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 (yü’ē), 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. 

This opens up interesting avenues of meaning for the world this story takes place within.  Certainly the Yueh we meet in this chapter shows no signs of infirmity or decrepitude, which itself begs the question: how long can the lives of people rich in melange be?  150?  200?  If the result is not mere longevity but also continued vitality, then what impact would that have on society?  If retirement age suddenly extended into the 100s, then would young people be able to find jobs?  More likely that only a small number of people would be able to afford to use melange in this manner, but that too would create widespread issues and concerns, wouldn’t it? 
Yueh's meeting with Paul furthers the notion of the Fremen as a primary concern for the novel, with Paul hearing the Doctor’s assertion that “They compose poems to their knives” and (correctly) intuiting that this makes them a formidable people to potentially win as allies. 
Yueh's gift of the Orange Catholic Bible is interesting.  Yueh thinks of it as a hypocritical gesture, one that attempts to salve his conscience about his betrayal of Paul’s family by offering the boy the opportunity for an afterlife.  “Thus may I say to myself that he has gone where I cannot go,” Yueh thinks.  I couldn’t help but think here of the Bene Gesserit notion of the Kwisatz Haderach as being one who, via genetic memory, can go where they cannot go.  This, in turn, links Orange Catholicism to the Bene Gesserit mission in some way, if only accidentally.  Their sisterhood obviously bears a great many similarities with religion, albeit one without an overruling deity (unless you consider the Kwisatz Haderach an attempt to create one).
The tiny bit of knowledge we receive about the OC Bible’s contents only deepen the relationship.  “What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?” Paul reads from it.  This brings up associations with the Bene Gesserit way of observation; which seems almost to be a conscious – forced consciousness? – means of fulfilling the desire expressed in this passage of the OC Bible.  This was not the passage Yueh wished Paul to read; that one reads, “From water does all life begin.”  This, obviously, cannot do anything but remind us – certainly if this is a reread – of the Fremen.  Is there a connection between the Fremen and whatever order composed the OC Bible, then?  If so, the relationship the Bene Gesserit exploited that we find out about a bit further in becomes well-rounded.
The OC Bible also has resonance for Paul, who finds himself reflecting on the fact that it stirred his “terrible purpose.”  This makes sense.  If we take the Bene Gesserit as possibly being a practical application of at least some Orange Catholic philosophies, then Paul’s status as a potential living embodiment (if not a living fulfillment) of their program makes him a sort of walking OC Bible.
How do we approach the study of Muad'Dib's father? 
(When you get to the staircase, go up it and then take a left at the top.
Ahem.  Sorry.  Got stuck in Doon mode for a second there.)
One of this novel’s weaknesses – or strengths, depending on how you look at it (I see it both ways simultaneously) – is how much it hints at but does not turn into narrative.  This is especially evident in Herbert’s treatment of Duke Leto, whose most interesting characterization comes perhaps in the epigraph to this chapter.  Irulan – who presumably never met the man in any meaningful way (opening up the possibility that this might be fabrication on her part [although I tend to discredit “unreliable narrator” readings of these sections]) – informs us that he was a “man of surpassing warmth and surprising coldness.”  “You see him there,” she writes; “a man snared by Destiny, a lonely figure with his light dimmed behind the glory of his son."
I don’t want to spend much time talking about adaptations here, because my focus is intended to be the novel.  However, let’s take a detour into talk about potential adaptations, because I think that avenue of discourse helps explain why no satisfactory adaptation has yet materialized (which in turn serves as backdoor discussion of the novel itself).   
A good case in point is the information presented in this epigraph about the Duke Leto.  Combined with information we get within the chapter – and then later during his conversation with Jessica – it is clear that an appreciation of the novel must carry with it an understanding of Leto.  Thanks to the way Herbert presents it, it makes sense to us.  
Adaptations don’t work that way; we might get from a filmed version that Leto is warm in one scene and cold in another, but if we don’t have a mechanism for understanding that the disparity between the two is itself a facet of his character (and something that perhaps causes consternation for some of his family and associates), then we will almost certainly put two and two together to equal four.  Even if both scenes – the warm and the cold – play individually, they are likely not to going to combine to have the information-carrying impact they need to have.  Consequently, both fail.   
What is clear is that an adaptor must know precisely what elements to adapt, and may be well-served by concocting ways to do so that are not present in Herbert’s narrative.  Bear in mind that this chapter's epigraph is a mere five sentences, but arguably creates the need for an entire subnarrative just on its own.   
Now you begin to understand the difficulty in adapting this novel into cinematic form.  It is a near impossibility; a series – of films, and preferably an ongoing television adaptation – is the only sensible way to proceed.  Even then, I believe it would be necessary to expand backwards into the material written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which is poorly written and inadequate as prequels to the original novels, but which contains enough strong raw material that a steadying hand could make it workable.  This is particularly true if one were to consistently keep Herbert Sr.’s intent in mind and do nothing to alter or (shudder) supersede it.  Herbert Jr./Anderson make too many attempts to tie things into neat bows, and also too many attempts to create entertaining narratives that also feature the characters/settings/situations which made Herbert Sr.’s work popular.  I get the desire to have young Paul be a central figure in the spinoff books; but does this honor Herbert Sr.’s vision?  Do we really want to see a narrative set on Arrakis prior to the Atreides arrival there?   
I’m not sure we do; and IF we do, then Dune might need to play as a climax to that narrative, meaning that the narrative would need to be entirely rethought with that goal in mind.  Doing so would risk losing a great deal of the mounting intrigue that is the hallmark of Dune, and I'd think you'd want to avoid a loss of that nature; so then, it makes sense to try to retain that stuff by moving it forward in the narrative.  This, of course, will have its own risk.  
This is complicated business, and while I believe it CAN be done, I do not believe it can be done quickly or easily.  What you need is to hire a writer (or team of writers) to sit in a room for a decade and figure the approach out, and once that process is finished, maybe you look at proceeding.  I hereby volunteer to be that guy, for a measly $100,000 per year plus benefits.  That’s a cool million, after which point in time you’ll be ready to mount a series that will earn it back a hundredfold.  You can’t afford NOT to hire me!]
Anyways, now that the sidebar is over...
Irulan's epigraph ends with a rhetorical question that seeks to soothe the issue of Leto’s obscurity: “What is the son but an extension of the father?”  This, too, brings to mind the Bene Gesserit notion of genetic memory.  When Paul unlocks his, he will be a literal extension of his father; what was metaphorically true in Irulan’s history will be literally true in Paul’s mind (and, later, even more true in the mind of the God Emperor Leto).  This, of course, is part of what the Bene Gesserit strive to find, not only within themselves via the genetic memory of the Reverend Mothers, but in a unifying sense via the Kwisatz Haderach.  Again, this is practical fulfillment of philosophy.  The word made flesh, in a sense.
"How did she seal my tongue?” Paul wonders about his Mohiam-inspired inability to warn his father of the specific danger of the Harkonnen trap.  This is a question worth pondering; how did she do that?  You could speculate that she did it via Voice, but there seems to be no direct evidence of that being the case.  If not, then one must assume it is coming from Paul’s own subconscious desires.  This is perhaps his terrible purpose at work; he has been awoken sufficiently to sense that warning his father does not (pardon the pun) benefit the greater purpose to which he has become joined.  Without understanding this terrible purpose, he has already accepted it; he now struggles to focus his consciousness toward understanding it.
Leto has some wisdom to impart to Paul on the subject of traps.  He is advocating evading it under the pretense of walking into it.  Hard not to think of Mohiam’s counsel about what to do if one finds one is indeed trapped.  Would Leto proceed if he knew the end result?  It is entirely possible; he would see it as a major victory for House Atreides, I suspect.
"Don't the Harkonnens know about the Fremen?” Paul asks Leto.  This brings up a question for me.  Why have the Mentats of other Houses not figured this out?  Why have they not figured out the nature of the Sardaukar?  The Mentats are somewhat troubling for me, because they seem simultaneously infallible and bumbling.  Maybe that’s purposeful.
"Are the Guild ships really big?” Paul asks Leto, who replies (reminding himself), “This will be your first time off planet.”  Uh, NO.  In Paul of Dune, written by Herbert/Anderson, Paul not only sneaks onto a Guild ship, but takes it to another planet.  (sigh)  Look, I'm not here to shit all over Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, whose Dune books I enjoyed at times, but Paul of Dune is an atrocity.  Not only does it include a subplot in which you Paul leaves Caladan for a while (he -- I shit you not -- runs away to join the circus), but that subplot involves him doing so with a friend.  Herbert Sr. specifies that Paul has never been off of Caladan AND that he had no playmates his own age.  Herbert/Anderson attempt to counteract this by having Irulan confront Paul -- the novel being a split-narrative affair which takes place partially before AND partially after Dune -- and demand to know why the official accounts of his story have left out so many details.  In other words, Herbert/Anderson are implying that Dune is a fictional narrative with Paul of Dune.  Ridiculous and unforgivable; I've read none of their subsequent novels.
Leto reveals to Paul that he has been prepared for Mentat training since early childhood.  The time has come to make Paul a part of that process.  “The Mentat has to share in the choice of whether to continue or abandon the training,” Leto says, unwittingly echoing the Bene Gesserit notion of consciousness by choice.
"A Mentat Duke would be formidable indeed,” Leto predicts.  How powerful would a Mentat Emperor be?
With the Lady Jessica and Arrakis, the Bene Gesserit system of sowing implant-legends through the Missionaria Protectiva came to its full fruition. 
The epigraph refers to a Bene Gesserit “Shari-a panoplia propheticus,” and I’d like to research the implied derivation of that, but I’m afraid it might put me on a watchlist.  Next time I’m at a library, maybe.
The move to Arrakis has taken place entirely “offscreen.”  How long do you suppose it took?  Could Herbert/Anderson find a way to squeeze a trilogy into that missing period?  Herbert’s structure is not dissimilar to that of a stage play; most of the action takes place between scenes, and most (though certainly not all) of the scenes consist of people in a room, talking.
Jessica has a stray thought involving “the day when the Duke’s buyers had taken her from the school.”  Huh.  This brings up several thoughts, the first of which has to do with wondering if she is literal property.  Likely not; likely this was a hiring situation.  But then also, if Jessica was determined by the Sisterhood to be needed for breeding with Leto, then how did they go about ensuring that the Duke’s buyers selected her?  I know the prequels address this; likely in poor fashion, although my memory is too poor to say with certainty.  
Speaking of those spinoff novels, let me address them again briefly.  As I recall, House Atreides is rather good, and House Harkonnen decent.  House Corrino, lousy; the Butlerian Jihad trilogy awful but trashily entertaining; and the two-part finale (sequels to Chapterhouse: Dune) poorly-written but suggestive enough of where Herbert Sr. might have been heading to be worth a read.  As already mentioned, Paul of Dune is an abomination, and beyond that, I have not ventured.
The water seller outside the Arrakeen castle cries, “Ikhut-eigh!  Ikhut-eigh!”  Now, I could be wrong about this, but that seems like maybe a bastardization of the French word “écouter” (verbal command, “listen”).  Not sure why that would be part of a water-seller’s bark, but ‘s fine by me.  I think there are probably all sorts of things to be learned from an etymological study of this novel.  If such a thing exists already, somebody kindly point me toward it.
"Now the thing must take its course.  It cannot be hurried,” Mapes says, almost as an incantation.  Interesting that this reflects the very mission of the Bene Gesserit, of continuity of human purpose being far more important than individual lives.  The Fremen might be said to possess the urge toward that philosophy independent of the Sisterhood’s influence, or it might be theorized that the Sisterhod gave it to them.  I tend to think it is the former, and that the pre-existing ideology is why the Sisterhood’s teachings were able to take root so thoroughly.

illustration by John Schoenherr (The Illustrated Dune, p. 56)

The scene with Mapes remains a favorite.  I love every word of it.
I also love the stuff about the Old Duke’s death via bull.  (Pure prequel bait.  Herbert/Anderson bungle it utterly, as I recall.)  Here, I’m struck by the notion that the Old Duke was killed by an animal; from a Bene Gesserit viewpoint, that has resonance.  I wonder if the Baron is ever referred to as a bull.  Probably not; that’d be a bit on-the-nose.  Worth keeping an eye out for, though.
Their new stronghold is referred to in Jessica’s thoughts as a “castellated pile of rocks.”  “Castellated” is a GREAT word.
"Yueh!  Yueh!  Yueh!" goes the refrain.
The scene in which Yueh throws Jessica off the scent by “accidentally” using her first name is rather clever.  I can’t help but feel a well-trained Bene Gesserit might see through it, though.  And I guess she kind of does, doesn’t she?  After all, she’s not a Truthsayer, and given that Wanna was, Yueh would likely have picked up a few tricks.  “Still,” Herbert writes, “he always used the truth with Jessica whenever possible.  It was safest.”  This is the sort of deceit – using truth as a cloak – that makes one despair of the very world around them.  Yueh would have been great on Twitter.
"For the first time, he was caught up in the thought that he might be part of a pattern more involuted and complicated than his mind could grasp.”  First of all, why “involuted” as opposed to “convoluted”?  I will need to give that further consideration, but I’ll say this: I don’t get the feeling Herbert chooses words willy-nilly.  Secondly, this makes me think that to some degree, Dune is a conspiracy-theorist’s wet dream.  I mean, whatever you fear from the Illuminati, wouldn’t you have to say that the Bene Gesserit are vastly worse?
Herbert gives us several instances of Yueh determinedly concealing the truth with a different thruth, and punctuates them with “And that, too, was true.”  “I came willingly,” goes the first, referring to Yueh’s decision to make the trip to Arrakis; “It will take more than a trap to catch the Duke Leto,” he says in the second, failing to mention that it will take HIM.
The “Battle of Corrin” is mentioned.  More prequel-bait!  It seems unlikely that Herbert ever had any intention of writing a prequel; such things were mostly not done in those days.  Here, again, Herbert/Anderson dropped the ball, because the eventual Battle of Corrin they give us is rather lame.  The only interesting thing is that the Harkonnens are kind of righteous and enviable up to that point, whereas the Atreides are a bit shite.  At least, I think that's how it goes; my memory is also a bit shite, as are those books.
Jessica tells Yueh that “the duke is really two men.  One of them I love very much.  He’s charming, witty, considerate . . . tender – everything a woman could desire.  But the other man is . . . cold, callous, demanding, selfish – as harsh and cruel as a winter wind.  That’s the man shaped by the father.”  Ah, if only more of this could be in the narrative!  Not that it needs it; it doesn’t, especially if you accept this novel as a somewhat stage-play-ish piece of fiction.  It doesn’t NEED those frivolities; but they tantalize and draw one into the world, especially by enriching the experience on subsequent reads.  I wonder how much of this is what makes the series so enduring.   
[Sidebar the second:
I think one way to go about an adaptation would be to set it beginning a generation prior to the events of this novel, and then work forward.  I wouldn’t even necessarily call it Dune, although no producer in their right mind would sign off on that.
Alternative titles for such an endeavor:
House Atreides
War of the Houses
Dune Origins: The Great Houses (awful)
The Bene Gesserit Way (awful)
Game of Houses (somebody’d suggest it if I didn’t)

Et cetera.  None of those pop, but – despite how shite the prequels are – I absolutely think there would be a way to generate a multi-season series from the background of Dune focused on the conflict between House Atreides and House Harkonnen.  Leto and Jessica would be the main characters, at least eventually; the Old Duke might have to be at the outset.  Just steal that from the Starks and Game of Thrones, who gives a shit?
The trick would be to effectively foreshadow the emergence of Arrakis without having to actually go there.  The “origin story” of the planet is potentially compelling, but I think it’s a mistake to reveal much of anything about it unless you are doing so through the eyes of Paul and the other characters of this novel.  Maybe you could get some mileage out of setting certain aspects of the Harkonnen storyline there, though, and then use the eventual Atreides arrival as a means of turning all of what you learn during those early season on its head.  Like, maybe you hate the Fremen to begin with; or maybe you don’t even really think much about them at all.  Not sure how accomplishable that is, though; you might have to actually kind of like the Harkonnens to make that happen.
Anyways, give me that million and I’ll figure it out to your satisfaction!]
That brings us to the end of this week's reading.  Good stuff; deeply good.
Let's now move on to:

I don't know that I'd care to refer to this novel as "deeply good," but I cannot deny that I am enjoying revisiting it.
Let's have a look at some passages which moved me to chuckles:

A khaki-suited laborer of the Movingmans’ Guild entered.  Jazzica detected on his jacket the corporate insignia of the Seven Billion Santini Brothers; she watched as he sat down a heavy crate on the floor with a grunt.

     “Where ya want the étagère from the media room, O Noble Born?” he asked bluntly.

     “Put it over there,” she said, indicating with a lift of her regal chin a space along a wall.

     “In front o’ the paintin’?”

     “He thumbed toward a piece of art on the wall, evidently left by the Hardchargins.  It was a three-dimensional lasbrush copy of an artwork from the past.  An image of the original had been enlarged to a size of three meters by four, and lent a semblance of glistening motion by micro-diffraction lenses and a polaroil suspension overlay.  With a shudder of fatigue Jazzica recognized the artist Steinberg’s map of New York from the cover of the New Yorker, an ancient magazine from Old Earth.

     Is there nowhere in the universe we can escape that thing? She thought in agony.
“ ‘eah, now, Mum, ‘s somethin’ wrong?”

    Jazzica whirled.  Before her stood a plump old woman in a shapeless gray robe.  Her hair was a frizzy brown cloud.  But it was her eyes that drew Jazzica’s attention: They were those of a Freedmenmen woman, their color a depthless red-on-red.

     “I’m called the Shutout Mopes,” the old woman said.  “I’m at yer service, Mum.”

     “I’m delighted to meet you, Mopes,” Jazzica said coolly.  “But you must call me My Lady, not ‘Mum’.”  Jazzica feigned a small laugh, so useful when speaking to inferiors.  “I’m not your mother, you know.”

     The woman stared wide-eyed at her, took an apprehensive step back, and in a frightened whisper quoted, “ ‘And she shall be delighted to meet you, and not be your mother’.”  The red of her eyes glowed hot.  “The legend is true!”  She cast a sly glance at Jazzica, half fearful, half hopeful, half challenging.  “Are you the One?”

     Jazzica examined her carefully.  Of course! She thought.  The Missionaria Phonibalonica!  Their rumors and gossip have reached even this Godforsaken world!  But how to probe her meaning . . . ?

“Then you’re not the One?”

     “Not that One, no,” Jazzica said, then paused, held a half-breath, said, “But I may be . . . the Other One.”

     “Aiiiieeee!!” keened the woman.  “And have ye brought a son along, then, dearie?”

     “I have.”

     “And is it a moody child, spoiled and willful-like?”

     “Well . . .”

     “Here!”  Mopes sudeenly tore open her robe, exposing her brown, wrinkled skin and weathered breasts.  “Take the meat of my body!  Ye’ve come to free us – you bein’ the Other One, and your boy, who I ‘spect’s the Laserium al-Dilah’.  The Mahdl-T, come to drive us to Paradise at last.”

[The novel’s analogue for Yueh is committing treachery because the Hardchargins have promised to grant his wish of becoming a stand-up comedian.]

A man was walking briskly toward her down another corridor that led from the Duke’s offices.  Jazzica recognized the short, brisk form of Oyeah, the ducal accountant.  His arms were full of books and papers.

     “Are your accommodations adequate, Mr. Oyeah?” she asked.

     Adequate, yes, he thought.  Adequate – for treachery!

     “Most comfortable, My Lady,” he said with a smile.  I am vile, he thought.  Playing the affable professional while quietly plotting my clinet’s downfall.  But I don’t care!  Anything – anything! To get into show business.

     “This is a crazy planet,” Oyeah said.  “I mean it.  There’s no entrees around here.  I went for a wlk this morning.  Went into a restaurant.  I sit down, and there’s no silverware on the table.  I call the waiter over, I say, ‘Hey, there’s no silverware.’  Waiter says, ‘Don’t worry about it.  We don’t have any food, either.’  I wanna tell ya—“

[And there we shall leave it.  A National Lampoon’s Doon cliffhanger!  But the remainder of the scene gets ahead of where I am in Dune, so we’ll break here until next time.]
BUT WAIT...!  There's more!
Confession time: I made an unpardonable mistake during my first post.  It wasn't an intentional one; it was a mistake of memory that led to an accidental omission.  I wrote about my reading the novel due to having wanted to see the movie, but not being able to do so.
What I failed to mention was that I actually did experience the movie prior to reading the novel.  Not by actually seeing it, though.  Instead, I experienced the movie via these two adaptations:

So whereas last week I was falling all over myself congratulating 1984 Bryant for his persistence and reading ability, afterward I remembered these two movie-tie-ins and thereby recaptured a bit of the truth: I was able to get through the novel because the children's storybook version (!!!) and the Marvel Comics adaptation had primed me to be able to do so.
Both are, in their own right, as confusing as collard-green-flavored ice cream, though; so I don't know that either was all THAT much help to young me.
I considered scanning both and putting the pages that are relevant to this week's reading up for people to check out, but I'm going to opt not to do that.  At some point, they will diverge from the novel significantly, and I'm just not all that interested in trying to figure out where to leave off each time.
It seems increasingly likely to me, though, that this time I'm spending in the Dune series is going to be an ongoing thing.  That means that once Dune Club has wrapped up, I'll probably turn my attention to the David Lynch movie.  It'd be a natural fit to cover both the Storybook and the comic in that post.
From there?  Maybe Jodorowsky's Dune, which I haven't seen.  Or the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, which I have.
But that's all in the future, so we'll find out when we get there, whenever that may be.
One last thing before we go.  There's been a lot of news lately about the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, which has been photographed in greater resolution than ever before by NASA's Juno probe.  It's mind-blowing stuff, but the best image I've seen by far is one that composites an image of the Earth over the top of the Great Red Spot ... which is itself about 1.3 times the size of our entire planet.
Check it out:
That's so awesome I literally have a hard time looking at it without feeling weird.  Jupiter does that to me, though; one of the most memorable nightmares I ever had involved me floating through space toward the planet, unable to resist its gravitational pull.
And I was headed, of course, directly for the Great Red Spot.
Consider for a moment that we, as a people, were able to aim a big hunk of metal and then throw it precisely toward Jupiter and are now receiving photos of it.  THAT'S what we can do.
We should be those people more often.
See you next week!


  1. (1) I've heard few good things about the Herbert/ Anderson continuation books. From these few anecdotes you share, sounds like I'd be on the side of skipping them, myself.

    (2) Collard-green-flavored ice cream sounds pretty confusing all right.

    (3) The pictures from Juno and from the Cassini "deep dives" as it finishes its mission are so wonderful.

    (4) Fine reading! Sorry for my scant remarks, here.

    1. (1) The first one is pretty good, as I recall. It is said to be drawn partially from notes Herbert Sr. left about certain aspects of his characters' origins. For example, you find out that the Baron was, as a younger man, extremely fit and virulent, and that his corpulence is the result of a disease given to him retributively by the Bene Gesserit for a heinous crime he perpetrated. Part of that works for me (him once having been fit and vital), and part of it does not (the B.G. revenge angle). In total, it's fairly lame fanfic, and it does what fanfic almost always does: it shrinks the universe considerably and makes it clear that sons are not always cut out to try to be their fathers.

      (3) I watched a Pluto-flyover video today. Stunning.

  2. Have followed your King blog for ages, but didn't know you were also a fan of Dune! Shall be following this with interest...