Sunday, August 12, 2018

They Walked Occam's Razor: Dune Club Messiah, Session 5

I'm out of copies of Dune Messiah to show off as far as my own possessions go.  Here's a cool paperback edition I'd like to have:
That's a New English Library edition.  They did the first four novels in this style; may as well have a look at those, too, I guess:


I'm not sure how close any of those is to the content of the actual novels, but hey, who can worry about trivialities like that?
The art on at least the first three novels is by Bruce Pennington.  My favorite of the bunch is Children of Dune, so here's an art-only version:
And while I can't swear this next cover is either Bruce Pennington or New English Library, I've got to share it:
Bless your heart, National Lampoon's Doon.  That's likely to be the only humor we have in tonight's session.
Production growth must not get out of step in my Empire.  That is the substance of my command.  There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence.  And the reason for this is simply because I command it.  I want to emphasize my authority in this area.  I am the supreme energy-eater of this domain, and will remain so, alive or dead.  My Government is the economy.
--Order in Council
The Emperor Paul Muad'dib
Sounds like a dick, if you ask me.  I'm sure there's a deeper significance than that to this epigraph, but it eludes me (possibly because I'm being lazy and am not seeking it). 
[Say, how about an update on the actual Dune Club?  CBG 19 spoke eloquently on the subject of this chapter's epigraph in tonight's session: what Herbert, via Paul, is talking about here is imbalance between production and wages, which creates income disparity. 

This makes sense within the context of the upcoming chapter, because Paul is visiting a "suburb" of seemingly wealthy Fremen whose wealth has slowly slipped away.]
Speaking of lazy, here are some bits I enjoyed, expressed via the lazy method of bulletpoints:
  • The old man who has been guiding Paul says, "Go with Shai-hulud, Muad'dib . . . and remember when you were Usul."
  • "There would be Security men somewhere out there waiting to grab the guide and take the man to a place of questioning, Paul knew.  But Paul found himself hoping the old Fremen would escape."
  • "The air around him was thick with the smell of a reclamation still.  The thing must be poorly capped for its fetid odors to escape, loosing a dangerously wasteful amount of moisture into the night air.  How careless his people had grown, Paul thought.  They were millionaires of water -- forgetful of the days when a man on Arrakis could have been killed for just an eighth share of the water in his body."  This makes me think of a passage earlier in the book where Paul remembers talking to Irulan in a room where the acrid odor of unchanged spice essence hung in the air thanks to a spill.  ("He'd been forced to conduct the interview in the presence of that evil smell, unable to escape a Fremen superstition that evil smells foretold disaster."  [p. 40])  So here, is the thick smell of a reclamation still a moment of foreshadowing?  Oh, I think that's safe to say.
  • Shit gets weird once Paul is inside.  "A dwarf peered out, ancient face on a child's body, an apparition prescience had never seen."  "Paul hesitated.  There'd be no dwarf in the vision, but all else remained identical.  Visions could contain such disparities and still hold true to their original plunge into infinity.  But the difference dared him to hope.  He glanced back up the street at the creamy pearl glistening of his moon swimming out of jagged shadows.  The moon haunted him.  How did it fall?"
  • "The Fremen on cushions cleared his throat, forcing Paul to look at him.  It was Otheym precisely as the vision had revealed him: neck grown scrawny, a bird thing which appeared too weak to support the large head. The face was a lopsided ruin -- networks of crisscrossed scars on the left cheek below a drooping, wet eye, but clear skin on the other side and a straight, blue-in-blue Fremen gaze.  A long kedge of a nose bisected the face."
  • "He felt edgy, constrained by the vision but aware that minor differences had crept in.  How could he exploit the differences?  Time came out of its skein with subtle changes, but the background fabric held oppressive sameness.  He knew with terrifying certainty that if he tried to break out of the enclosing pattern here, it'd become a thing of terrible violence.  The power in this deceptively gentle flow of Time oppressed him."  Boy, you've got to feel a pang of sympathy for the poor bastard tasked with adapting some of this stuff to film.  What Paul is going through here is incredibly dramatic, but it's also incredibly unsuited to being put on film.  There's probably a way to do it; and some filmmaking genius might come along and figure it out one of these days.  I bet it won't be in my lifetime; and it's probably not going to be in yours, either.
  • "They walked occam's razor in this room.  The slightest misstep multiplied horrors -- not just for themselves, but for all humankind, even for those who would destroy them."
  • Paul learns that the dwarf, Bijaz, is a human distrans who contains the names of the alleged Fremen traitors.  "Paul consulted his memory of the vision: in it, he'd left here with the names of the traitors, but never seeing how those names were carried.  The dwarf obviously moved under the protection of another oracle.  It occurred to Paul then that all creatures must carry some kind of destiny stamped out by purposes of varying strengths, by the fixation of training and disposition.  From the moment the Jihad had chosen him, he'd felt himself hemmed in by the forces of a multitude.  Their fixed purposes demanded and controlled his course.  Any delusions of Free Will he harbored now must be merely the prisoner rattling his cage.  His curse lay in the fact that he saw the cage.  He saw it!"
  • Bijaz is instantly a memorable character.  He tells Paul he has the talent for hearing the truth, and Paul asks if he has truthsense.  "I've now-sense," Bijaz answers.  Seems stereotypical to wish to see Peter Dinklage play this character in a movie, but hey, that'd be cool.  Although, to be honest, he'd be a bit miscast; someone with a higher voice would be preferable.  So if I were casting, I'd give Warwick Davis a look first.

This chapter is great, but it's really just kind of a chapter that gets us to the next chapter.


The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other.  Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree.  You have done violence to him, consumed his energy.  Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: "I feed on your energy."
--Addenda to Orders in Council
The Emperor Paul Muad'dib
This epigraph represents rather a bleak assessment of human affairs, wouldn't you say?  Not inappropriately so, and certainly not inconsistent with the rest of the novel.  
Frankly, I feel intellectually inadequate to discuss such weighty issues.  Somebody seems to have been consuming all my energy, and in many cases lately when I've sat down to the PC to blog about one thing or another, what I'm finding is that the only sound coming from my brain is a sort of low humming noise.  I'd kind of hoped to find within myself something cogent to say about Herbert's philosophical examinations; instead, it's like I'm a radio stuck between two stations, picking up no signal.  I know the signal is there; I just can't get my antenna to tune the sumbitches in.
In any case, let's blame me and me along for this; Frank Herbert and his superb novel are blameless.
We'll move on into the meat of the chapter, which focuses on the detonation of a "stone burner" inside Otheym's residence.  It is not entirely clear whether Otheym was aware this was going to happen; seems likely, but I'm not certain of it.  There are certainly hints that Bijaz knows it's going to happen.
Whatever the case, this limited atomic device has a devastating impact by releasing a form of radiation that blinds all those within a certain proximity to it.
Herbert's description of this incident runs for nearly two full pages.  It's awesome; i'm just going to transcribe it all:
     "We want live prisoners," one of the guard officers hissed.
     The sound was a vision-echo in Paul's ears.  It went with solid precision here -- vision/reality, tick for tick.  Ornithopters drifted down across the moon.
     The night was full of Imperial troopers attacking.
     A soft hiss grew out of the other sounds, climbed to a roar while they still heard the sibilance.  It picked up a terra-cotta glow that hid the stars, engulfed the moon.  
     Paul, knowing that sound and glow from the earliest nightmare glimpses of his vision, felt an odd sense of fulfillment.  It went the way it must.
     "Stone burner!" someone screamed.
     "Stone burner!"  The cry was all around him.  "Stone burner . . . stone burner . . ."
     Because it was required of him, Paul threw a protective arm across his face, dove for the low lip of a curb.  It already was too late, of course.
     Where Otheym's house had been there stood now a pillar of fire, a blinding jet roaring at the heavens.  It gave off a dirty brilliance which threw into sharp relief every ballet movement of the fighting and fleeing men, the tipping retreat of ornithopters.
     For every member of this frantic throng it was too late.
     The ground grew hot beneath Paul.  He heard the sound of running men.  Men threw themselves down all around him, every one of them aware that there was no point in running.  The first damage had been done; and now they must wait out the extent of the stone burner's potency.  The thing's radiation, which no man could outrun, already had penetrated their flesh.  The peculiar result of stone-burner radiation already was at work within them.  What else this weapon might do now lay in the planning of the men who had used it, the men who had defied the Great Convention to use it.
     "Gods . . . a stone burner," someone whimpered.  "I . . . don't . . . want . . . to . . . be . . . blind."
     "Who does?"  The harsh voice of a trooper far down the street.
     "The Tleilaxu will sell many eyes here," someone near Paul growled.  "Now, shut up and wait!"
     They waited.
     Paul remained silent, thinking what this weapon implied.  Too much fuel in it and it'd cut its way into the planet's core.  Dune's molten level lay deep, but the more dangerous for that.  Such pressures released and out of control might split a planet, scattering lifeless bits and pieces through space.
One thing that makes Herbert's Dune novels interesting is that more often than not, he omits action scenes.  Plenty of action takes place within the story, but Herbert frequently has it happen between chapters (off-screen, as it were); he's more interested in having his characters talk about the results.  There are exceptions, of course; plenty of them.  And for my money, this business with the stone burner is among the most visceral moments in these first two novels.
A few thoughts based on this passage:
  • I love the way the hissing command of the guard officer plays like an echo in Paul's mind, and I especially love how that echo turns into the hissing of the stone burner as it begins its devastation.
  • Herbert tells us that Paul has know this stone burner will strike "from the earliest nightmare glimpses of his vision."  I wonder how far that goes back; quite a few years, probably, but could it be as far as Caladan?
  • "Because it was required of him," Paul attempts to shield himself.  Think about that for a bit.  Imagine that you know a bomb is going to go off that is going to rob you of your vision, and that when it does, you throw an arm over your eyes basically just because.  Oh well, fuck it, why not? you think, and put an arm over your eyes; la-la-la-di-da, protecting my eyes, yessir, protecting my eyes, doo-dah-dum!  What an incredibly odd feeling that must be.
  • Is William Shatner one of the Imperial troopers?  (Speaking of which, if you could cast William Shatner -- a Shatner of any era -- in a hypothetical Dune movie or its sequel, what role would you give him?  The BEST answer is: every role.  But that's not realistic, so I'm going to say TOS-era Shatner would have made a stupendous Duncan Idaho.)
  • One imagines that whoever in the conspiracy was in charge of measuring the stone burner's fuel was under the strictest possible orders to make sure Arrakis was not accidentally split into a new asteroid field by the device's detonation.  You don't want to be the guy who got those calculations wrong and had to then explain why there was no more spice.  That guy is gonna have a real, real bad day at work.

The big revelation of the chapter is that even though Paul has been blinded, he can still see via his prescient vision.  In order to do this, it seemingly takes a sort of conscious effort: "As he looked at the troopers beginning to stand up around him, the mist on Paul's eyes faded into darkness."  (Damn.)  "He summoned up his oracular vision of these moments, then, turned and strode along the track that Time had carved for him, fitting himself into the vision so tightly that it could not escape.  He felt himself grow aware of this place as a multitudinous possession, reality welded to prediction."
This is a rather incredible plot development; and yes, I mean that as a compliment.  There's really not much else in fiction quite like this; some of what Alan Moore does with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen gives it a run for its money, but this idea of a blinded Paul Muad'dib whose sight is nevertheless intact is something that has been with me for decades, and is seemingly never going to go away.
And boy, how I hope it never does.
He has gone from Alia,
The womb of heaven!
Holy, holy, holy!
Fire-sand leagues
Confront our Lord.
He can see
Without eyes!
A demon upon him!
Holy, holy, holy
He solved for

--The Moon Falls Down
Songs of Muad'dib

That epigraph combines two of my least favorite things: religion and mathematics.  So we'll move on from it quickly.

My notes on this chapter:

  • There is talk of some of the blinded Fremen preferring suicide over being given Tleilaxu eyes.  There's likely an entire post to be written about the motif of eyes in this novel.  If what we've been told is true, and Fremen -- subconsciously or otherwise -- consider eyes to be a window to their worldview, then it makes a sort of sense that they would sooner die than accept a new pair of eyes (i.e., a new worldview).
  • "I promise you a thing, beloved," Paul tells Chani, who is fairly creeped out by this new and eyeless version of him.  "A child of ours will rule such an empire that mine will fade in comparison."  Given some of the scale we've encountered -- literal and otherwise -- in this novel, that's a statement that truly gives one cause for slack-jawed wonderment.  We're mostly not privy to any of what goes on in Paul's head regarding what he knows of the future, but a statement like this one implies an immensity that is beyond our ability to comprehend.
  • A lovely bit of writing from the moment when Chani finds herself bemused by Paul's seeming ignorance of the fact that she is pregnant with twins: "She wondered then why he always spoke of the life within her as singular.  Hadn't the medics told him?  She searched back in her own memory, curious that the subject had never arisen between them.  Surely, he must know she carried twins.  She hesitated on the point of raising this question.  He must know.  He knew everything.  He knew all the things that were herself.  His hands, his mouth -- all of him knew her."
  • I dig this description(from Alia's point of view) of Korba, who sounds like a real piece of work: "Her gaze kept straying to Korba.  She tried to remember him as the rough and bearded commander of the third wave in the battle of Arrakeen.  It was impossible.  Korba had become an immaculate fop dressed now in a Parato silk robe of exquisite cut.  It lay open to the waist, revealing a beautifully laundered ruff and embroidered undercoat set with green gems.  A purple belt gathered the waist.  The sleeves poking through the robe's armhole slits had been tailored into rivulet ridges of dark green and black velvet."
  • On page 251, we have a quasi cameo scene from Lady Jessica!  She doesn't show up, but we hear from her via a letter she has sent Alia, in which she's refused to allow Caladan to be a stop for pilgrims on the hajj.  "No doubt my son is an epochal figure of history," she says, "but I cannot see this as an excuse for submitting to a rabble invasion."  I mean, I really don't blame her.
  • On page 256, we find out that a worm has indeed been stolen and taken to another world.  I hereby demand a Rogue One style movie in which we see the story of the band of lunatics who pulled that heist off.  But only if it's as good a movie as Rogue One is.  And if that means Darth Vader has to show up at the end and wreck a bunch of fools, then so be it.
  • The main character of this spinoff movie needs to be one who is briefly mentioned on p. 258.  Paul, speaking to Korba, is listing the names of certain naibs who are missing from council and, presumably, were mixed up in the great worm heist plot.  "Whjere are MErku and Fash?" he asks.  "Keke the Lame isn't with us today."  Keke the Lame!!!!!  Oh, man, I've gotta know more about Keke the Lame.  Google returns a mere five hits on the subject.  Five!!!!!  In Google terms, that means Keke the Lame may as well not even exist.  This is both sad and weirdly cheering.


Tibana was an apologist for Socratic Christianity, probably a native of IV Anbus who lived between the eight and ninth centuries before Corrino, likely in the second reign of Dalamak.  Of his writings, only a portion survives from which this fragment is taken: "The hearts of all men dwell in the same wilderness."
--from The Dunebuk of Irulan

I have a very serious question about this epigraph.  Is that the correct way to adjectivally represent those centuries?  See, I myself would write "eighth and ninth centuries," and I'm tempted to assume this is simply a typo.  However, if you consider "eight and ninth" to be a singular concept, refer to a single period of time that contains both centuries -- as opposed to thinking of this as two different century-length period of time -- then maybe that IS the correct usage.  Frank Herbert probably knows better than I would.

Unpacking the actual content of the epigraph a bit, it seems to me to primarily be another way of stating this novel's theme of the course of humanity being an essentially ungovernable force.  If the hearts of people do indeed dwell in the wilderness, that's another way of suggesting that humans are, at heart, still wild animals.  If that is so, then their most deep-seated impulses are essentially ungovernable.  This is bad news for someone who has taken a lot of trouble to construct a government.

This chapter consists of a conversation between Hayt and Bijaz, who informs the ghola, "You are not Hayt.  You are Duncan Idaho.  I was there when they put your dead flesh into the tank and I was there when they removed it, alive and ready for training."  He tells him later, "We had a terrific struggle with you.  The flesh did not want to come back."

Duncan intuits during the course of the meeting that if Bijaz is a weapon, it is Duncan himself at which the dwarf has been aimed.  Bijaz confirms this, and begins singing to the ghola; this is a built-in trigger that puts Duncan into a sort of trance and permits Bijaz to program him further, for specific actions.  "You are the instrument I was taught to play," Bijaz says.

His reprogramming of the ghola complete, Bijaz brings Duncan out of the trance; Duncan picks up where he'd left off, accusing Bijaz of targeting him.  "What is it you'd try to do with me?" he demands.

"A kindness," the Tleilaxu weapon answers.  "A simple kindness."

We'll find out what that is next week, as Dune Club Messiah reaches its finale.


  1. Holy moley those New English Library edition and the pics that follow from Bruce (and a return from Doon!) are absolutely fantastic.

    It's killing me not to read these - I peeked tonight but jumped out after that point. Awesome book design, though.

    1. Yeah, I love those covers -- I keep resisting the temptation to get on eBay or wherever and try to find them all. I'll only be able to hold out so long, though; maybe next summer for Children Of Dune Club.