Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dune

After seeing The Lady Downstairs to the Kenmore bus stop (she had to return home in order to do some reading on fraternal correction for an Aquinas reading group dinner/discussion tonight), I went to the BU Barnes and Noble. After skimming through some magazines, I went upstairs to the philosophy section, to see what titles by Habermas were available. Nothing I was interested in, though there was a copy of Truth and Justification, but I didn't really feel like skimming through it, since it didn't seem susceptible to a quick skim (a review of the book by Richard Rorty). Perhaps I'll go to the Coop or Harvard Book Store to see their Habermas selections.

I came back downstairs and the science fiction section caught my eye--specifically, the Dune section. I had read the first four novels, but not the last two finished by Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune. I knew Brian Herbert (in collaboration with Kevin Anderson) had written some prequels, like House Atreides, but I had read a lukewarm review, so I wasn't interested in those works. Besides, the Dune universe is a morally iffy one, and certainly there is no sign of a transcendent God, even if it handles some popular sci-fi themes in an epic and memorable manner. (I don't think Herbert was one for elaborate details--he certainly leaves a lot for the imagination, and I think this helps, rather than hurts, the novel.) In fact, religion (institutional or otherwise) is seen to be a means of manipulation of mankind, with the justification that those doing the manipulating are doing it for the sake of human progress and evolution. (Certainly, in the Dune universe, humans can improve themselves and create new powers through intelligence and the application of technology, such as genetic manipulation--another prominent theme within sci-fi. In fact, the powers that are acquired in the Dune universe might even be said to be "divine" or "godlike." There's no obvious and consistent account of what moral progress is and how it is to be ultimately--no endorsement of Enlightenment ideals here--it may be that Leto II's Golden Path is a path to peace, which will be achieved by balancing opposing tensions within human nature [and overcoming external enemies], and that peace is the best that we can hope for, while individuals pursue their own private interests. Such as indulging in spice addiction. Is consequentualism, and a consequentialist understanding of benevolent despotism, the moral system that resonates the most with the book? )

Review of The Butlerian Jihad

Working from materials left by his father, Brian Herbert published The Road to Dune in 2004, which has some "deleted scenes" from the novels, plus some short stories. Might be important for a fanatic. I took a quick look, perhaps I would borrow a library copy...

I skimmed through parts of Hunters of Dune, the first of two volumes which promises to wrap up the Dune series and tie all the various plot lines together, as well as answer the questions of Dune fans. It wasn't bad. The second volume, Sandworms of Dune, is scheduled for release September 2007. Fans complain that the writing of the son doesn't match that of his father; what should one expect? Unfortunately in this universe (not like the Dune universe), memories (and imaginations) can't be transferred. I don't think there are "notes" or "sayings" or the like at the head of each chapter--an indication that this is really the end? Or a lack of creativity?

Links
Official Dune website (Dune 7 blog)
wiki: Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, Dune
various interviews with Brian Herbert: space.com; ugo.com; SF Site; about.com; Sci-Fi weekly; SciFi Dimensions
More Dune links
Sci-Fi channel's Dune; Children of Dune
David Lynch
Dune.info

Childen of Hurin
Speaking of unfinished works that have been completed by the author's children--in case you haven't heard, JRR Tolkien's unfinished Children of Hurin has been edited into a complete work by his son Christopher, and will be published next Spring.



I was just reminded that when we passed by Sonsie I saw two middle-aged Asian women (Korean? Japanese?) drinking something and chatting inside... attractive? Perhaps... but typical middle-aged look with lots of make-up, really red lipstick...

3 comments:

Lady Downstairs said...

La, how could you almost forget to mention the middle aged Asian ladies? Me, today I ducked into the Cambridge Hotel to inobstrusively find the Ladies' Room. The hotel was packed with Thais celebrating the King's Birthday or Ascension Day. Hard to be inobstrusive when you look like me in a crowd of Thais. I thought twice about sneaking a piece of fruit from the table. I am sure there were a million handsome Thai men but what pick-up line could I use? "So! What do you think of martial law?" or "So I hear the King plays jazz. That's smokin'."

Pete Takeshi said...

I was always rather bothered by the Dune franchise, even the first one.

Specifically, I thought the first novel couldn't live up to its own beginning: Herbert creates an engaging world of intrigue in the Landsraad, and then promptly throws it all away on eco-messianism and a barely relevant tribe of desert dwellers. That it continues down this path for five more installments (the cult of Atreides divinity, the Golden Path, etc.) to me at least is nothing short of frustrating.

(The same complaint could be levelled against the Star Wars series in its fixation upon Tatooine of all places.)

He does make a big distinction between computer technology and eugenics as avenues of scientific research. I've read that his original "Butlerian Jihad" was more a philosophical one in the vein of Erewhon than a literal rebellion against machines as outlined in his son's book; that humanity saw computers as limiting its own innate abilites and rejected computers as a means of self-development. I find it more chilling that he would consider computer technology to be the greater of two evils. The OC Bible forbids making "machines in the image of the human mind", but he has no qualms with remaking human minds and bodies into the image of machines -- the Mentats, Bene Gesserit, and Guild Navigators are computing machines, the Fremen and Sardaukar are both war machines shaped by harsh environments to kill on command, and the Qwisatz Haederach is nothing more than an artificial messiah manufactured by selective breeding for petty reasons.

It's a common failing of SF and those that enjoy it (and a pet peeve of mine) -- to assume that humanity will evolve, spontaneously or through experimentation, into some sort of "higher being".

papabear said...

Hrm, it would be interesting to see if the Butlerian jihad was originally more of a peaceful struggle, but I suspect that given the origin of the name that he intended it to be violent. (Especially if he is working off an understanding of jihad as the use of violence/force against others.)

I don't see him being inconsistent with regards to calculation skills--while computers might be able to replicate calculation skills in the Dune Universe (such as when the mentats possess), perhaps Herbert believes that what goes beyond calculation skills (e.g. prescience, and all the other fun stuff to be gained through genetic manipulation), is what humans should be striving for. Perhaps there is even a notion that thinking machines are abominations, much like Alia is an abomination. Unnatural, etc, an affront to the dignity of human beings, who should be unique as thinking things.