to you, I get it.  So now is when I reveal that what I'm here to actually discuss is the Westworld(s) that existed prior to the HBO series.

It all began with the 1973 Michael Crichton film.  In case you're unfamiliar with Crichton, he is best known as a novelist who wrote the book Jurassic Park.  He started out as a physician, but decided that wasn't for him, and jumped ship all the way from one side of the fence to the other, opting to become a writer.  He was able to begin publishing almost immediately, and one of his early novels, The Andromeda Strain, was a bestseller that was adapted into a hit film by director Robert Wise.

Crichton somehow parlayed this success into a secondary career as a film director, and Westworld was his first movie behind the camera.  It was a hit: MGM's biggest of the year, bringing in nearly ten times its budget at the box office.  Crichton never had another directorial success like that one, although he did go on to direct The Great Train Robbery (starring Sean Connery) and Runaway (starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons).  Plus, as a producer, he had a hand in creating a little show called ER.  So he did okay for himself, apart from being a big-deal writer.

I saw the movie once years ago, during a time when I went on a brief Crichton kick that was spurred by Jurassic Park.  I read most of his major science fiction novels, such as The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Congo, and that led me to Westworld.  By the time the HBO series began, however, I remembered nothing about the movie apart from the poster; by the time the HBO series ended its first season, I suspected it had forever supplanted the movie as the thing I'd think of when I heard the title Westworld.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

There's Only One Kind of Woman: Star Trek episode 3, "Mudd's Women"

Tonight's episode:
It's by no means one of my favorites.  Don't misunderstand me: if you tell me that you like it, I'm not going to retaliate by coming over and shitting on the hood of your car or anything.  I mean, to each their own and all that: so if you're a fan, I ain't judgin' ya; it's just that I'm not a fan.
That said, I found my analysis for this post made me appreciate the episode more than I did before.  There are things here to enjoy, so let's discuss them for a bit and then get while the gettin's good.