Sunday, July 22, 2018

It Was Wrong of Us to Stop: Dune Club Messiah, Session 2

The original Putnam hardback!  No, I don't have a first edition; it's a book-club version.

  
  
We begin again for another time, once more:
  
  
The advent of the Field Process shield and the lasgun with their explosive interaction, deadly to attacker and attacked, placed the current determinatives on weapons technology.  We need not go into the special role of atomics.  The fact that any Family in my Empire could so deploy its atomics as to destroy the planetary bases of fifty or more other Families causes some nervousness, true.  But all of us possess precautionary plans for devastating retaliation.  Guild and Landsraad contain the keys which hol this force in check.  No, my concern goes to the development of humans as special weapons.  Here is a virtually unlimited field which a few powers are developing.
--Muad'dib: Lecture to the War College from The Stilgar Chronicles
  
 
I don't have a whole lot to say about this epigraph, other than to point out that its focus on human weapons seems appropriate to head a chapter about Scytale.
  
The chapter involves the Face Dancer meeting Farok, a former confidante of Muad'dib's whose disillusion has caused a willingness to throw his lot in with the conspiracy.  Scytale -- calling himself "Zaal" -- has chosen to go to this meeting in the guise of Duncan Idaho.  He's done this seemingly to amuse himself, but soon begins to worry that he may have made a mistake; after all, some Fremen warriors, including this Farok, may actually remember Idaho.
  
Scytale feels ill at ease through much of the chapter, and I think most readers will be inclined to feel a bit of nervousness on his behalf; clearly, he has walked into a trap of some sort and is about to be captured or found out.  This turns out not to be the case; he has brought the trap with him, and in the end it is he who betrays and kills Farok.  Not before getting what he was there to get, of course.
  
In choosing to depict Scytale's mission as tenuous and imperiled, Herbert has also made the choice to continue to place us in a sort of sympathy with the Face Dancer.  By all rights, we should want whatever he is doing here to fail.  And maybe we do, if we stop to think about it.  I'm not sure we do stop in that way, however; I think it is more likely that we feel nervous for the guy, because we identify with him and forget that he's ostensibly the villain.
  

Here are some other things that stood out to me:
  
  • "Farok struggled with an intense dislike for his visitor, Scytale realized.  Fremen distrusted eyes that were not the total blue of the Ibad.  Offworlders, Fremen said, had unfocused eyes which saw things they were not supposed to see."  This idea goes right back to some of what we heard via Bronso earlier; it's another sign that the Ixian historian was telling -- will be telling? -- the truth in his book.
  • During the scene, Semuta music is playing and Farok's son -- who is blind thanks to a "stone cutter" (a small atomic device of some sort) taking away his eyes -- sings a song.  We will learn eventually that this song is a coded message containing a list of names and other information that will benefit Scytale.  This is why he has visited these people.  That entire bit of subplot has always creeped me out for reasons that are not entirely clear to me.  Maybe something to do with the idea that music could carry a completely hidden message that worked on a barely-even-subconscious level.  After all, I grew up in the eighties, and it was around the time I read this that people were so convinced that music by, like, Ozzy Osbourne contained messages intended to get kids to worship Satan.  Which, to be, fair, maybe it did.  Don't care; "Crazy Train" is awesome.
  • Farok asks Scytale if he is actually a man, and Scytale answers that Face Dancers "are Jadacha hermaphrodites," but that he is a man at present.  This brings up something that I learned on Comic Book Girl 19's Dune Club session last night.  There's a line in the conspiracy chapter -- which we covered last time -- in which Scytale laments not being able to have Irulan sexually.  And then thinks to himself, "Perhaps I will copy her for another."  I have never understood that line.  I always assumed it had something to do with his considering making a ghola replica of Irulan for himself, but the phrasing doesn't really work with that idea.  CBG19 clarified it for me: what Scytale is thinking is that if he can't have Irulan, he could instead take on her form and then go out and fuck somebody AS her.  Man, that is a fucked-up thought.  I love it.
  • Farok delivers a bit of a monologue in which he more or less laments the coming of Muad'dib to Dune.  "I knew many things without the need to ask," Farok says, speaking of himself during those simpler times.  "I knew there was water far beneath our sand, held there in bondage by the Little Makers.  I knew that my ancestors sacrificed virgins to Shai-hulud . . . before Liet-Kynes made us stop.  It was wrong of us to stop.  I had seen the jewels in the mouth of a worm.  My soul had four gates and I knew them all."  Part of what is making this chapter -- and, indeed, this novel (and maybe even the whole series) -- work is the fact that we bring to a reading of it an innate love of the Fremen.  Right?  I think we probably do.  I mean, who loves Dune and doesn't love the Fremen?  That'd be crazy.  So when we hear Farok lamenting the loss of his people's identity, don't we kind of feel wistful for the fact that the Fremen are perhaps no longer quite the people we met in the first novel?  Interesting stuff.
  • Perhaps one of the most effective bits of the entire series comes during a story Farok tells Scytale.  "Do you know why I enlisted in the Jihad?" he asks.  "I heard there was a thing called a sea.  "It is very hard to believe in a sea when you have lived only here among our dunes.  We have no seas.  Men of Dune had never known a sea.  We had our windtraps.  We collected water for the great change Liet-Kynes promised us . . . this great change Muad'dib is bringing with a wave of his hand.  I could imagine a qanat, water flowing across the land in a canal.  From this, my mind could picture a river.  But a sea?  A sea.  It was too much for my mind to picture.  Yet, men I knew said they had seen this marvel.  I thought they lied, but I had to know for myself.  It was for this reason that I enlisted."
  • "Did you find your sea?" Scytale asks.  Farok tells the story of being on the planet Enfeil, "water as far as I could see and farther."  He drank, and it was bitter and made him ill.  "But the wonder of it has never left me." Scytale finds himself sharing Farok's awe.
  • "I immersed myself in that sea.  One man sank beneath that water . . . another man arose from it.  I felt that I could remember a past which had never been.  I stared around me with eyes which could accept anything . . . anything at all.  I saw a body in the water -- one of the defenders we had slain.  There was a log nearby supported on that water, a piece of a great tree.  I can close my eyes now and see that log.  It was black on one end from a fire.  And there was a piece of cloth in that water -- no more than a yellow rag . . . torn, dirty.  I looked at all these things and I understood why they had come to this place.  It was for me to see them."
  • He continues, after a brief exchange with Scytale: "You are a Tleilaxu.  You have seen many seas.  I have only seen this one, yet I know a thing about seas which you do not.  The Mother of Chaos was born in a sea.  A Qizara Tafwid stood nearby when I came dripping from that water.  He had not entered the sea.  He stood on the sand . . . it was wet sand . . . with some of my men who shared his fear.  He watched me with eyes that knew I had learned something which was denied to him.  I had become a sea creature and I frightened him.  The sea healed me of the Jihad and I think he saw this."  
  • Fuck.
  • From here, Scytale shoots two darts into Farok and his blind son, killing them.  This dude (?) is a badass.  The chapter has served very well in terms of making us fearful for him and then making us fearful OF him as it ends.

Apropos of nothing specific to this novel, news in Hollywood came today that Timothée Chalamet is apparently in deep talks to play Paul in the two-movie Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Dune.  What I'll say about that is this: if it's anywhere near as good as Blade Runner 2049 then it's got the potential to be something magnificent.  Here's hoping both movies are huge hits and Villeneuve can then make it a trilogy by adapting Dune Messiah as well!

*****

Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation.  It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual.
--Words of Muad'dib
by Princess Irulan
  
  
I think that one speaks for itself, so let's move on to the rest of the chapter.
  
It's a tense Imperial Council meeting, in which we meet a teenaged Alia for the first time.  She is a bit of an instigator, obviously relishing her self-appointed role as needler to Korba, the Qizara priest (and seemingly the head of the religious order).
  
There's an excellent moment featuring Korba in which we see him through Stilgar's eyes.  The priest has been sent out onto the balcony to offer a benediction, and Stilgar observes him: "His gaze fell on the balcony window and Korba standing outside.  Korba raised outstretched arms for the benediction and a trick of the afternoon sun cast a red halo onto the window behind him.  For a moment, Stilgar saw the Court Qizara as a figure crucified on a fiery wheel.  Korba lowered his arms, destroying the illusion, but Stilgar remained shaken by it.
  
Paul seems no more impressed by Korba than Alia is.  "How could anyone react to Korba with other than cynical humor?" he thinks.  "What is more ridiculous than a Death Commando transformed into a priest?"
  
From there, the chapter proceeds into conversation about whether Paul will sign a treaty the Spacing Guild desperately wants him to sign.  There's also talk of whether a constitution is going to be ratified; Paul seems dead-set against it, and a few similar topics.  Eventually, talks turn to the fact that Irulan wishes to bear Paul's heir.  She herself is present in the room for this talk, during which it is formally decided that Paul will not give her a child.  There's a terrific bit when Paul says, "We all know she holds no love for me."
  
Herbert breaks the paragraph here, delivers a one-sentence follow-up paragraph: "Irulan went very still."  This is, in retrospect, a heartbreaking moment.  Spoiler alert: we will find out toward the end of the novel that Irulan loves Paul very much indeed.  There is zero reason to suspect that at this point in the novel, of course; but on reread, this line is fairly devastating.
  
Perhaps surprisingly, Paul shows more tenderness toward Irulan in this chapter than he has ever done before.  He apologizes to her for his decision, and he seems genuine in his sentiment.  It's tempting to assume that he has seen via his prescience the way all of this turns out, and therefore knows her true motivations; if so, it makes sense that he would have a softer side toward her.
  
Good chapter; I don't have a lot to say about it beyond that, sadly.
  
*****
  
"Once more the drama begins." 
--The Emperor Paul Muad'dib on his ascension to the Lion Throne

 
That notion probably ties in with the idea presented earlier that the purpose of power is to be besieged.  I lack anything interesting to say on this topic, so we'll move on to the rest of the chapter, which is where we (and Paul) meet Hayt, the ghola of Duncan Idaho.

These proceedings are observed by Alia, who is hiding in a spy-hole the entire time.  Here's an interesting bit:

"She sensed the hidden perils in this gift" [Hayt] "then.  This was a Tleilaxu thing.  The Tleilaxu displayed a disturbing lack of inhibitions in what they created.  Unbridled curiosity might guide their actions.  They boasted they could make anything from the proper human raw material -- devils or saints.  They sold killer-mentats.  They'd produced a killer medic, overcoming the Suk inhibitions against the taking of human life to do it.  Their wares included willing menials, plaint sex toys for any whim, soldiers, generals, philosophers, even an occasional moralist."

A few thoughts about that:

  • Remember earlier, when we got an epigraph in which Paul mentioned being concerned about the creation of human weapons?  Well, clearly this was the sort of thing he had on his mind.  The implication is that the Tleilaxu are a sort of one-people arms race with modified humanity as the weapons.  If indeed their motivations are rooted primarily in curiosity, then they are perhaps not terribly different from the scientists in our own world whose efforts led to the creation of atomic weapons, biological weapons, etc.  If there is a lesson to be learned from this implication, it's probably this: curiosity is very human, and always leads to danger.
  • Is the "killer medic" referred to here Dr. Wellington Yueh?  If so, then I'm a little confused as to how the Tleilaxu might have played a part in his corruption.  It may be that Herbert did not intend us to assume Yueh is the subject of this sentence; but if he didn't, I'm not sure why he'd mention "Suk inhibitions."
  • It amuses me to think of the Tleilaxu scientists who, at some point, got tasked with the challenge of creating a moralist.  "Hey, if we pay for it, will y'all build a good person for us?"  They blink silently for a few seconds and then say, "Uh ... yeah, we can ... we can, uh, do that.  For sure.  Cash or credit?"



*****

Truth suffers from too much analysis.
--Ancient Fremen Saying

 
That epigraph's sentiment certainly matches with the general tone of the novel thus far, which is that the Fremen worldview is determinedly singular.  One can see how this saying about truth would be entirely accurate from their insular point of view, and also entirely inaccurate from an outside point of view.

This suggests the possibility that dueling truths necessarily produce friction when they come in contact with one another.  Hi, guys; it's the present day saying hello!

This chapter itself is a meeting between Irulan and Revered Mother Mohiam, in which the older woman commands Irulan to begin exploring the possibility of crossbreeding Paul with Alia.  Their genetic mission cannot be risked by introducing the wild element of Fremen blood into the equation; if Chani should conceive, she must be killed.

Irulan is highly agitated by the meeting, furious that she is not allowed to have her chance as the mother of an heir.  She agrees to play her part, but we have cause to wonder if she might not have a double-cross (triple-cross?) in mind.  "Let them spend me," she thinks, angered by the notion of her inherent worth being cast away by the Bene Gesserit.  "I will show them what a princess is worth.  Perhaps I'll buy them more than they expected."

After she has gone, Mohiam (who has been casting tarot cards and has received a troubling combination) wonders if Irulan might yet destroy them.

I should admit that Irulan is one of my favorite characters in the entire series.  She is barely present in the first novel at all, only coming to active prominence in the sequel.  But a reread of Dune reveals the fact that Irulan actually hangs over nearly its every page like a shadow, or perhaps like a ghost; this is intensified by a knowledge of Dune Messiah, and I find her story as it plays out here to be moving stuff.

That's all for session 2; see you in a week or so.
 

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