Sunday, August 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

Moving on...

  • "If I scattered sand before this creature and told him it was grain, he'd peck at it," the Baron thinks of a guard he's branded a chicken.  Herbert obviously loves writing for the Baron, and it's hard to blame him.
  • Nefud tells the Baron that the Sardaukar have Kynes in custody, and the Baron tells him to find a way to get Kynes away from them and have him killed.  Nefud then goes on to say, M'Lord, the Sardaukar have . . . two persons in custody who might be of interest to you."  He then names Thufir Hawat, but never names another.  This bothered me for a while, until it occurred to me that the other one is Kynes!  It would have been better if Herbert had phrased that differently: "M'Lord, the Sardaukar have . . . another prisoner who might be of interest to you."  Granted, Nefud is coming down from a semuta high, so maybe we should blame him for this poor turn of phrase, and not Herbert.
  • The Baron gives some orders to Rabban in this chapter, and on one occasion finds himself wondering if he's misjudged this "tank-brained" nephew.  In fact, he has: Rabban seems concerned by the Fremen, and especially concerned by the news that the Sardaukar feel them to be a dangerous fighting force.  The Baron dismisses the notion out of hand, and this is one seed (not the only one) for his eventual doom.

At the age of fifteen, he had already learned silence.
  • "Paul pulled his hood down over his eyes, listened to the bug-hustling sounds of the night."  The bug-hustling sounds of the night...!  I don't know if I actually understand what that means, but I love it.
  • We hear at one about about Paul thinking about something by "questing in his prescient memory."  What a beautifully odd idea!  A memory of the future.  Far out, man.
  • There is a great deal of walking, running, digging, and otherwise contending with the desert in this chapter.  I find it to be riveting, but I can imagine somebody else thinking this chapter was a big, fat bore.
  • Part of this chapter's aim is seemingly to remind us that while Paul is a highly powerful, super-competent, and nearly-supernaturally gifted young man, he is still very fallible.  So Herbert here paints him as somewhat mercurial, somewhat defeatist, and still malleable.  I think it helps keep him an interesting character.


We came from Caladan -- a paradise world for our form of life.

In this chapter, we find out that Gurney Halleck is still alive and are present for his decision to enlist with Staban Tuek, the son of the murdered smuggler.

Good chapter, but not much in it called out to me as needing my attention as a critical commentator.  I will say, though, that the chapter ends beautifully, with Gurney singing a lay to a dying man.


Family life of the Royal Creche is difficult for many people to understand, but I shall try to give you a capsule view of it. 

There is some fascinating stuff inside this chapter's epigraph, which is by Irulan and tells us a bit about life as a Princess.  "We became adept, my mother and sisters and I, at avoiding subtle instruments of death," she writes.  "It may seem a dreadful thing to say, but I'm not at all sure my father was innocent in all these attempts.  A Royal Family is not like other families."

One of the tactics I would full-throatedly endorse in an adaptation of Herbert's novels would be for it to expand the narrative into multiple viewpoints, so that we could and would spend some time with House Corrino (and House Harkonnen, and whoever else merited the attention).  You might be able to glean some useful story from the Herbert/Anderson prequels, although I suspect you'd mostly want to ignore them, if not actively refute them at nine turns out of ten.

Anyways, that's how I feel about it.  Those novels don't belong on the list of the things I despise, but a less harsh list of things I dislike would include at least a few of them.

  • I love this description of seeing a worm: "Where the dunes began, perhaps fifty meters away at the foot of a rock beach, a silver-gray curve broached from the desert, sending rivers of sand and dust cascading all around.  It lifted higher, resolved into a giant questing mouth."  The mouth is questing for Paul and Jessica, and it pursues them toward the narrow crack in the rocks where they have hidden. 
  • Jessica's reaction: "It took intense concentration of her Bene Gesserit training to put down the primal terrors, subduing a race-memory fear that threatened to fill her mind."  She is forcing herself to remain human, to not give in to the animal emotion coursing through her.
  • Paul reacts differently, feeling "a kind of elation."  He has crossed "a time barrier" beyond which nothing of their future has been revealed to his prescience.  "Instead of frightening him, the sensation of time-darkness forced a hyper-acceleration of his other senses.  He found himself registering every available aspect of the thing that lifted from the sand there seeking him."  

The Illustrated Dune p. 268, illustration by John Schoenherr

Sidebar: I just got a vivid memory of being confused by the word "prescience" as a child.  I read it as "pre-science," as in the sense of "pre-calculus."  I took it to mean that Paul's understanding of Arrakis, which would be based in science and in scientific knowledge, was developing, and therefore incomplete and faulty.  It was "pre-science."  No, 1985 Bryant, wrong!  But you were doing the best you could.

This Fremen religious adaptation, then, is the source of what we now recognize as "The Pillars of the Universe," whose Qizara Tafwid are among us all with signs and proofs and prophecy.

Best known as the chapter in which Kynes meets his end in a spice-blow.

The Illustrated Dune p. 279, illustration by John Schonherr

  • "The real wealth of a planet is in its landscape, how we take part in that basic source of civilization -- agriculture," Kynes thinks.  I find myself wondering if I have ever grown a thing, in all of my years.  I'm not sure I have; not a plant, nor a bush, nor a tree.  That probably doesn't speak well of me.
  • "And he thought how strange it was that the mind, long fixed on a single track, could not get off that track," Herbert tells us immediately following the thought on agriculture.  Kynes is a profoundly wounded and dying man.  Placed in a similar circumstance, what would my thoughts be, I wonder?  By that which I am despised shall I be known; but does that hold true in the event of terminal self-knowledge?  Stripped of my metaphorical stillsuit and tossed into the noontime desert, would my thoughts turn to that which I despised in life, or to that which I loved?  I have thoughts on this, and shall keep them to myself; they are for the birds circling overhead to hear, and no other.
  • "The highest function of ecology is understanding consequences," Kynes thinks in the voice of his dead father.  Consequences are evasive today; understanding anathema.  Ecology is an abandoned science in the here and now as I observe it.
  • "The more life there is within a system, the more niches there are for life."
  • "Life improves the capacity of the environment to sustain life."
  • "He's repeating things he said to me as a child," Kynes thinks in a heartbreaking moment.  Life slipping away quickly, his mind has conjured a stern set of memories of his deceased father, so as to occupy his consciousness in an illusion of usefulness.  But Kynes cannot bear to experience them as memories, so he imagines that his father is there, lecturing him.
  • "Science is made up of so many things that appear obvious after they ae explained."
  • "You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after."
  • "Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error."


Howyadoon?  We now begin Book Two of National Lampoon's Doon, the Ellis Weiner epic of 19884.

  • "Jazzica awoke at first daylight, the dim glow of skydawn feathering chocolate-chip-mint-ice-cream-green colored streaks in the still of the night beyond the blue horizon."
  • "She sat up in the sweat-tent and glanced about.  Her Boni Maroni training, coupled with the vision she could create by looking with her eyes, disclosed an optic datum: the absence of her son meant that he was not there."
  • Weiner's analogue for "literjons" is "lennonjons," which made me laugh loud enough that my cat Duncan Idaho got scared and jumped out of my lap.  Fuck you, ghola!
  • A lame moment in which Pall tests a section of sand by putting his left foot in and taking it back out ("he did the hoki-poki and he turned himself around") is immediately redeemed by this: "That's what it's all about," thought Jazzica grimly.
  • An epigraph worthy of Herbert: "Like all creation myths, that of the Freedmenmen is unnecessarily complicated.  Yet from it we may learn much, for myth is truth in Hallowe'en disguise.  Who has not craved to rip the mask of myth off truth's face?"  Hear-...hear...?
  • "The forms must be obeyed, lest that precise system of social and political order, the nofreelunches, be imperilled."
  • There's also a fun section where Keynes, dying, remembers speaking Varietese with the Freedmenmen:

"Keynes," Spilgard'd said, "Indie prod house seeks helmer, scribe for aussie bio pic."
     He'd replied, not knowing what it meant but having studied it phonetically, "Cable kidvid tallies down; prexy scores distributor woes."
     "Webs in black on o-and-o's."
     "B'cast pundits nix A.M. stereo."
     Spilgard had then turned to the tribe and said, "Prod o'runs boost Universal sci-fi epic tab."
     As one they had replied, "Need max U.S., o'seas b.o., plus solid homevid followup, for Xmas gala desert saga."

And on that delightful note, marked not even vaguely by anything I despise, we conclude another week on Arrakis.


  1. (1) I find no fault with your list of despises. In fact I share ech and every one of them. With the exception of black holes, which I assume serve some presently unknown but very important purpose.

    (2) "Bug-hustling sounds of the night" and "questing in his prescient memory" are indeed fine phrases to single out.

    (3) "Who has not craved to rip the mask of myth off truth's face?"" Yeah that kind of comes out of nowhere, there! I remain amusingly confused by this whole parody. That ending bit there is particularly funny/unexpected.

    1. (1) Hard to argue with that logic. But if one ever grabs me and stretches me into infinity, I might have time to figure out how to.

      (3) Amusingly confused seems entirely appropriate to me.