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?