Sci-Fi Drugs

The other night, I had one of those moments. It was a moment where I found myself thinking about a cool concept and realized that it would make a damn fine post. It’s also one that interests me quite a bit and has even influenced my own writing. So as quickly as I could, I hopped on my laptop (even though it was 2am) and began making a list of all the sci-fi drugs I knew!

To me, the reasons for including drugs as part of a sci-fi franchise are obvious. For one, drugs and drug cultures are very much a part of our society, so it’s only natural that a sci-fi author should have something to say about it. As Gibson said, all sci-fi is really about the time in which it is written, ergo fictionalized drugs in future settings are really a reflection on the attitudes of today.

On the other hand, creating fictitious drugs and inventing subcultures that use them are a good way to give a story some realistic background. Wherever and whenever a story takes place, you have to assume that they will have narcotic substances there, and what form they take and how they go about dealing with them tells you much about that culture.

Either way, it’s a subject that has fascinated me for quite some time. So here are some highlights from the wold of sci-fi drugs!

Can-D:
Here we have a designer drug that was created by none other than sci-fi great Philip K. Dick. As fans may know, this guy was somewhat of an expert on drugs, having taken part in the Californian drug counter-culture during the 60s and 70s. As a result, he had a lot to say about drug use, their impact, and drug policy.

In this particular case, the drug comes to us from the story of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Taking place in the 21st century, where global warming has sent millions of people off Earth to the hostile environments of the Solar System, people have turned to a combination of the drug Can-D and what are known as “layouts.”

Layouts are physical props intended to simulate a sort of alternate reality where life is easier than either the grim existence of the off-world colonies or life on Earth. By taking the drug in conjunction with the layouts, people are able to experience a sort of shared hallucinogenic state. This in turn has given rise to pseudo-religious cults that have grown up around the use of layouts and the drug, consisting of people who dream of better worlds than the one they are forced to endure.

Dancer:
To complete the semi-dystopian setting of his Bridge Trilogy, Gibson was sure to add a designer drug that was all the rage amongst Californians in the near future. The drug was named Dancer, a powerful and addictive hallucinogen that apparently came in the form of a red dust. People would take it orally, rub it on their gums, smoke it or snort it.

In short, Dancer was like a red cocaine, except that it caused hallucinations rather than manic behavior. People who consumed it would typically become euphoric and mellow, causing them to get all rhythmic and break into dance (hence the name). However, it was was also known to make people violent from time to time, which made it more akin to the the effects of PCP.

Inspired by California’s drug culture and the emergence of designer drugs in the early 90s, Dancer was clearly meant to serve as an allegory for multiple drugs, or as a prediction of what the next big craze could be.

Dust:
Fans of Babylon 5 ought to remember this one. Basically, the drug was a hot item on the black market because it had the ability to give users temporary telepathic powers. It was violently addictive, and known for giving a very powerful and unique high. However, in the course of trying to stop the Dust trade to B5, Psi Cop Bester acknowledged that the drug was originally created by the Psi Corps as a way of creating telepaths.

When they realized it didn’t work, the drug was abandoned, but made its way to the black market because of its obvious appeal. As a longtime fan of B5, I can honestly say it was elements like this that made me like the show. Not only was the concept and the name cool, the fact that it began as a government-sanctioned drug was also believable and clearly inspired by the history of many real-world drugs.

Neuroin:
Inspired by Philip K Dick’s short story, Minority Report was a quasi-dystopian future where the use of precognitives promised to eliminate all violent crime from society. But of course, there’s a dark side to all this, and it just happens to be linked to the underworld drug known as Neuroin, a powerful and addictive psychoactive substance.

Though it is never explained in any real detail, the name suggests that it is of the opiate family and possibly combined with a neural stimulant. In addition to being the drug of choice of the protagonist, it is also the very thing that created the precognitives in the first place. All three psychics were once children who suffered brain damage in utero as a result of their mothers’ neuroin use. Though damaged neurologically, a side effect was the development of precognitive powers, which the state began to use in order to engineer the process known as “PreCrime.”

Based on the film adaptation, the principal means of taking neuroin appears to be through a specialized inhaler. This would allude to the fact that neuroin was taken in vaporized form. In the end, this drug served as both a commentary on the dangers of escapism as well as a plot device. While neuroin was the reason for the precognitives existence, it was also how the main character chose to numb himself over the loss of his son.

Nuke:
The designer drug from Robocop 2, and one man’s attempt at achieving his dream of becoming a Jesus-like figure! Designed by Cain, Nuke was an extremely pleasurable and addictive substance that began making the rounds in Old Detroit by the second movie. Coupled with a Police strike and financial ruin, Nuke seemed to be the thing that would finally break Detroit and allow the greedy bastards at OCP to finally take over.

There are several kinds of Nuke, but by far the most popular variety comes in the form of the red sludge. This is known as Red Ramrod, and was followed shortly thereafter by White Noise, Blue Velvet, and Black Thunder. The color scheme alluded to Cain’s “patriotic” sentiments, as he was known to say that his drug was making “Made in America” mean something again.

Nuke comes only in liquid form and is taken by means of small needles that inject the drug directly into the bloodstream. Because of its highly pleasurable nature and chemical properties, only a few doses are needed before a person becomes hooked and will experience intense withdrawal if they don’t get a regular dose. A commentary on the emergence of designer drugs, it was also served as a means for making some tough observations on drug use and its effect on society.

Snow Crash:
This drug is, admittedly a little off the beaten path. Featured in the Neal Stephenson novel of the same name, Snow Crash was essentially an allegory for a system crash, but in neurological form. Taking the form of both an inhalant and a digital virus, the “drug” had the effect of rendering users docile, passive and babbling an idioglossia similar to speaking in tongues.

But of course, there was more to it than all that. Basically, Snow Crash was designed by an information tycoon named L. Bob Rife who wanted control over people’s minds and daily habits. Using a Sumerian tablet, he basically encoded the ancient “Enki virus” – a virus that altered humanity’s neurology and spawned modern languages. So really, he was looking to reverse the Babel myth, making humanity neurologically simpler and thus programmable.

In addition to being a commentary on the drug culture, Snow Crash was also an observation about the proliferation of computer viruses in the early 90s and an allegory on the similarities between ancient myth and modern technology. It was also pretty cool and weird!

Soma:
When it comes to designer drugs, Soma pretty much takes the cake. Derived from Aldous Huxley’s classic tale of dystopia and social engineering, Brave New World, Soma was the kind of drug that came with the label “good for what ails ya” and meant it literally. Designed to cure any and all emotional problems, the pill was mass produced and a key feature of the World State’s apparatus of social control.

Use of Soma is prescribed at a very young age to citizens of the World State, as soon as children are old enough to begin sleep conditioning. Slogans such as “a gram is better than a damn” are programmed into their minds so that they respond to emotional stress by simply popping a pill. This is often referred to as “taking a vacation”.

To illustrate the effects of the drug, Huxley relied on his own experience using mescalin and other drugs. Apparently, subjects using Soma would enter a dream-like state where everything became pleasant and agreeable, all their worries and unpleasant emotions melting away. This dream-like state could be discerned by observing a person’s eyes, which would become noticeably glazed.

In addition, though the state freely distributed the drug and there were no shortages, Soma was still designed to be non-addictive and with no harmful side effects. This, added to its effectiveness, made it the ultimate designer drug and a very effective means of social control. A commentary on the pharmaceutical industry of his day and on the drug culture of the 1920s and 30s, Soma remains the most popular example of a fictional sci-fi drug!

Spice:
Then again, the spice melange is pretty damn popular too. However, as the only drug on this list that is not designed or synthesized, and is by definition an “awareness narcotic,” Spice is really in a category of its own. Taken from the Dune series, Spice was the most precious resource in the universe in more ways than one.

For starters, Spice could only be found on one planet, the desert world known as Arrakis. Mining Spice was also a highly hazardous duty, due to the inhospitable climate of Arrakis and the presence of Sandworms. And given its many benefits, which included prolonged life and expanded awareness, it’s little wonder why it was so damned expensive!

A clear allegory for oil, all life and commerce in the Imperium of Dune revolved around Spice in one way or another. The Guild Navigators used it to achieve their limited prescience and guide ships through foldspace. The Bene Gesserit used it to enhance their mental and physical acuity and make contact with their “Other Memory”. And every house used it to improve their health and longevity. In short, without Spice, all trade and commerce in the universe would end and countless people would die.

And of course, there never would have been a Paul Mua’dib or a Leto II, and humanity would have died as a result! That’s quite a drug them people got there!

Substance D:
Once again, we have a fictitious drug that comes to us straight from the mind of Philip K Dick. Featured in his 1977 book A Scanner Darkly about the drug subculture of California, Substance D was a powerful psychoactive drug that also went by the name “Slow Death.” The name proved apt, as the drug was not only violently addictive, but resulted in brain damage due to overuse.

According to the story, Substance-D was synthesized from the fictitious blue flower Mors ontologica, which is Latin for “death of being”. In the course of the story, the protagonist – an undercover narcotics agent – becomes addicted to the drug, suffers brain damage and is sent to one of the new recovery centers (“New Path”) to get clean.

In time, he is given the task of working on one of their many farms and learns that these places serve as grow ops for the flower. Hence, we see that “New Path” is the source of Substance-D, and is therefore benefiting from both the drug and the harmful effect it has on society. A commentary on strong-arm governments and the pharmaceutical industry perhaps?

Final Thoughts:
When it comes to fictionalized narcotics, a few basic features become evident. For one, fictional drugs can take one of two forms, being either of the organic or synthetic (i.e. designer) variety. Second, their use as part of a story’s background is meant to call attention to our current drug wars, warts and all. But above all, they seem to serve as a form of social commentary by pointing to the ongoing nature of temptation, escapism and repression. On the one hand, human beings will always be looking for escapes and ways to ease the burden of existence. On the other, we are always likely to feel the need to control the flow of narcotic substances and legislate what people can and can’t put in their bodies.

Finally, I found that just about all the authors here were taking a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, approach. Essentially, they were content to sit back and make observations on the whole issue of drug use and moral legislation, rather than making pronouncements. This would seem the preferable option considering that you can’t really offer a clear resolution without sounding either enabling or preachy. Some say that drug use destroys society, other say that people have the right to put whatever they want in their bodes. And then there are those who say that human weakness is a constant, and that criminalizing such a thing turns a flaw into a war. Complicated!

On a brighter note, all this talk puts me in mind of my own fictional creations. Years back, when I was coming up with the concept for my Legacies story, I spent a fair bit of time pondering what kind of drugs people would be using in the relatively distant future. I think I might just dedicate a page or a post to just that topic. In truth, I’d like to know what people think about my inventions. Look for it, it shall be coming soon!

Technology in the Dune Universe

Hello again techies and social studies experts! I’m sorry, I assume those are the only two kinds of people who would enjoy these posts šŸ˜‰ Regardless, I love doing them, mainly because it gives me a chance to exercise a little critical thinking when it comes to some of the most popular franchises of science fiction.

And today, I thought I’d tackle the bid baddy of classic sci-fi, Mr. Frank Herbert himself. Whereas most writers in this expansive genre tend to take a highly positive or negative view, Herbert distinguished himself by being highly subtle, ambiguous and multilayered in his approach.

Far from saying technology would save humanity, or condemn it, he seemed to be arguing that it really wouldn’t alter our basic makeup and behavior. That, presumably, would only come with thousands of years of natural evolution, selective breeding and funky narcotics!

But I digress, here are some examples of the technologies that characterized the Dune universe:

Atomics:
stoneburnerEvery house in the Dune universe keeps a nuclear arsenal in reserve. However, since the Great Convention forbids their use in war, and anyone found in dereliction would guarantee their own obliteration, they are not employed. Everybody’s got em, nobody uses em! At least not anymore…

Their last known use occurred on Selusa Secundus many years before the events of the first novel. It was here that a rogue house employed several in an attempt to destroy House Corrin. The attempt failed and the house was eradicated, their name erased from history. Unfortunately, Selusa Secundus was left a radioactive ruin, hence why it was converted to serve as the Emperor’s prison planet.

However, one type of nuclear device is still legal under the Great Convention. Known as a Stone Burner, these devices emit powerful J-radiation that destroys eye-tissue, rendering everyone in the blast vicinity blind. However, their primary function is to burn through a planet’s crust. If they are powerful enough, they are able to burn clean through to a planet’s core and destroy them planet from within.

Axlotl Tank:
2007-8-18_DuneAxlotlTankThough widely used in the Dune universe, axlotl technology is also one of its most mysterious. A trade secret of the Tleilaxu, an axlotl tank is a “device for reproducing a living human being from the cells of a cadaver,” resulting in what is known as a ghola. In addition, the Tleilaxu Masters use these tanks in order to produce clones of themselves and keep their line going.

As the series progresses, axlotl tanks began being used to produce the spice melange, which had previously only been available on Arrakis. In time, it was also revealed that axlotl tanks were in fact Tleilaxu females, women whose bodies had been converted to grow gholas, clones and spice inside their wombs.

Guild Heighliner:
Dune_heighlinerThe principal means of interstellar transport in the Dune universe, a heighliner is a Guild ship that is capable of transporting massive amounts of people and cargo. Powered by the Holtzman Drive (see below) the ship is capable of “folding space” – jumping from one point in space-time to the next – instantaneously.

Each Guild Heighliner comes with its own navigator, a Guild mutant who uses their semi-prescient abilities to see through space and time to chart a safe rout for the ship to fly. The navigators do all this from inside their giant tanks where they remain immersed in spice gas.

Holtzman Drive:
foldspaceThis is the technology that allows Guild Heighliners to fold space, thus traveling instantaneously form one point in the universe to another. Using what is known as the “Holtzman Effect”, the same phenomena that powers personal shields as well as the catastrophic effect when one comes into contact with the beam of a lasgun.

Though it is never explained in detail, some hints are given throughout the series as to what principles of physics may be involved. For example, in Chapterhouse: Dune, an allusion was made to tachyon particles, the theoretical particle that can presumably travel faster than light.

Lasgun:
lasgunThe appendix of the first Dune novel, titled Terminology of the Imperium, defines Lasgun as follows:

continuous-wave laser projector. Its use as a weapon is limited in a field-generator-shield culture because of the explosive pyrotechnics (technically, subatomic fusion) created when its beam intersects a shield.

At one time, these directed energy weapons were the mainstay of Imperial armed forces. However, the development of shields meant that their use had to become more selective. Mounted on ships, ornithopters, and carried by infantry, lasguns remain a highly effective weapon, capable of cutting through any material.

No-Chamber/No-Ship:
ixian_noshipThis technology was first mentioned in God Emperor of Dune and took the form of a No-Chamber. This Ixian invention was basically a chamber that was cloaked in a stealth field which blocked it from prescient vision as well as more conventional means of detection.

After the death of Leto II, this technology was expanded to include No-Ships and even No-Globes. The former were basically heighliners which were equipped with no-fields and the Ixian machine which did the job of a Guild Navigator. In essence, these ships were not only sheilded from prescient vision, but were invisible to sensors and even the naked eye.

No-Globes were an even larger version of the technology, capable of covering an entire planet in a no-field and rendering it both invisible to prescience, invisible to the naked eye and undetectable. However, in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, it is suggested that those of Atreides ancestry are capable of seeing through no-fields. This proved to be the case when Miles Teg was awakened to his abilities after being examined with an Ixian T-probe. His ghola also had this ability once he was awakened to his past memories.

Ornithopter:
dune_thopter1In the Dune universe, ornithopters (or ‘thopters) are the principle means of planetary transportation. Combining jet thrusters with articulated wings, the thopter is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, making it one of the most versatile flying machines ever invented.

Though most are used for commercial and personnel transport, thopters are also capable of being militarized, and often are. Armed missiles, bombs, lasguns, and even shields, they are most effective when used in an assault and/or supporting role.

Personal Shields:
Holtzmanshields-Dune1984The Terminology of the Imperium defines them as follows: the protective field produced by a Holtzman generator. This field derives from Phase One of the suspensor-nullification effect. A shield will permit entry only to objects moving at slow speeds (depending on setting, this speed ranges from six to nine centimeters per second) and can be shorted out only by a shire-sized electric field.

While these shields can be mounted on aircraft, vehicles and even large structures, the most common use is in the form of personal shielding units. These are worn by infantry for battle or for the sake of combat training in order to prevent serious injury. The introduction of this technology to the battlefield had a regressionary effect on warfare in that it forced troops to largely abandon energy and ballistic weapons in favor of hand to hand combat. Hence why swords and knives are commonly used in the Dune universe.

Stillsuit:
stillsuitThe trade secret of the Fremen! Stillsuits, as the name suggests, are a water reclamation and purification system that are worn by the desert-dwelling nomads whenever they are out on the sand dunes. Powered by the motion of it’s user, which includes foot-pumps mounted in the suit’s heels, the system turns all water loss – perspiration, urination, even feces – into usable water which they can draw from a tube near their mouth.

Given water’s scarcity on Arrakis, the purpose of these suits is clear. By preventing moisture loss and recycling it into useable water, they ensure that a person out in the open can sustain themselves indefinitely in the extremely dry and hot desert environment. As Doctor Kynes himself remarked: “With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won’t lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day..”

Conclusions:
When it comes to science fiction franchises, one can tell a lot by the technology, big and small, that are all part of the background. And when looks over these examples of technology in the Dune universe, a few things become abundantly clear right away:

  1. The connection between environment and invention: Because the bulk of the story takes place on Arrakis, much of the technology we see was specifically adapted for desert use. Shields were useless in the desert environment, turbofans often broke down from dust and sand, and even massive crawlers were at risk of being consumed by Sandworms. In short, all the advanced technology of the Imperium was either useless or subject to hazards from the desert and its creatures. In the end, the most basic inventions, stillsuits and thumpers, were best suited to ensure survival. In short, those technologies who worked with the environment instead of against it were the most likely to work. More indications followed, such as how Paul’s father said to him that “On Caladan we ruled by sea and air power, but here on Arrakis, you need desert power.” On the one hand, this would seem to indicate that every planetary environment required its own balance of technology, Caladan being a sea planet meant ships and aircraft were the weapons of choice. On the other, he seemed to be alluding to the fact that rule on Arrakis required the allegiance of those who knew the desert best (i.e. the Fremen)
  2. Technology as regressive as well as progressive:This is something that I found particularly intriguing about the Dune universe, which was how it combined medievalism and futurism. On the one hand, humans have perfected interstellar travel and have colonized millions of planets throughout the galaxy. On the other, they fight with swords, knives, and live under a feudal system of government. As the story progresses, two reasons are given for why this is:
    1. After the Bulterian Jihad, the Great Convention established that no thinking machines or anything resembling them would ever be created again. As Leto II remarked in GEOD: “The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines… Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments.” In short, the purpose of the Great Convention was not just to ban AI’s but the very mentality that had created them. Thenceforth, the very concept of industrial dependence was to be banned. And as Duncan Idaho later observed, such an economy was the basis for unlimited consumption and growing social equality. This ideal, borne of the Industrial Revolution, was also the cause of social chaos and the eventual rise of AI’s. By banning these and the system that ensured their creation, humanity was effectively going back to a time where feudal control by a small group of barons was basically necessary.
    2. The Great Convention also forbade the use of atomics. This meant that war had to be conventional from now on. The advent of shields also meant that energy weapons were no longer advisable, which meant that soldiers were further forced to adapt to conventional means of fighting – i.e. hand to hand combat. Swords, knives, and slow-pellet stunners were now mainstays of modern warfare, not by choice, but by necessity.

All of this leads to conclude that Frank Herbert was a freaking genius, or at least possessed a very complicated intellect. Whereas most science fiction and speculative writers tend to take a positive or negative view of technology, he preferred to take a very historic and ambiguous view of it. Setting his story in the distant future, one would immediately get the impression that humanity would be so highly evolved that it no longer resembled humanity of today.

However, Frank showed us a universe where humans were not only very much like they are today but also retained elements from our past. Much like the world of today, people are dependent on a single resource, are subject to petty rivalries, and a morally dubious system. But like the world of yesteryear, they are ruled by dukes, barons, emperors, and a system of entitlement and gross privilege and view democracy as a threatening sham.

One can only assume that Frank was making the point that human nature will not change as a result of technological innovation or space travel. Sure, AI’s and cybernetics might emerge down the road, giving humanity the ability to enhance their bodies and thought processes. But Frank’s take on this was that humans would naturally revolt against these once they came to the conclusion that they were needlessly complicated people’s lives.

So in the end, the only way out of being human was to create “mature humanity” as the Bene Gesserit said. This consisted of selective breeding and organic enhancement, relentlessly training people to strengthen their minds, bodies, and unlock the mysteries of the brain, eventually culminating in a person who could not only access their genetic memory, but merge space and time in their own mind. Interesting… and freaky!

Well, my mind is blown and I got nothing more to say. Stay tuned for something else, assuming I can overcome the effects of venturing into Frank’s head space. Man, it’s weird and awesome in there, kind of like a spice trance!

Hunters of Dune, part II

Hunters of Dune, part II

Okay, now that I’ve managed to sum up the book, let’s get down to why it sucked! In addition to the usual weakness one can expect out of a book by these two – bad characters, bad story, cliches, and a general feeling of exploitation – there were several other glaring points. As usual, I’ve tried to break them down as succinctly as possible, going from best to worst.

1. Sequel Complex:
As I’m sure I’ve said before, the Preludes and Legends series suffered from an unmistakable sense of duty. I.e. the story was brought down by the voluminous amount of page time that was dedicated to origins stories and explanations that really had little or nothing to do with the main plot. In this book, things were turned around slightly. Instead of explaining where everything came from, the duo dedicated all kinds of page time and chapters to explaining where everything went.

Examples abounds, but here are just a few that come to mind. In the early chapters, much is made of the differences between the BG’s and HM’s and how they were having a hard time getting along. This was best demonstrated by Murbella’s chief companions, one a BG, the other an HM (for the life of me, I can’t remember their names!). Point is, after many chapters of doing the “odd couple” thing, the HM woman suddenly kills the BG woman, Murbella forces her to take on the other’s memories, and the thread is dropped.

Another example comes in the form of Uxtal and his efforts with the HM’s. After having several chapters dedicated to him and his attempts at recreating axlotl tanks so he can make gholas, artificial spice, and the raising of the Baron Harkonnen ghola, he is killed and fed to a farmer’s sligs. If the early chapters that featured him were any indication, it was that he was supposed to be a main character. However, once he serves his purpose, he’s cast aside and the thread that took place from his POV dies. Just another victim of Brian and KJA’s writing style!

And finally, there’s the many, many chapters dedicated in the beginning designed to flesh out every single detail about the gholas, the Face Dancers efforts to infiltrate the Old Empire, and the the war between the Sisterhood and the HM holdouts. For the most part, these chapters feel like pure filler, giving us a slew of boring details that could have been left in the background and do nothing to build towards the climax.

2. Weak Writing:
Brian and KJA are known for their wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characters. But in Hunters, as with the Preludes series, things were not nearly as bad as they were with the Legends series. One can infer from this that wherever Frank’s original characters and notes were available and the duo didn’t have to rely on their own instincts, everything read much better. However, some examples of crappy writing still crept into this book and it really showed!

Take the part of the book where the Paul and Chani gholas are talking and falling back into love. Seriously, the dialogue was so weak and sappy that I was honestly reminded of the terrible love scene from Attack of the Clones! “I love you. I have always loved you. Time cannot separate us,” is literally the type of dialogue that occurs here. Who the hell talks like this? Also, consider the chapter where Sheeana decides to ride one of their captive sandworms in front of a Futar. The purpose, apparently, was to impress the half man, half felines, in order to earn their loyalty and get information from them about the Handlers (who they are, etc). It responds by saying “You better than Handlers!” And thenceforth, they become their loyal protectors. Weak!

Another glaring example is the many, many references to what is referred to as the Outside Enemy (this is actually how it appears in the text). In Chapterhouse, we are made aware that the HM’s were themselves fleeing from something, and that was why they had returned to the Old Empire and were seeking to obtain the BG’s secrets. However, at no point where they referred to as the Outside Enemy. What’s more, this is such a lame name for an enemy. Hell, it’s not even a name, it’s a basic description! It as if they had found a footnote in Frank’s notes where he described the threat in these words and decided that this was how they were going to reference it from thence forth. I’m not sure if that’s weak or just plain lazy.

And finally, there is the addition of the Phibian creatures – a race of man-fish hybrids that are basically the aquatic versions of Futars. Aside from making a brief appearance in the story, they serve no purpose and seem to only exist because Brian and KJA thought they were a cool idea. This novel and its sequel, Sandworms, abound with examples of this, things that Frank made no mention of and seem completely at odds with his original vision, but made it in because the authors seemed to think they were cool. The fact that these terms now show up in Dune terminology is both sad and discouraging!

3. Weak Plot:
As all the previous examples will attest, this story suffered from the problem of making the reader wade through a slow-buildup packed with extraneous detail and poor writing before it finally got to the climax. But by the time it arrives, the entire pace of the book changed and important revelations are simply dropped in or rushed through in a desire to get to the halfway point before all the real action starts (which takes place in book II). And in truth, I was able to endure all the weakness thanks to the anticipation factor; I hung on in the hopes that something big was going to be revealed soon!

In fact, its not until the Ithaca and its crew discover the planet that’s been cloaked by a no-field that things begin to feel like they’re picking up. Finally, we are handed the first bit of hard evidence that the threat the HM’s were fleeing was a plague that left their world’s sterilized and deserted. However, they deduce so quickly that this planet was destroyed by a terrible plague after chancing upon an abandoned library and picking up one shred of document. C’mon man! Show us some mass graves, show us some hospitals filled with dead people, show us some signs that there was a terrible holocaust! This is important stuff, don’t just have them figure it out and then take off!

What’s more, no good reason is ever given for why the Face Dancers (and their machine masters) need gholas of Paul and the Baron. It is merely said that the former is “necessary” for the “Enemy’s” calculations, i.e. to help them take over the universe. As for the Baron, no real reason is given beyond saying he’s useful too. But its pretty clear its just so they can bring back the old characters and give them a final run. And of course its obvious from the get go, even without the extremely strong hints they give, that the Ithaca’s Paul and the Face Dancers “Paolo” are going to meet up and battle it out. Wow, a battle between the hero and his evil twin! Nothing cliche or obvious about that!

The same holds true for the Ithaca’s own gholas. In their case too, Duncan, Sheeana and the rest simply decide to start making them because they figure they might be “useful”. But if Duncan is already the new Kwisatz Haderach, what do they need to be resurrecting Paul and Leto for? What reason, for that matter, do they have for creating the others aside from bringing all the old crowd back and giving them a big sendoff? I get the sentimental appeal, but it really wasn’t necessary or even plausible to be resurrecting so many old characters. What was the point of killing them off if they’re all just going to be back before the end?

And let’s not forget what Daniel said at the end of Chapterhouse when Marty mentioned how Scytale had that nullentropy tube full of ghola cells and asks why he let them get away. “Didn’t let them…,” he replies. “Gholas. He’s welcome to them.” In other words, it sounds like the old man and woman were not the slightest bit threatened by the Ithaca and its ability to create gholas, nor do they seem to have any particular use for them themselves. So why would they go to the trouble of creating their own? Like most things in this book, it doesn’t fit with Frank’s original work.

4. Tie-ins:
A major flaw in this series, one which I hear many a fan complain about bitterly, is the fact that Brian and KJA felt compelled to write their own characters into the story. Not only is there no reason for them to be included, they are shoved into the story with all the subtlety of a square peg being rammed into a round hole.

For example, we are told that Scytale’s nullentropy tube, which he carries in his chest, contains the dead cells of all the series’ major figures. This includes Paul, Leto II, Jessica, Chani, Stilgar, Duke Leto, the Baron, Duncan, Thufir, Gurney, et al. In essence, the tube is the means to create gholas of all of history’s greats. But in Hunters, Brian and KJA decided to amend this list to include Xavier Harkonnen and Serena Butler. These two characters did not exist in the original series and were not mentioned once in Chapterhouse when the ghola tube was first described. So really, throwing them in was just a shout out to their own work, which seems crass.

Also, in the course of exploring her “Other Memory” Murbella comes across the memories and personality of Serena Butler. Aside from making this brief appearance in the story, she serves no purpose other than mentioning that she knows a thing or two about wars. This did not fit with the story at all seeing as how Serena is never mentioned in any of the original books, and really served no purpose other than as a reference to the duo’s work yet again. Brian and KJA even tactitly admitted this by writing that Murbella had no idea who Serena was or how she was related to her. Her voice, much like her inclusion in the story, appears out of nowhere and then promptly disappears.

Another tie-in comes in the form of the “Oracle of Time”, a Guild Navigator who never appeared in any of the original books. Initially, it seems that she is a descendent of the “Oracle of Infinity”, the patron saint of Navigators who first appeared in Dune: House Corrino, but by the end it is revealed that she in fact Norma Cenva (a character of the Legends series). In short, she was yet another character from Brian and KJA’s shoddy prequels who was thrown into the mix to draw attention to their own work.

Her character plays a central role in this story and its sequel, unlike Xavier or Serena; however, her appearance is rendered completely implausible because of the simple fact that she made absolutely no appearances in any of the original novels. If she comes to us from the Legends series, then she’s been around for over 15,000 years, right? So where has she been all this time, and if she’s an oracle, why the hell didn’t Paul or Leto notice her in the course of their prescient sweeps? Surely the existence of another prescient being, aside from the regular navigators, would have sent up some red flags for them! But again, this was not done for the sake of consistency or plausibility, it was done solely so the duo could write their own work into Frank’s story.

5. Wrong Again!:
As I mentioned before in my reviews of the Dune prequels, one can’t help but get the feeling that these guys completely misunderstood what Frank was going for. In the Legends series, for example, we are presented with a vision of the Butlerian Jihad that involves free humans battling it out with robots for the sake of freedom and survival (a la The Terminator franchise). Not only did it seem like Brian and KJA were relying on a ton of cheap sci-fi concepts to create this series, there was absolutely no indication in the original novels that the Jihad was anything like this. Consider this definition taken from Terminology of the Imperium, the glossary for the original Dune novel:

JIHAD, BUTLERIAN: (see also Great Revolt) ā€” the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

When one looks up Great Revolt, it simply refers back to the other definition.

GREAT REVOLT: common term for the Butlerian Jihad (See Jihad, Butlerian)

Not a lot to go on there, but notice the complete lack of any mention of cymecks, evil robots, or hive minds enslaving humanity. Also, there is no indication that this “Jihad” was a war in the literal sense. If anything, it sounds like a metaphor for a moral crusade against a specific kind of technology, a Luddite rebellion in other words. In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II explained the Jihad further:

“The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

Once again, sounds like Frank was talking about a war in the metaphorical sense, that humanity’s “slavery” to machines constituted a willingness to let them handle our decisions, not slavery in the literal sense. So in addition to the Brian and KJA’s books reading like pulp sci-fi crap, it also seemed to completely miss the point of what the Jihad was all about.

The same is true in Hunters of Dune. Essentially, we are expected to believe that the old man and woman, the people who represent the threat the Honored Matres were fleeing, were in fact the evil robots from the prequels. Not only did this seem like a blatant and wholly transparent attempt to tie the ending back to their own work, it also seemed like it completely missed the mark! At the end of Chapterhouse, Frank Herbert strongly implied that the old couple were in fact Face Dancers. Consider the following conversation that occurred between the old man and woman, Daniel and Marty:

“[Tleilaxu Masters] have such a hard time accepting that Face Dancers can be independent of them.” “I don’t see why. It’s a natural consequence. They gave us the power to absorb the memories and experiences of other people. Gather enough of those and…” “It’s personas we take, Marty.” “Whatever. The Masters should’ve known we would gather enough of them one day to make our own decisions about our own future.”

Notice the key words here: “US”, “WE”, “OUR”. Why use the plural, when referring to Face Dancers, if they were in fact robots in disguise (uh-oh, I sense another franchise being ripped off here!)? In addition, all kinds of hints were dropped in Heretics and Chapterhouse that alluded to the possibility that Face Dancers were evolving beyond their master’s control. And, to top it all off, there’s the part in Chapterhouse when Duncan is confronted with the image of the old man and woman where he draws the following conclusion about them:

“That thought aroused Idaho’s suspicions because now he recognized the familiarity. They looked somewhat like Face Dancers, even to the pug noses … And if they were Face Dancers, they were not Scytale’s Face Dancers. Those two people behind the shimmering net belonged to no one but themselves.”

See? Face Dancers, clearly. And clearly of a variety that had learned how to stand on their own two feet and had their own agenda, whatever that was. Turning them into Omnius and Erasmus, who were not part of the Face Dancers but LEADING them, was nothing short of forced and inaccurate. It also makes no sense, seeing as how the Face Dancers were supposed to have evolved beyond the control of their masters. Why the hell would they throw off the shackles of the Tleilaxu only to enlist with the robots? And what reason could they possibly have for wanting to see humanity, of which they are essentially a part, annihilated?

And I am certainly not the only one who sees the inconsistency in all this. Consider the following statement by author William F. Touponce from his 1988 book entitled Frank Herbert:

“Herbert gives us a segment narrated from their point of view only at the very end of the novel. They are offshoots of the Tleilaxu Face Dancers sent out in the Scattering and have become almost godlike because of their capacity to assume the persona of whoever they kill ā€” and they have been doing this for centuries, capturing Mentats and Tleilaxu Masters and whatever else they could assimilate, until now they play with whole planets and civilizations. They are weirdly benign when they first appear in the visions of Duncan Idaho as a calm elderly couple working in a flower garden, trying to capture him in their net…”

Similarly, in an August 2007 review of Sandworms of Dune, John C. Snider of SciFiDimensions.com argued that it “doesn’t fit” or “add up” that Frank Herbert’s Daniel and Marty are the “malevolent” thinking machines Brian Herbert and Anderson created in their Legends of Dune prequel novels. I, and many fans besides are inclined to agree. For starters, how could Frank have planned to end the series with characters he didn’t even create? Repeatedly, Brian and KJA have stated that they based Hunters and Sandworms on Frank’s “copious notes” and outlines, but they also claimed that when it came to the Butlerian Jihad, Frank had left no real notes behind, so the two had to rely on their own imaginations to come up with the story.

In short, Omnius and Erasmus were the creation of Brian and KJA, not Frank. Making them the villains at the end not only didn’t fit, it was also a clear attempt to put their own indelible stamp on Frank’s series. And that, in addition to being cynical and exploitative, just seems like a big ol’ middle finger to both Frank and his fans!

Some Final Words:
When Brian and KJA began releasing the books of the Preludes series, they made it abundantly clear that they would concluding the franchise by creating Dune 7. What’s more, they insisted that they were writing it based on Frank’s original notes, of which there were many! In spite of all the accusations to the contrary, they continue to make this claim, stating that the series ended precisely how the elder Herbert had intended. However, given the content, the writing style, and the completely unlikely ending, there is no way this can be true.

For one, the entire saga ends with characters that Frank Herbert had no involvement in creating. Norma Cenva, Erasmus, Omnius – these were all the independent creations of the Brian and KJA. What’s more, the story they concocted blatantly contradicted Frank’s own work. You can say you were following the master’s plan all you like, but when the end result is loaded with references to your own stories and the whole thing reads like nothing he would ever produce, people are going to know you’re lying through your teeth!

However, what’s become clear to many over the past few years is that KJA is the real driving force behind their collaboration. In addition to the McDune books reading more like his work, the sheer number of books released since the two teamed up is more in keeping with his quick, prolific style. At this juncture, it seems clear to many that Brian’s only real role in the duo is contributing ideas and making sure the name Herbert appears on the cover. I honestly feel guilty when doing these reviews and including Brian’s name in any indictments or criticisms. Sure, he might be drinking from the cup, but that doesn’t mean he’s not being used and abused! Rather than criticize him, I want to urge him to ditch the leech that’s been sucking him and his father’s legacy dry!

Okay, that’s about what I thought of Hunters of Dune and the partnership of Brian and KJA. I shall return, just as soon as I summon up the strength to actually (gulp!) read Sandworms of Dune in full. Not an easy task, but someone has to warn others to stay away! And you really can’t criticize if you’re not willing to read… This is gonna suck, I just know it! Until next time!

Hunters of Dune, a review

Hunters of Dune, a review

Oh boy, it’s finally here! After years of waiting and having to endure those horrible prequels, the long-awaited conclusion is finally here! Yes, that’s what I thought when I first heard the news. After years of making us wait and spend our hard earned money on a sleuth of teaser prequels and filler, Brian Herbert and KJA (or as I like to call him, NOT FRANK HERBERT!) finally delivered on their promise and released the damn Dune 7 novel!

Like most fans, I had been waiting years for that day. Ever since KJA and Brian got together and announced that they would be releasing Dune 7, a book which Frank had apparently been working on shortly before he died, I was understandably excited. It was just a few years before this announcement that I had finally worked my way to the end of the Dune series (Chapterhouse: Dune) only to find that it ended on a cliffhanger note with numerous loose ends.

For example, what was this mysterious enemy that the Honored Matres were fleeing? Who were the old man and woman from Duncan’s visions? What was Duncan’s role in all this; i.e. was he the new Kwisatz Haderach or something even greater? And above all, was this all the result of Leto’s vision, or were the main characters finally free of the Tyrant’s “Golden Path”? These and other questions I wanted answered, and after many years of waiting, I kinda felt entitled!

Needless to say, the anticipation I felt was rivaled only by the disappointment, but that didn’t occur until the very end when the answers were revealed. There was plenty of material to disappoint in between, but I was able to endure all that so long as I got see how it all ended. I’ve said all this before, so I shan’t waste any more time with it here. Let me get to the specifics of the story and why it was such a horrible, crass, and cynical novel that left Dune fans everywhere disappointed and angry.

Hunters of Dune:
As fans of Dune are no doubt aware, this book was part I in a two part collection that was meant to tie up the series. While this novel didn’t end, it did tie up most of the threads Frank had laid down in Chapterhouse and predicted what the ultimate ending would be. It is for this reason that this book is arguably more important than its follow-up Sandwords of Dune. This book established what the conclusion would be, the other one was mere filler, seeing the threads through to their conclusion and giving every character a final farewell.

Plot Synopsis:
The story picks up three years after the events in Chapterhouse: Dune, with Duncan and the crew of the Ithaca trying to find their way in an alternate universe, hoping to stay ahead of the old man and woman. However, there efforts are upset when Duncan is spoken to telepathically by a mysterious character known as the “Oracle of Time”, a Guild agent who then plucks him from his current location and brings him back to the known universe. The old man and women realize he’s returned, and immediately begin trying to catch him in their tachyon net again.

Meanwhile, back on Chapterhouse, Murbella is continuing with her efforts to bring the Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres together in preparation for the coming war. In addition, she is approached by the Guild who are desperate for spice now that Chapterhouse is the last known source of melange. Given their past support for the Honored Matres, Murbella is loath to help them, but manages to leverage their future loyalty in exchange for not cutting them off completely. In the meantime, the Guild is in contact with the Ixians, who are busy developing a machine that will take the place of a Guild Navigator. Unbeknownst to them, Face Dancers have already infiltrated Ix and are now dealing directly with the Guild.

The Face Dancers are essentially doing this all over the Old Empire, infiltrating worlds and replacing key people with their own copies. Having replaced the last of the Tleilaxu masters with their own copies, their leader Khrone now focuses on infiltrating the HM’s. They do this by putting Uxtal in the custody of Hellica, the new leader of the HM’s. In exchange for sparing his life, Hellica demands that he teach them the secret of axlotl tanks. In addition, Uxtal’s tasks include creating a ghola of the Baron Harkonnen and Paul for Daniel and Marty’s purposes. The reason for this is because the old man and woman feel they will be “useful”, especially Paul who’s prescience will be intrinsic to their “calculations”.

A third reason for his research into axlotl tanks is to create a Waff ghola so he can obtain the secret of making artificial melange (a secret thought to be lost with the destruction of the Tleilaxu Masters). This will come in handy for the Guild Navigators, who are looking for an alternative to the Sisterhood’s source. However, they are unaware that Scytale – the last surviving Tleilaxu master – has already given said secret to the crew of the Ithaca. They in turn are generating it using their own tanks for their own use, seeing as how the sandworms they have aboard are not yet mature.

In addition, Scytale has revealed the existence of the nullentropy tube with the ghola cells he’s kept hidden to Duncan and the Ithaca crew. He does this in exchange for the creation of a Scytale ghola, one which replace him when he dies, which is getting closer. Duncan, Sheeana and Miles all decide that it would also be in their best interests to start cloning all the other people in this tube – Paul, Leto II, Chani, Stilgar, etc. – because apparently, “they will prove useful”. Over the course of the next few years, they begin to give birth to and rear these gholas, one by one.

In the meantime, Murbella’s forces continue to consolidate their hold over more and more of the Old Empire, flushing out HM’s and adding their weapons and resources to their own. This includes the so-called “Devastators”, some kind of super weapon that can sterilize an entire planet. Murbella also begins searching her “Other Memory” in order to find the answers she needs; namely, where the Honored Matres came from and who their enemy is. She learns in the course of this that the HM’s are the descendents of Tleilaxu women who were freed with the help of Fish Speakers and Bene Gesserit’s from the Scattering. Hence why the HM’s seem hellbent on wiping out the Tleilaxu. There’s also the brief and needless scene where she converses with Serena Butler, figurehead of the Butlerian Jihad.

Shortly thereafter, the Sisterhood attack Ix, and Hellica, and Uxtal all die in the process. Waff however, escapes and finds refuge with the Guild, promising them the secret to breeding their own sandworms instead of artificial melange. Meanwhile, the Ithaca stumbled onto a planet that is concealed by a no-field. They find that the place was sterilized by a deadly plague, and after a very brief exploratory mission, they realize that it was this same plague that the Honored Matres were fleeing. Shortly thereafter, they come upon the planet of the Handlers, which they learn are in fact Face Dancers. In the course of trying to return the Futars to the surface, a boarding party attacks them and they are forced to flee, but some make it aboard.

And finally, through “Other Memory”, Murbella realizes the true identity of the old man and woman. Apparently, they’re the evil robots Omnius and Erasmus, who survived the Butlerian Jihad by sending probes into deep space. They reveal themselves shortly thereafter when their ships are marshaled and start heading into the Old Empire to attack. It is also revealed that the “Oracle of Time” is none other than Norma Cenva, who’s been alive and hidden for 15,000 years and has come out to fight this war. The story ends on the cliffhanger note, if it could be called one, and is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of literature…

More to follow in part two, coming up soon!