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?

I don't know.  I really don't.  In any case, I had no idea what I'd read, so I read it again.  And again.  And again.  And eventually, I began to understand it.
There is no doubt in my mind that this process made me a more intelligent person.  I've never considered myself to be particularly intelligent.  I say that not to court sympathy, or to ironically brag, or anything like that; I say it simply as a fact.  I did not acquit myself well in school in any subject apart from English.  Anything that was mathematical or scientific required a hefty amount of study on my part simply to get me to a B; and by the time I'd gotten to high school, I'd concluded that that was time I could be putting to more rewarding use.  Why study for an algebra test when I could be reading Needful Things or listening to U2?  I mean, sure, I had to study enough to pass the classes (meaning "get a B so my parents didn't murder me in my sleep"), but beyond that, why bother?  I always forgot what I'd "learned" as soon as the test was over, so seriously, why bother?

And I'm here to tell you now: that has not improved with age.  My brain is aging like a fine milk that's been left on the counter.  Maybe not quite THAT bad, but not great, that's for sure.
It is my belief that whatever actual intelligence I possess comes from my love of books.  Maybe a small amount from my work experience, too, but that's maybe 25%; the remainder is from the mental process of being a reader (and writer, I suppose).  And, further, it is my belief that my true love of books began with Dune.  Actually, let me amend that; I don't believe it BEGAN with Dune, but I do think it molted, and became a new iteration of an old thing.  I was able to read Dune was one simple reason: I wanted to read Dune.  Nothing more complicated than that.  And then, having read it, I wanted to understand it; so I read it again.
Time and time again, during my reading life -- leisure-reading and assigned-reading life alike -- I have stumbled across books that challenged me in one way or another.  Sometimes, I'd have the desire to get through them; other times, I wouldn't.  When I did, though, it was my experience with Dune that I called upon.

I could write more in that vein, but let's move along, eh?  I want to get to the novel itself.

But first, a quick aside.  The above-pictured paperback was my first copy of Dune, but by no means was it my last.  Eventually, I got this hardback (from the Science Fiction Book Club, I believe):

Then, a few years ago, I decided to collect a few other editions, too, so I ended up with the following:

A book-club edition of the original 1965 hardback;

a 1978 trade paperback with illustrations;

and a 1984 printing of the 1977 Berkley paperback, which I wanted because the cover art matched the style of the editions I had of the first two sequels.  Lame, but true.

I may eventually try to find even more editions, too.  And while you'd think five copies of a single novel would be enough, I now also, thanks to Comic Book Girl 19, have a sixth:

Autographed by the sietch leader of the Dune Book Club herself, too!  This is the copy I'm using for note-taking this read-through.  I'm actually reading each chapter twice: once in the Illustrated Edition, and then a second time in the CBG19-autographed copy, for notes and underlining and whatnot.

Alright, so with that long preamble out of the way, how about we dive in to the novel?  This is made somewhat difficult by virtue of the fact that Herbert did not number his chapters (if "chapters is even the correct word in this case).  This makes referring to specific passages mildly problematic, and since every edition has different page counts, using page numbers is worthless unless we're all using the same edition.

Each chapter begins with an epigraph, though, so I think what we can do is use asterisks to designate chapter divisions, and then replicate the first sentence of the epigraph as a place-marker.  Like so:


A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.

This chapter is split into two sections: one in which Paul is briefly visited by an old woman and then meditates while considering some of what he has heard her say; and one in which he passes a test she administers to him.

What works about the first section -- apart from fucking EVERYTHING, I mean -- is that Herbert immediately draws you in by placing you in Paul's point of view, and therefore in sympathy with him.  He's (allegedly) sleeping, and his mother brings an old woman in to the castle through a side passage to briefly see him.  "He's awake and listening to us," the old woman ascertains; and so he is.  As the exchange between the old woman and his mother takes place, we get a few puzzling bits of terminology.  "And if he's really the Kwisatz Haderach...," the old woman begins at one point; she lets the thought go uncompleted.  "Tomorrow you'll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar," she says to Paul later, knowing both that he can hear her and that he has no idea what she means.

Neither do we.  Herbert allows Paul's confusion to bring us closer to him; acting almost as our proxy, he mouths the strange words to himself in the dark silence of his bedroom.  Paul is just like us: unsure what the fuck is happening in these opening pages.  But his uncertainty draws us in, and establishes a bond that will persist for the remainder of the novel.

Paul is soon to leave his homeworld, Caladan.  His new home will be Arrakis, which we have been told is an important place in the epigraph (which is seemingly a history of some powerful person named "Muad'Dib," who is hinted strongly to be Paul himself).  We soon come to understand that Paul is no normal teenager: there is something quite exceptional about him.  Herbert does not come right out and tell us that in some lame fashion, though; he unfolds the narrative and merely presents certain facts about Paul in a straightforward manner, as Paul himself might think of them.

For example, here is a paragraph that comes after the old woman has left:

Paul fell asleep to dream of an Arrakeen cavern, silent people all around him moving in the dim light of glowglobes.  It was solemn there and like a cathedral as he listened to a faint sound -- the drip-drip-drip of water.  Even while he remained in the dream, Paul knew he would remember it upon awakening.  He always remembered the dreams that were predictions.

A person reading the novel casually, for sheer entertainment value, might be forgiven for sailing right past this without thinking all that much of it.  As I was looking for passages to underline, though, I marked this entire paragraph and then placed three exclamation marks beside it.  What we've been told here by Herbert is that Paul is a visionary in some way.  "He always remembered the dreams that were predictions," he says, and the question this begs is: how would he know the dreams were predictions?  The answer is obvious: because he's had others that have come true.

Paul wakes from this "dream" with his mind racing.  This leads to his engaging in "one of the mind-body lessons his mother had taught him."  Let me now quote the rest of the astonishing paragraph from which that phrase derives (as well as the brief one which follows it):

Three quick breaths triggered the responses: he fell into the floating awareness . . . focusing the consciousness . . . aortal dilation . . . avoiding the unfocused mechanism of consciousness . . . to be conscious by choice . . . blood enriched and swift-flooding the overload regions . . . one does not obtain food-safety-freedom by instinct alone . . . animal consciousness does not extend beyond the given moment nor into the idea that its victims may become extinct . . . the animal destroys and does not produce . . . animal pleasures remain close to sensation levels and avoid the perceptual . . . the human requires a background grid through which to see his universe . . . focused consciousness by choice, this forms your grid . . . bodily integrity follows nerve-blood flow according to the deepest awareness of cell needs . . . all things/cells/beings are impermanent . . . strive for flow-permanence within. . . .
     Over and over and over within Paul's floating awareness the lesson rolled.

I mentioned earlier that I was reading these chapters twice.  I read this particular passage several more times than that.  It was a necessity, because as I began reading it, I realized I was getting no actual sense from the words.

This is a thing that has been an issue for me for a while now.  I've taken to calling it "reader's block," which is a shorthand way of indicating that my reading comprehension has fallen through a floor into a basement of some sort.  It's dark and smelly down here, and, uh, sometimes I have to really force myself to concentrate on what I'm reading lest I realize I've been "reading" for several pages without actually understanding a word of what I've said.  Sometimes, I'll read aloud to myself for a while so as to try to keep myself focused.

What is this all about?  I tend to think it is a combination of media poisoning, an overall lack of intelligence, advancing age, and severe sleep deprivation (thanks, sleep apnea!).  It CAN be overcome to some degree, though; I just have to slow down and force my brain back into reading-comprehension mode.

And, guys, something occurs to me.

I must -- must -- have had to do something similar the first time I read this novel, way back when I was 10.  Here I am, some 33 years later, having a similar reaction.  Should that depress me or cheer me?  I'm thinking a bit of both.

In the second section of this first chapter, we shift into the perspective of the old woman, who is revealed to be Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.  Here, Paul is subjected to a test in which he places his hand inside a metal cube whose interior is not penetrated by light.  Mohiam then places a needle-tip at his throat and warns him that if he removes his hand before she allows it, one prick of the needle -- the gom jabbar -- will bring "death so swift it's like the fall of the headsman's axe."  Paul suffers feels the hand he placed inside the box burning to a crisp, but he keeps his hand inside the box, and eventually finds that it was mere nerve-induction hallucination; his hand is entirely undamaged.

He has passed the test; he is a human.

This is a terrifically suspenseful section; it was one of the scenes of the novel that most delighted me as a child.  And as an adult, for that matter.

As he is prepping the scene and moving toward its resolution, Herbert gives us one wonderful turn of phrase/thought after another, including an entire Litany against Fear:

"I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain." 

Genius.  This passage had a big impact on me as a child.  I was afraid of everything, and I memorized this Litany in case I ever needed it, which I sometimes did.  I don't have it memorized any longer, but it still stands out to me quite brightly.

More philosophy from Herbert follows soon thereafter.  Mohiam says to Paul, "You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap?  There's an animal kind of trick.  A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind."  Remember in the mind-body lesson section, when Paul muses that an animal does not consider that its victims might become extinct?  Put that thought together with this one from Mohiam about remaining in the trap, and tell me you don't shudder a bit thinking about what this implies about the Bene Gesserit.

Mohiam is arguing for persistence, and I am struck by the degree to which 10-year-old me did a version of exactly what she might have hoped I would do: remain inside the trap until such time as I could conquer it.  I couldn't make heads or tails of what I was reading, but I left that metaphorical hand inside the box and kept right on going, page after page.  I wonder: how much of that was due to my forming an instantaneous bond with Paul?  He was unable to escape, and so I wished to remain in agony with him, so that together, we could both escape at a later date.

Paul himself ascends -- briefly -- to a higher awareness during this scene.

"Ever sift sand through a screen?" she asked.
     The tangential slash of her question shocked his mind into a higher awareness: Sand through a screen.  He nodded.
     "We Bene Gesserit sift people to find the humans." 

It has already been established by this point that the Bene Gesserit way -- which Paul's mother has imparted to him via her illicit teachings -- lies in the minutiae of observation.  By paying attention to one's surroundings, one focuses one's consciousness, and separates oneself from animal urges.  "To be conscious by choice" is a human attribute, and humanity is something of a scarcity.  "Our test," Mohiam says, referring to the gom jabbar, "is crisis and observation."

illustration by John Schoenherr (The Illustrated Dune, p. 6)

The chapter continues, and has much else of interest, not the least of which is some serious -- and satisfyingly vague -- foreshadowing of future events:

His mother had undergone this test.  There must be terrible purpose in it . . . the pain and fear had been terrible.  He understood terrible purposes.  They drove against all odds.  They were their own necessity.  Paul felt that he had been infected with terrible purpose.  He did not know yet what the terrible purpose was.

He'll find out, of course.


To attempt an understanding of Muad'Dib without understanding his mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, is to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood.

This chapter serves to introduce us to the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, his Mentat Piter, and his nephew-heir, Feyd-Rautha.  I don't think it's anywhere near as successful as the preceding chapter, but Herbert does an efficient job of establishing the Baron's status as a devious and implacable (and, therefore, formidable) foe.

illustration by John Schonherr (The Illustrated Dune, p. 21)

Among other things, we learn that Dr. Yueh -- mentioned in the previous chapter as being Paul's teacher -- is a Harkonnen agent; that the Harkonnens are working with the Emperor's blessing (and aid) to destroy the Atreides family; that a complex and multi-faceted plan of attack is in play; and that Piter's Mentat skills will essentially be pitted against those of Thufir Hawat, the Atreides Mentat.

The effect is to indicate that the odds are heavily stacked against House Atreides, in the hopes (on Herbert's part) that this will color all of our perceptions of the coming scenes and add suspense.  It is a wholly successful gambit, so in that sense, this chapter works just fine.


Thus spoke St. Alia-of-the-Knife: "The Reverend Mother must combine the seductive wiles of a courtesan with the untouchable majesty of a virgin goddess, holding these attributes in tension so long as the powers of her youth endure.

(Sidebar: During the note-taking process, I actually found myself thinking of Comic Book Girl 19 herself while considering the above passage.  And toward the end of the first session on Twitch, she mentioned it as being one of the passages she'd put to great personal use.  So we can score one for my intuition there, folks.)
This chapter returns to Caladan, later on the same day as Paul's ordeal.  I've got my critical cap on, and it prompted me to wonder: why had Herbert interrupted these chapters with one focusing on House Harkonnen?

The answer I came up with was that he did so as a means of establishing a sort of chess match between these two Houses.  That sort of conflict between the two Houses is implicit, as well as explicit, within the story; but structuring it as he has, Herbert has dramatized something more about the stakes.

In this particular chapter, he strongly hints (via Mohiam) at the idea that the Atreides have lost before the game even begins properly.  We felt this a strong possibility during our chapter with the Baron; now, even Paul and Jessica are made aware of it, and as a fait accompli.

It is worth remembering that the Bene Gesserit purpose is (among other things) to create a human continuity that will persist across millennia.  Jessica's reckless actions in seeking a son rather than the daughter she was commanded to bear have tipped things past the point of Bene Gesserit control.  "An Atreides daughter could've been wed to a Harkonnen heir and sealed the breach," Mohiam snaps at her.  "You've hopelessly complicated matters.  We may lose both bloodlines now."

What Mohiam means, of course, is that both Houses may fall to ruin (and extinction) in the conflict that is coming.  It may prove to be even more catastrophic than that, and spread beyond these two families.  "And all we can hope for now is to prevent this from erupting into general conflagration, to salvage what we can of the key bloodlines," Mohiam says.

From a continuity-of-purpose standpoint, this is the precipice of disaster.  Generations upon generations of selective breeding, undone because one woman decided to give her Duke the son he desired; Jessica has surrendered her humanity to animal sensation, to unfocused consciousness.  She has betrayed her order.

Mohiam's frustration is palpable, and, from the standpoint of her order's goals, entirely understandable.  Perhaps one realizes that in sympathizing with her, one is championing eugenics; and perhaps one does not.

Paul has no sympathy for her, however.  He is too busy feeling anger for the fact that Mohiam speaks of his father, the Duke Leto, as one who were already dead.  "We may be able to salvage you," she says to Paul.  "Doubtful, but possible.  But for your father, nothing."

In other words, the Baron is entirely correct to already be celebrating his victory.  He lacks the specific knowledge that Mohiam possesses, but his intuition is essentially accurate.  So if we had any lingering doubts about his prowess, Mohiam's attitude goes a long way toward settling them.

What the Baron does not know, is that the Bene Gesserit are playing their own game.  To some degree, this put him at odds with them, and they are an enemy for whom he is utterly unprepared.  The implication of these opening chapters suggest that their plot for continuity of purpose -- and the breeding program designed to bring the Kwisatz Haderach -- is likely known only to themselves.  Mohiam is the Emperor's Truthsayer, and therefore an Imperial agent in her own right; but this is a mere sham, and we will find out eventually that any Bene Gesserit serves her own order first, foremost, and exclusively.  Hence Mohiam's outrage with Jessica, who has put the desires of House Atreides above those of the Sisterhood.  Though Mohiam serves the Emperor on the face of things, she in fact takes no subservience to him whatsoever as it concerns the Sisterhood's true agendas.

Baron Harkonnen has no knowledge of these agendas, and therefore has no way of knowing the true enemy he faces.  This is especially true given that thanks to her visit to Caladan, Mohiam has intentionally made Paul a part of the Bene Gesserit's agendas.  She has, to some extent, furthered Jessica's actions by making Paul aware that he is walking into a trap.  In so doing, she has given Paul a tool to use in attempting to evade the trap.  It is also worth remembering her thoughts on the difference between an animal in a trap and a human in a trap: the human remains there, and uses it as an opportunity to prey upon the hunter.

By implication, then, what Mohiam has told Paul during the course of the day is this: you are following your father into a trap laid by House Harkonnen, and your father will die in this trap, but if you persist, you may be able to obtain revenge on his behalf.

Baron Harkonnen is not wholly ignorant of this, of course.  In the previous chapter, he said of Paul that "he's potentially more dangerous than the father . . . with that witch mother training him."
He has no idea how correct he is.


You have read that Muad'Dib had no playmates his own age on Caladan.

This chapter is comprised of conversations Paul has with two of his instructors -- Thufir Hawat and Gurney Halleck -- on the day before leaving for Arrakis.  We also learn more, via Paul's recollections, about his conversation with Mohiam.

A few things stand out to me in this chapter:

A running theme of suppressed emotion is developing.  We've already seen Jessica suppressing her fear, and have even seen Mohiam repressing her own tenderness for Jessica (and possibly Paul as well).  Hawat, we are told, "suppressed a smile" after Paul says something that pleases him; and Gurney will report to Paul that Hawat seemed so pleased after leaving their meeting that he looked "like a man running to his enemy's funeral."  Later, Gurney -- affable, quick-witted, heart-on-his-sleeve Gurney -- himself will turn away from Paul so that the boy can't see the full range of emotion running through him.
What is up with all this?  It may merely be Herbert's style and personality coming through, but it may also indicate that the Bene Gesserit approach of sublimating "animal" sensation in favor of "focused consciousness" is not their approach alone.  It seems that perhaps the Mentats practice something similar, and that inclinations of that sort have also been taken up by the servants of noble houses; or, at the very least, THIS House.
This probably speaks to ideas about royalty and maybe even professionalism.  It results in a sort of formality that pervades the novel, and it is likely this formality that has proven to be one of the most significant barriers to lively and effective adaptation.  (In her first session, Comic Book Girl 19 endorses the idea of an adaptation happening on television a la Game of Thrones.  Oh, if only!  You could get twenty seasons out of these books.  Heck, there is even enough good material in the mostly-dreadful prequels/sequels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson to feed those hypothetical fires.)
Another running theme involves the Duke's men -- Hawat and Halleck -- reflecting upon their status as tools.  Hawat looks at a target dummy Paul uses for training, "patched and padded, looking like an ancient foot soldier maimed and battered in the wars."  He thinks, "There stand I."  It is a chilling thought, notable for its calm dispassion; Hawat does not seem bitter about his status as a metaphorical target-dummy, because his purpose is -- among other things -- to train and sharpen young Paul.  He agreed to be a target dummy; this is a role he accepted, not one that was thrust upon him.
Halleck, similarly, imagines that he is a "well-trained fruit tree," which is full "of well-trained feelings and abilities and all of them grafted onto me -- all bearing for someone else to pick."  That someone, of course, is Paul.
illustration by John Schoenherr (The Illustrated Dune, p. 34)
Via the thoughts and feelings of these mentors, we learn that Paul is indeed a well-trained young man.  Will his training suffice?  We'll have to read on to find out.
If you know the novel, though, you know that in this chapter, Paul is already asking the right questions.  "Then why're we going?" he asks of Hawat, despairing of the fact that it is pointless for him to warn his father about the danger the Reverend Mother pronounced; the Duke has already been warned by many people, including Hawat himself.  Hawat's answer is that "there's hope in spite of what that witch-spy said."  (Perhaps so, but if we remember the Bene Gesserit dictum about hope clouding observation, we might wonder if even these Mentats are fallible.  I think the implication is clear: they are, and this seems likely to have a major impact on the events of the novel.)
"Why don't they have weather control?" Paul wonders of Hawat during a discussion of the storms on Arrakis.  Good question, Paul; and the answer may prove eventually to be rather important.  "Have you ever seen the Fremen?" he asks moments later, and then a bit further on, "Will the Fremen help us?"
It seems possible that Mohiam has already prepared Paul for the eventuality of seeking aid from the Fremen.  Herbert doesn't quite come right out and say that, but he does imply it: he recollects her telling him that he'll learn "about the funeral plains, about the wilderness that is empty, the wasteland where nothing lives except the spice and the sandworms."  Sure does sound like she's describing living in the Fremen way, doesn't it?
Here, Herbert also takes the first step in introducing the theme of ecological concern that will pervade the series.  Paul recalls "another thing the old woman had said about a world being the sum of many things -- the people, the dirt, the growing things, the moons, the tides, the suns -- the unknown sum called nature, a vague summation without any sense of the now.  And he wondered: What is the now?"
I have to confess that I don't entirely follow Herbert here.  Or maybe I do, and Paul doesn't.  I recall the mind-body lesson Paul practices earlier, including the thought that an animal's consciousness "does not extend beyond the given moment."  What is the "now" if not the given moment?  If this is the correct interpretation, then it makes sense: Mohiam is enjoining Paul, as a human, to ignore the now in favor of "the sum of things."  This, too, fits with the Bene Gesserit continuity of purpose: a willingness to move across eons rather than years, months, weeks, days.
Will this idea play a larger role in the novel (and its sequels)?
Count on it.
That's as far as the reading for session 1 took me.  I tuned in for Comic Book Girl 19's Q&A on Twitch earlier this evening, and it was a lot of fun.

There were some mild technical hiccups during the stream, but she handled them gracefully.  Her enthusiasm for the novel was infectious, and I think that if this was not already a novel I held very close to my heart, I'd have wanted to read it based on her analysis and interpretations.

Fun stuff; looking forward to the next few weeks.

And now, for something completely different:

Eleven-year-old me thought this thing was the height of wit.  And, I gotta say, 42-year-old me thinks so, too.  Maybe not the height of wit, but the breadth, perhaps.  For the record, I am pretending that it was written by the older brother of Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, and you better not disabuse me of that reverie.

I thought it might be worth my while to read along with this parody while Dune Club was in session; you know, just to keep myself honest.  And I figured hey, why not toss up some of the passages here that made me laugh?

So here they come.  They will best be appreciated if one is familiar with Herbert's novel, or perhaps if one is mildly brain-damaged.  Preferably both.


Know, sisters of the Boni Maroni, that any study of the life of Mauve'Bib demands the subtlest attention to details of place.  Can you truly understand why a man is a thing, if you neglect to understand where he is that thing that he is?
Pall sat at his desk, a filmbook open before him.  Jazzica notes his eyes, with their eyebrows and lids and accompanying nose, mouth, and ears.
     He is like his father in that, she thought.


Pall's mind swam with the awareness of what his family was about to undertake: leaving Cowboydan, ancestral home of House Agamemnides for thirty generations, to relocate on Arruckus.
     Arruckus.  Doon.  Dessert Planet.
     Duke Lotto would administer the planet in fief, replacing Baron Vladimir Hardchargin and House Hardchargin at the invitation of the Pahdedbrah Emperor, Shaddap IV.  It was an unexpected choice -- all the Empire knew that the Hardchargins and the Agamemnides had for centuries been mortal enemies, having declared between them that formal state of vendetta known as kramden.
     Other Great Houses were openly covetous of the Duke's honor.  House Wax, House Pancakes, House Rising Sun, House Seven Betty Grables -- all could be expected to make known their resentment at having been denied the fiefdom of Doon.
     Pall understood some, but not all, of this.  Yet certain it was that Arruckus would be his new home.  It was a forbidding place -- The Dessert Planet, so called because, its surface an almost unbroken expanse of sugar, its mountainous outcroppings and other geoconfectionological features mainly rock candy, it was a world virtually devoid of entrees.


Pall tried to swallow in a dry throat.  What could this test be?
     "Pay attention, boy," the old woman said, and produced from within her robe a small cube, four inches on a side, each of its faces a different color.  "Here.  Take a good look," said the woman, handing it to him with a smirk.  "You may never see it this way again."
     Visually probing the object more closely, Pall noticed that each face of the cube was divided into nine small squares.  suddenly the Revved-Up Mother snatched it from him, and worked it in her cold hands.  Each row of squares was apparently mounted on a sophisticated form of internal pivot, for in a trice the uniformity of each face had been utterly destroyed.  Now red squares mingled with yellow, blue with orange, green with white.
     This is almost certainly a product of the mechanical culture of the planet Ix-Nay, Pall thought.


With a rapid leap the woman was hard beside him, pressing something cold into the side of his neck.  He started to turn to see what it was.
     "Don't!" she hissed.  "The slightest move and you die.  I hold against your neck the device we call the abdul-jabbar -- the high-handed, long-legged enemy.  You've heard of it, perhaps?"
     His head immobile, Pall said, "It's called the skyhook, isn't it?"
    "A-h-h-h-h-h, you've been taught well," she muttered.


"Am I, the Baron Hardchargin, not clever?  Tell me, my nephew Filp-Rotha -- tell me in the presence of that man, Peter De Vries, who by some fluke bears the name of a humorous writer on Old Earth from a past millennium.  Tell me as we sit here in our great big castle on the planet Getty Premium, to which we were exiled after doing something terrible somewhere a few years ago, or something.  Am I not smart, if evil?"


A noise sounded behind him.  Without looking up he knew it was Safire Halfwit, his father's Mantan and chief Character Assassin.  "Your mother's like a pack of gum--" the man began.
     "I know," Pall replied.  "Five sticks for a nickel."
     Halfwit stopped before the boy and frowned.  "What's wrong, lad?" he said, his aged, seamed face a leather sofa on which Time and Care had sat once too often.  "These Insult Drills bore you,eh?"

"Will Arruckus be dangerous?" Pall said, almost eagerly.
     " 'Every place is dangerous to the man who talks to his shirt,' " Safire Halfwit quoted.  "Mark ye that for wisdom, boy."


"Why, lad, don't tell you've never heard of the giant pretzels."
     "Then it was true!  Tales, he'd thought -- the exaggerated ramblings of traders, smugglers, and manufacturers' reps who'd returned to the court on Cowboydan with accounts of enormous animal-snack hybrid creatures a hundred meters high.  "There really are such giant pretzels, Safire?"
     The Mantan, his cheeks seamed naugahyde, his eyes weatherdulled pools of vinyl latex, nodded.  "Great roving things they are," he said.  "They say a salt-bulder falling off the back of one of 'em can crush a man."


"Aye, and a lot o' Duke he be, too!" Gurnsey said, chortling.  "But stay, lad, here's a tune of our new home . . ."  Lifting up the rickenbacker, he struck a chord and sang:

"O-h-h-h, the girls of Cowboydan
'll take it in their hand,
But we prefer the ladies of Arruckus.
We bring 'em some tuna on ryes,
An' a side of Aldebaran fries,
Then we go an collect our prize,
'Cause we know that they'll perform sexual intercourse with us."

     Halvah winked at Pall.  "Why d'ye think they call such a tune a lay, eh, boy?"  Pall began to laugh, and Halvah smacked him hard across the face.  "Keep yer guard up, you young pup, have ye learned nothing from old Gurnsey?"


"There'll be plenty of time for that once we're settled on Arruckus," came a well-modulated, commanding voice.
     All whirled to see Duke Lotto himself in the doorway.  He wore the dark gray jumpsuit and tiny red alligator insignia of House Agamemnides.  The three men crowded into Pall's room to accommodate him.
     As always, Pall experienced a profound sense of how much his father was his father, and not another thing, such as a chair.


Oh, the larfs.  They are still a-comin'.  But we'll call it quits there.
So until next week, stay human in this increasingly animal world.


  1. Cool idea for a running blog series. Are you posting all these thoughts to your Dune group as well? Or is there a differnet kind of format?

    (1) I definitely read that Return of the Jedi novelization a bunch of times. We're the same age so we were sort of the same reading boat here - I remember having to work at some things but people kept telling me I was a good reader so I kept upping my game. My "Dune" for 1984 was Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, which I had to really work at but was rewarded in a very mind-expansive ohhhh-books-do-THIS sort of way.

    (2) It's that last version of the book that you posted (your 6th) that is the one I have. I remember seeing all the various versions over the years and being fascinated and a little intimidated. I'm glad I finally made myself read it a few years ago, as it is such an exceptional work. I keep meaning to get to the others - no time like the present, really, I should get on that!

    (3) Doon is pretty fun stuff. That Weiner family has talent.

    (4) I'll be more in read-and-enjoy mode for these posts more than adding much commentary of my own. i'm more interested in your take on it, actually, especially revisiting it after the long history with the work you've had, than revisiting my own. Of course, I am leaving this AS a remark/ comment, so as always, I immediately contradict myself.

    1. No, not sharing to the book club. No effective way to do that; it's proven to be fairly popular, so it's ended up being somewhat impersonal. Which is fine; that was what I expected. So no, I'm basically just doing this for myself and whoever stumbles across it -- I figured, hey, I'm taking notes on each chapter as I read, so why not fling them onto the Internet, too?

      (1) Did you also have the mass-market making-of-Jedi book? I probably read that more than I did the novelization.

      (2) I like this edition. It's a well-made book; seems durable so far, at least. I still think the font is unnecessarily large so as to make the book overly thick, but it doesn't really matter much either way.

      (4) Yeah, the format I'm using on these posts isn't particularly user-friendly, unless said user is reading along. But, as always, I appreciate your having visited regardless of the nature of (or even lack of) comments!