Patrick Stewart has to be one of the most awesome actors around, and not just because of his Shakespearean training. No, this is a guy who is equally at home being completely irreverent as he is serious, and I love him for it. So in honor of this guy, I thought I’d fish through the vast database known as the internet for some video of this man in action. Here’s a small smattering of the more hilarious stuff he’s done over the years!
Personally, I can’t get enough of Stewart as Bullock, the borderline, cocaine addicted, and sexually masochistic director of the CIA. His antics are pure hilarity, insanity, and pure wackiness. I often wonder how Stewart feels about playing the role, and then think he must be a very silly man at heart.
Dune: This is one of Stewart’s many movie roles, where he played the grizzled swordmaster of House Atreides known as Gurney Halleck. Although the movie was an unmitigated commercial and critical disaster, Stewart brought his usual talent and class to the role and carried more than a few scenes.
Extras: I personally think this was the best case of Stewart parodying himself. That was what was so genius about the show, actors playing themselves but totally making fun of themselves in the process. And Stewart really went to town on this one, acting like a sexual deviant and spoofing on Star Trek all at once!
Family Guy: Seth MacFarlane loves this guy, as attested to by the video known as “I Love Patrick Stewart” (look it up). And here is a smattering of Stewart’s many appearances on the show, either as himself or in the persona of Captain Picard.
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 😉 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:
Every 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: Though 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: The 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: This 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: The 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: This 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: In 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: The 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: The 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..”
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:
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)
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:
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.
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!
Hello all and welcome back. Starting today, I thought I’d get into a cheerier aspect of science fiction. Not that I don’t looooove dystopian stuff, but after days and days of romping through endless examples of totalitarian, cyberpunk and just generally dark futures, I thought it might be time for a break. And it just so happened that I had an idea the other day which seemed like the perfect diversion. For those who read my site regularly, you might have noticed I did a long list of conceptual sci-fi posts. Well, today I thought I’d get back into that some.
To break it down, I wanted to do a piece that was dedicated entirely to “Cool Worlds”, an exploration of the various planets, cultures and civilizations science fiction has given us over the years. However, after coming up with just a few candidates, I quickly realized my mistake. There was no way I could possibly list all the best examples in just one post. And if I settled on just a few, then people might start writing in and saying “what about this one? what about that one?”
So rather than do all that, I decided instead to tackle specific franchises, particularly ones that made it into my Galactic Empires post, and address some of the cool worlds that existed within.And what better place to start than with my favorite galactic franchise, one of the most detailed franchises ever to be dreamed up: the venerable Dune!
Anyone who is familiar with Frank Herbert’s six volume series knows that he was pretty damn good at weaving an intricate and finely layered tale. One aspect where this was particularly evident was in his descriptions of the Imperium’s planets. Not only would Frank dedicate a great deal of time and effort to describing what a place was and what significance it held, he would also get into the lesser explored areas of ecology and what impact that had on a planet’s culture. Here are some of the best examples that I could think of, all from his original books:
Arrakis: The focal point of the Dune universe, and the most important planet in the entire franchise. It was here that the spice was manufactured, where Paul Mua’dib came face to face with his destiny, and “The Tyrant” Leto II was born and ruled for three and a half millenia. It was also eradicated when the Honored Matres attacked the Old Imperium, triggering a full-scale war which would lead humanity along the final steps of the “Golden Path”. In short, it was the backdrop for most of the story, and from a storytelling point of view, a very richly detailed place!
Much of what is known about Arrakis’ culture and ecology comes from the appendixes of the first novel where Herbert wrote about the fictitious exploits of Dr. Pardot Kynes, planetary ecologist to the Imperium. However, a great deal more came through in the course of the story once Paul and Jessica find refuge amongst the Fremen and had to learn their ways and secrets in order to survive. Much of this has to do with the spice, the Sandworms of Arrakis, and how the production of the former depended on the life cycle of the latter. They also came to learn about the Fremen’s plans to alter the planet’s ecology using moisture traps and water caches, as well as the careful introduction of plants and grasses to anchor the dunes.
Basically, Arrakis was a desert planet where moisture was the most precious commodity in existence. A fitting paradox, seeing as how the planet’s desert environment was essential to the production of spice – the most precious resource in the known universe. Two things permeated this environment, both of which kept outsiders away and ensured the security of the Fremen who lived in the deep desert. The first were the Sandworms themselves, the predominant life form on the planet. The second, though no less dangerous, were Arrakis’ famous sandstorms.
According to Dr. Yueh, worms measuring up to 450 meters had been captured and studied, but that ones which were larger still had been seen in the deep desert where no citizen of the Imperium had ever ventured. Living beneath the sand, the sandworms would be attracted to rhythmic vibrations coming from the surface. Knowing this, the Fremen were forced to develop a way of walking arrhythmical when forced to do “dune-crossings”. At other times, when they sought to ride the worms, they would plant “thumpers” to draw their attention, and then mount the worms once they came to the surface.
The worms were also the producers of the spice, which they used to fabricate nest for their young (“sand trout”), which would then leave before the nest underwent a chemical reaction, triggering a “spice blow”. Because of their central role in the life cycle of Arrakis, and the fearsome and awesome nature of the creature itself, the Fremen regarded them as godlike creatures. Shai-Hulud, “the old man of the desert”, was the name given to mature worms while “the Maker” referred to the worms role in the production of spice and the life cycle of the planet. Though Zensunni’s by descent, believing in a God that was transcendent, the Fremen still seemed to attribute some degree of divinity to the worms themselves.
Similarly, sandstorms were common to the Deep Desert, and also the reason why the capital city of Arrakeen was built within a protective outcropping of rock known as the “Shield Wall”. According to the expanded universe, sandstorms on Arrakis were electrically charged and could reach up to 500 km/h, powerful enough to destroy vehicles, equipment and strip anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside in one down to their bones! Due to the havoc they played with navigation and harvesting, all activity beyond the Shield Wall had to be timed to ensure that it happened between storms, otherwise harvesters could wind up buried beneath tons of sand.
As expected, the harsh and unforgiving conditions of this planet did much to shape its inhabitants. The “Fremen” as they are called (play on the word Free Men) were what could be expected from a nomadic desert people who were used to oppression. Recluse, mysterious, pragmatic and extremely tough, they were both feared and loathed by an Imperium that knew little about them and could not control them. However, once Paul and Jessica managed to penetrate the Fremen society by proving their worth to them, they began to see that the Fremen were also capable of extreme hospitality, fierce loyalty, great patience and uncompromisingly dedication.
Over the course of the six original novels, Arrakis was transformed from a desert planet into a lush green world, only to then be transformed back again. This had much to do with the plans of the Fremen, but also to Leto II’s “Golden Path”. In the end, it was realized that the spice-producing worms, and even the Fremen themselves, would not survive the ecological transformation, but once Leto died and the worms were reintroduced to the planet, spice production and desertification once again resumed. Knowing that worms were responsible for removing all traces of poisonous water form the planet, the Sisterhood began using some to conduct their own ecological transformations on Chapterhouse after Arrakis was destroyed.
The Fremen themselves had a saying which pretty much encapsulated their world and themselves: “God created Arrakis to train the faithful”.
Caladan: Although comparatively little time was spent detailing this planet, Caladan was nevertheless an important planet in the Dune universe. It was the ancestral home of House Atreides, Paul’s birthplace, and would eventually become the sole property of Jessica after Paul became Emperor and moved his seat to Arrakis.
Based on various descriptions from the original novels and expanded universe, Caladan was an ocean planet with few landmasses to speak of. Because of its relatively mild and agreeable climate, House Atreides was spared the expense of weather control measures. It’s primary exports consisted of biomass, plus the important agricultural produce known as pundi rice. In addition, it also traded in whale fur, gemstones, wine, corals and livestock.
According to Paul’s father, Duke Leto, House Atreides ruled this planet through air and sea power, for obvious reasons. When describing his world to Chani and the Fremen, they were incredulous to know that on some worlds, water was so commonplace that it formed oceans as big as the desert, or that plants could grow so thick that they were impassable.
Clearly, Caladan was meant to serve as a sort of Edenic setting compared to the hostile and rugged landscape of Arrakis. In addition, Paul’s exile into this harsh wilderness after the death of his father could be interpreted as a fall from grace, which he then reconciled when he became the prophet and religious leader of the Fremen and returned in the end to claim the throne. If there’s one thing Dune was known for, its religious allegories!
Chapterhouse: The home of the vaunted Bene Gesserit training facility in the later books of the series. In the original Dune, this facility was located on Wallach IX and had been for some time. However, five thousands years later in Heretics of Dune, the location had been changed to Chapterhouse. In the following and final novel, Chapterhouse: Dune when the Honored Matres began there assault, it was noted that Wallach had fallen to their advance.
According to the descriptions from Heretics and Chapterhouse, this planet was a green and fertile world. However, with the destruction of Rakis (Arrakis in the later novels) and the death of nearly every sandworm in the known universe, the Bene Gesserit began the process of terraforming it into another desert planet where the worms would be able to thrive, thus giving them control over the only source of spice in the universe.
Throughout the latter books in the series, the Bene Gesserit kept the location of this world a secret to protect it from the Honored Matres. They even went so far as to station a fleet of no-ships around the planet to ensure that no one would be able to locate them with prescient ability.
Geidi Prime: The homeworld of House Harkonnen. And if the religious metaphor which I alluded to earlier is to be believed – where Caladan is Eden and Arrakis is the real world- then this place would definitely be hell. In fact, judging by the many descriptions made of this planet and its rulers in the original series, the hellish metaphor is so thick you could cut it with a knife!
In the original Dune, we are given descriptions that emphasize the planet’s industrial nature. Hints are also given that the planet was highly volcanic and covered in wastelands. In addition to its many factories, large arenas were also built in most cities, where gladiator duels were held to entertain the populace. The Baron’s nephew, Feyd-Rathau, would often compete as a way of gaining popularity amongst the people and demonstrating his skill.
Also, in the original and subsequent novels, much is made of the Harkonnen’s sense of brutality and perversion. Whereas the Baron delighted in little boys, whom he would often kill in the course of molesting them, the planet’s artwork and decor often emphasized sex and violence.The Baron’s appearance, which is described as being so “grossly and immensely fat” that he requires an anti-gravity device just to get around. In addition, he described himself as “always hungry”.
In Heretics of Dune, when Miles Teg and the ghola of Duncan Idaho are hiding in an abandoned Harkonnen chamber, they notice an old clock where the hands are figured of a man and woman with over-sized genitalia (when the two hands line up, it looks as though a gruesome sex act is occurring!). When describing the Harkonnen’s, Leto II claimed they were “lovers of sensation”, people who were obsessed with pleasures of the body.
Hmmm, factories, volcanoes, gladiator rings and bodily pleasures? Sounds like something right out of Dante’s Inferno! In the course of adapting the novel to the big screen, David Lynch went to town on this, showing the planet to be dark, polluted and filled with terrifyingly decrepit people, many of whom had undergone hideous types of surgery (i.e. heartplugs). In the miniseries version, similar attempts were made to capture the hellish nature of the place. Here, every set was done in the colors red and black and camera angles were always askew, capturing the dark and twisted nature of the Baron and his family.
Ix: The ninth planet in the star system of Alkalurops, Ix is the home of the technocracy that is responsible for producing the vast majority of the Imperium’s machinery. The name of the planet stems from the misinterpretation of the planet’s designation in Roman numerals.
In the original six novels, we never did get a description of what Ix looks like or what really went on there. For reasons which may have a lot to do with the fact that they are technologists in a universe where technology is morally proscribed, the Ixians appear to be somewhat recluse. However, it was clear that they were responsible for creating the various technologies that were central to the plot.
In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II is found to be recording his thoughts using an illegal device that was manufactured by on Ix. It was also the Ixians who were responsible for breeding Malky, a man who’s purpose was to influence Leto into doubting his own path and purpose. Hwi Noree, who was a sort of polar opposite to Malky, was also created to lure him with her charms. Both individuals were bred inside a “no-chamber”, a special cell that hide what is within from prescient detection. This same technology would later go into created “no-ships” and even larger “no-fields” which could shield entire planets.
Another revelation which came in God Emperor of Dune was the fact that Leto, through his Golden Path, had apparently prevented the Ixians from developing a breed of hunter-seekers which would have completely destroyed humanity. Ultimately, part of his plan was to encourage the development of certain technologies while preventing others. Whereas the hunter-seekers fell into the latter category, machines that could block prescience or replace it (i.e. the machine that could do the job of a navigator) fell into the former.
Kaitain: In the original Dune novel, Kaitain was the seat of power for the Padishah Emperor and the location of the Imperial Court. It was also the homeworld of House Corrino after events on Selusa Secundus forced them to move. All of the guilds, major houses and interests in the known universe maintained a presence here, including the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, the Ixians, the Tleilaxu, the Landsraad, CHOAM, etc.
After events on Arrakis forced him to intervene, Emperor Shaddam IV relocated the royal palace to Arrakis so that he could oversee the deployment of his armies and ensure the Baron’s cooperation.
Aside from that, not much is mentioned of Kaitain, except for a description of the Golden Lion throne in the original novel’s appendices. Here, it is described as an opulent throne that had been “carved from a single piece of Hagal quartz — blue-green translucency shot through with streaks of yellow fire.”
Selusa Secundus: Once the seat of House Corrino and the Royal Court, this planet became a prison world after it was devastated in a nuclear attack. As a result, the planet’s climate is incredibly harsh and inhospitable, making it the perfect world for the condemned of society. Radiation from the attack still permeates the planet’s climate, and mortality rates amongst prisoners are apparently as high as 60 percent.
However, as is quickly made clear in the first novel and throughout the series, Selusa Secundus also serves as the training grounds for the Emperor’s dreaded Sardaukar army. This is done in secret, though most Houses within the Imperium apparently suspect it. In fact, in the first novel, the Emperor apparently became suspicious when Baron Harkonnen remarked to Count Fenrig that he would use Arrakis to conduct a similar experiment with his own armies. This was meant only in jest, but it did speak to suspicions the Emperor had.
One other person who understood this was Paul. After becoming an exile on Arrakis, he began to learn that his father had similar plans with the Fremen. By making an alliance with the Fremen, people who had been toughened by conditions worse than that on Selusa Secundus, his father would eventually be able to raise an army army that could rival the Sardaukar. Convinced that Paul was their messiah, he put this plan into action and was able to defeat the Emperor’s armies outside of Arrakeen.
After seizing control of the Golden Lion Throne, Paul exiled House Corrino to Selusa Secundus where they remained until events in Children of Dune. It was here that Shaddam’s third daughter, Princess Wensicia, began plotting the assassinate Paul’s twin children and place her own son Farad’n on the throne. When Jessica is forced to flee Arrakis with Duncan, they found shelter here and made their deal with Winsicia. In exchange for marriage between Ghanima and Farad’n, she agreed to teach him in the Bene Gesserit ways.
Beyond that, no mention is made of Selusa Secundus. Much like House Corrino, it seemed this planet was destined to fade into obscurity.
Tleilax: Yet another obscure world to come out of the Dune universe. And much like Ix, very little was said about this planet until late in the series. Nevertheless, it too played a very important role in the Dune universe and a number of key developments and inventions were apparently born here.
The sole planet in the Thalim star system, this world is also the home of the mysterious Bene Tleilax. In addition to being the training ground for “twisted Mentats”, Tleilax is also the home of the elusive axlotl tanks, which are used in the production of gholas. Though most within the Imperium frowned upon these devices, as they did all Tleilaxu inventions, the tanks and gholas in particular were used by just about all factions for the sake of their plotting and machinations.
In Dune Messiah, much is told about the Tleilaxu due to their involvement in a plot to unseat Paul Mua’dib from the Imperial Throne. This included the creation of a Duncan Idaho ghola, which had been programmed to kill Paul once he uttered the key phrase “she’s gone” in reference to his beloved Chani. However, this was soon revealed to be a plot within a plot, where the real intent was to show how the original memories of a ghola could be recovered by forcing them into a situation where their original self would reassert itself in order to fight against operate conditioning.
In God Emperor of Dune, Leto II is shown to be reliant on the Tleilaxu’s axlotl technology because he keeps demanding gholas of Duncan Idaho. For reasons unknown, he insists on having the original Duncan in his court, with his full memory restored. It is later suggested that this was an important part of his breeding program, that Duncan contained a special gene which he needed to bread into his descendents. But whatever his reasons, the Bene Gesserit continued his program and maintained an alliance with the Tleilaxu whereby they would receive gholas of Duncan Idaho so they could try to ascertain his true purpose.
In Heretics of Dune, the sixth incarnation of the Sisterhood’s Duncan Idaho is revealed to be special. Unlike the other incarnations, he has access to the memories of all other Idaho gholas, dating back to the very first who served Pual Mua’dib and all those who served and died at the hands of Leto II. In addition, the Tleilaxu clearly equipped him with the sex techniques of the Honored Matres so that he would be able to turn the tables on them when the time came, resisting their attempts to “imprint him” and imprint himself onto one of them. All of this leads Duncan to the conclusion that he now possesses Kwisatz Haderach-like abilities, which is confirmed in Chapterhouse: Dune when he begins to experience visions of the old man and lady (see below).
Also, in was in Heretics of Dune that readers got their first glimpse of the Tleilaxu homeworld and their society. Prior to this, it was understood that Tleilaxu was master geneticists who had engineered their own version of the Kwisatz Hadderach, but which had apparently committed suicide. It was also shown that they were ruled by a series of “masters”; Master Scytale being the one who participated in the plot in Dune Messiah.
However, what was not revealed was that the Tleilaxu were actually secret Zensunni’s and Sufi’s who maintained strict religious secrecy so as to keep their plans hidden from “powindah” (aka. outsiders). In addition, all masters were clones (not gholas) of their original selves and achieved a sort of immortality this way. This was apparently part of their long-term plan to assert their dominance over the known universe, a plan which was finally hatched in Heretics of Dune and involved the specially-programmed Duncan Idaho ghola.
Also central to the plot of several novels in the original series was the Face Dancer, another invention unique to the Tleilaxu. These were people specially bred to be able to take on the likeness and even the memories of people they were charged with killing and impersonating. Bred to be eunuchs and completely loyal, they were human only in the strictest sense of the word and possessed no identity of their own. However, this changed as the series progressed and it became clear that after millenia of adopting the personas of others, Face Dancers were beginning to develop personalities of their own.
This was apparently the threat the Honored Matres were themselves fleeing and which had forced them back into the universe of the Old Imperium. Throughout Chapterhouse: Dune, Duncan Idaho is haunted by visions of an old man and a woman whom he identifies as free Face Dancers. It is these people who he concludes are responsible for the greater threat they face, and who appear to want to capture him because of his special abilities as well.
Another interesting invention to come out Tleilax was the “slig”, a genetically engineered hybrid which crossed the DNA of a pig with a slug to produce a large, fleshy and slothful creature that is easily harvested for its meat. As was remarked in one of the later books in the series, this animal was considered ugly, even disgusting, due to its multiple mouths and skin that excreted a slimy and noxious residue. However, due to its sweet and terder meat, there were few in the Imperium who did not enjoy having “slig medallions” on their tables.
Before I get into talk of patterns and conclusions, a little disclaimer first. First, there are plenty more worlds in Dune universe that are probably worth mentioning. However, there was no way to include them all without making either breaking this post in two or making it run on forever. Second, I deliberately left out information that did not come from the original six novels. True, there’s plenty more mentioned in the expanded franchise of these and other worlds in the Dune universe, but I wanted to stick to material that Frank himself was known to have written. Anything that comes from the expanded universe is likely to suffer from original though. Funny way of putting I know, but it can be known to dilute or undercut anything the original author themselves established.
Okay! Now that I’ve covered my ass, let me get to what I think about these cool worlds! Well, a few things jumped out at me after I was finished researching this list and gave it a final glance:
1. Frank loved secret societies!: Whether it was the Fremen, the Bene Gesserit, the Bene Tleilax, the Ixians, or the Emperor, the concept of recluse worlds and secrets ran through Frank’s original works like a vein. Clearly, he was a big (and I mean big, big, BIG!) fan of intrigue, secrecy, and societies that were founded on them. This is one of the things that I think made the Dune universe so readable and realistic in tone.
Regardless of their house or faction, it seemed that everybody was looking to get a leg up on someone else and found that the best way to do that was to conduct themselves in secret. Was this a commentary on humanity, the result of living under imperial rule, or the result of the complacency Paul and Leto hoped to rescue humanity from? Who knows, point is, he loved em! I think I smell another post in the wind…
2. Ecology effects people:As already mentioned, Frank paid a great of attention to the link between environments and culture. Whereas the Fremen and their values were clearly the result of their hostile and sparse world, the Atreides had apparently been rendered soft by generations of living on Caladan. House Harkonnen, with all their ugly desires and habits, boasted a world to match. And of course Selusa Secundus and Arrakis both served as the ideal training grounds for elite soldiers because life on both was just so freaking hard!
Well that’s all for now. Stay tuned, I plan to tackle the Star Wars universe next! And more chapters for Data Miners are still on the way…
Hello again, fellow sci-fi fans! Today, I thought I’d write about something conceptual, something that is intrinsic to so much science fiction and keeps popping up in various forms. It’s something that has appeared in countless serials, novels, tv shows, movies, and RPG’s. I am referring, of course, to the concept of the Galactic Empire, a science fiction trope that has seen many incarnations, but revolves around a singular theme of a political entity that spans the known universe.
Whether it’s a loose federation of humans and aliens spanning many different star systems, or a despotism made up of millions of worlds, all populated by human beings, or something somewhere in the middle, this trope has proven to be one of the most enduring ideas of classic science fiction.
But where exactly did this idea come from? Who was the first to come up with a futuristic, galaxy-spanning polity where millions of star systems and quadrillions of sentient beings all found themselves living underneath one roof?
Asimov’s Foundation Series:
Isaac Asimov is arguably the first science fiction author to use the concept of a galaxy-spanning empire in his literature. Known simply as the Galactic Empire, this organization was the centerpiece of his Foundation series. As fans of the books know, the entire series was built around the idea of the imminent collapse of said empire and how a small band of scientists (led by Hari Seldon) were dedicated to ensuring that the collective knowledge of the universe would be preserved in its absence. The books were based heavily on Gibbon’s History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a compendium which explored the various reasons for the collapse of Rome and the resulting Dark Ages.
The universe of the Galactic Empire centered on a planet named Trantor. Based on his descriptions, the planet was covered by a massive urban landscape, every habitable area having been built over in order to accommodate the planet’s huge population. In addition to being the capitol of the Empire, it was also its administrative head, cultural hub, and economic epicenter. Much like Rome of antiquity, it depended heavily on the surrounding territories for food and raw materials in order to sustain itself, and was terribly hit when the Empire began to decline.
However, beyond some passing descriptions of its size, centrality and the problems facing its encapsulated population, not much is said about Trantor or many other worlds of the Galactic Empire. In fact, not much is said about the Empire itself, other than the fact that it has endured for millennia and is on the verge of collapsing. Mainly, the focus in Asimov’s Foundation is on the events that precipitated its fall and the work of the Foundation once that was complete; how they went about the process of restoring civilization in the absence of a central authority. However, the subsequent Foundation novels, which included some prequels, helped to flesh out the Empire further, providing details on member worlds and the events which preceded the development of Hari Seldon’s “psychohistory”.
Frank Herbert’s Dune:
One of the greatest examples of a galactic empire in my opinion. In the first installment of the Dune series, we are made immediately aware that humanity now inhabits the entire galaxy and are ruled from a world called Kaitan by a sovereign known as the Padishah Emperor. However, it is also made clear that while the emperor is the supreme leader, power is shared in a quasi-feudal arrangement between the noble houses (the Landstraad), a corporate entity that controls all economic affairs (CHOAM), and the various guilds (of which the Spacing Guild is arguably the most powerful). In this universe, much attention is given to the breakdown of power, the history of how it came to be, and the various member worlds and houses.
For starters, there is House Corrino, the ruling dynasty of the empire that is centered on Kaitan. Their house once ruled from a planet known as Selusa Secundus, but which has since been reduced to ashes from a nuclear attack and now serves as the emperor’s prison planet (where his elite armies are trained). More important, and central to the story, is House Atreides, the family which rules from an ocean planet named Caladan, but come to inherit the desert planet Arrakis (aka. Dune). Passing attention is also given to Geidi Prime, the industrial world run by House Harkonnen, the nominal villains of the story.
But by far, the most detailed and developed descriptions are that of the planet Arrakis, where most of the story takes place. Throughout the first novel, the planet’s ecology, native species, and inhabitants (the Fremen) are richly detailed. Given that it is the only world where the spice (an awareness drug the entire universe depends on) is mined, the world is understandably the focal point of the Dune universe. Clearly analogous to oil, the spice is a metaphor for human dependence on a single resource, and the consequences thereof. By taking control of the planet at story’s end and threatening to destroy the spice, Paul Atreides effectively becomes the universe’s new ruler. For as the sayings go: “He who controls the spice, controls the universe”, and “He who can destroy a thing controls that thing.”
Frank Herbert cited a number of influences for his galactic empire. Like Asimov, he relied a great deal on history, particularly that of the Middle East, the Crusades, and a number of feudal societies. At the same time, Herbert became fascinated with ecology, a result of his living in Florence, Oregon where the US Department of Agriculture was using poverty grasses to stabilize the expanding Oregon dunes. The article which he wrote about them, entitled “They Stopped the Moving Sands” was never completed and only appeared decades later in The Road to Dune. Nevertheless, it was from this combination of real history and ecology, how the living environment affects its inhabitants and shapes history, that the universe of Dune emerged.
Perhaps the best known example of a galactic empire, which in turn emerged from what Lucas called the Old Republic. When asked about his inspirations, George Lucas claimed that he wanted to create an empire that was as aesthetically and thematically similar to Nazi Germany as possible. This is made abundantly clear when one looks into the back story of how the Empire emerged, how its malevolent dictator (Palpatine, a Sith Lord) rose to power and began launching campaigns to eliminate anyone who stood in his way. In addition, the use of Storm Troopers, the uniforms of the imperial officers, and the appearance of Darth Vader also add visual representation to this.
However, a great deal of antiquity works its way into the Star Wars universe as well. Much like Herbert and Asimov, there is a parallel between the past and the future. The incorporation of royalty, swordfights between Bushido-like warriors, gun-toting smugglers, cantinas, dangerous towns in the middle of the desert, and all the allusions to the “Republic” and “Galactic Senate”, fair and noble institutions which ruled the galaxy before the dark times – all of these are themes taken from ancient Greece, Rome, feudal Japan, medieval Europe, and the Wild West.
In any case, at the center of Lucas’ galactic empire lies Coruscant, a planet that was clearly inspired by Trantor. Whereas in the original series, the planet was not shown or even mentioned, it receives a great deal of attention in the Star Wars novelizations, comics, and prequel movies. Much like Trantor, it is a planet that is completely dominated by urban sprawl, literally every corner of it is covered by massive sky-scrapers and multi-leveled buildings.
According to the Star Wars Wiki (Wookiepedia), roughly a trillion humans and aliens live on its surface, which is another detail that is noteworthy about Lucas’ universe. Unlike Foundation or Dune, in Star Wars, the galactic empire includes countless sentient races, though humans do appear to be the dominant species. This racial aspect is something else that is akin to World War II and Nazi Germany.
Whereas the Rebellion is made up of humans and aliens who are struggling for freedom and tolerance, the Empire is composed entirely of humans who believe in their own racial superiority. However, in a tribute to Lucas’ more creative days, not much is said about this divide, the audience is instead left to infer it from the outward appearances and behavior of the characters on screen. However, the idea receives much development in the novelizations, particularly Timothy Zhan’s Thrawn Trilogy.
Yet another take on the concept of a galactic polity: Gene Roddenberry’s United Federation of Planets. Much like the Empire of Lucas’ own universe, the Federation is made up of hundreds of member worlds and any number of races. But unlike its peers in the Foundation, Dune or Star Wars universes, the Federation only encompasses a small portion of the galaxy – between ten and fifteen percent, depending on where you look in the storyline.
Beyond their range of influence lie several competing or cooperative empires – the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardasians, the Dominion, and the Borg. Each of these empires represent a threat to the Federation at one time or another in the story, largely because their ideologies are in direct conflict with the Federations policy of peace, multiculturalism and understanding.
This may sound a tad tongue-in-cheek, but it is the main vehicle for the story. In Star Trek, like many other sci-fi franchises, Gene Roddenberry uses alien races as mirrors for the human condition. Whereas in his vision of the future humanity has evolved to overcome the scourges of war, poverty, disease, intolerance and oppression, other races are either less advanced or openly embrace these things.
The Klingons, for example, were the enemies of the Federation because of their commitment to warrior politics. The Romulans are locked in an ongoing cold war with them because of their belief in their own racial superiority. The Dominion seeks dominance over all “solid” life forms because, as shape shifters, they fear being controlled themselves. And the Borg are an extremely advanced cybernetic race that seeks to “perfect” organic life by merging it – by force, if necessary – with the synthetic. The metaphors are so thick, you could cut them with a knife!
Yes, subtlety was never Roddenberry’s greatest attribute, but the franchise was an open and inclusive one, borrowing freely from other franchises and sci-fi concepts, and incorporating a great deal of fan writing into the actual show itself. And whereas other franchises had firm back-stories and ongoing plots, Star Trek has always been an evolving, ad hoc thing by comparison.
Roddenberry and the producers and writers that took over after his death never did seem to plan that far ahead, and the back story was never hammered out with that much precision. This has allowed for a degree of flexibility, but also comes with the painstaking task of explaining how and why humanity became a utopian society in the first place. But for the most part, the franchise leaves that one vague, arguing that space travel, technology and contact with other sentient races allowed for all of this to happen over time.
Babylon 5:One of my favorite franchises of all time! And possibly one of the most detailed examples of a galactic empire, due largely to the fact that it took shape in the course of the show, instead of just being there in the background from the beginning. Here too, we see a trade off between other franchises, the most similar being Star Trek. In this universe, there is no single galactic empire, but rather a series races that exist is a web of alliances, rivalries and a loose framework of relations.
But as time goes on, many of them come together to form an alliance that is reminiscent of the Federation, though arguably more detailed and pluralistic in its composition. When the show opens, we see that humanity is merely one of many races in the cosmic arena, most of whom are more advanced and older than we are.
The Earth Alliance, as its called, controls only a few colonies, but commands a fair degree of influence thanks to the construction of an important space station in neutral territory. This station (namesake of the show) is known as Babylon 5, aptly named because it is a place of trade, commerce, and the intermixing of peoples and cultures. And much like its namesake, it can be a dangerous and chaotic place, but is nevertheless the focal point of the known universe.
According to the back story, which is explored in depth in the prequel movie “In the Beginning”, the station began as a way of preventing wars based on cultural misunderstandings. Such a war took place between the human race and the Mimbari, a race that is central to the story, ten years prior to the show. After four abortive attempts, the station finally went online and was given the designation of five because it was the fifth incarnation of the project.
Once completed, all major races in the area sent representatives there in order to make sure their interests and concerns were being represented. Chief amongst them was Earth, the Mimbari, the Narns, the Centauri and the Vorlons, who together made up the stations executive council. Beyond them was the “League of Non-Aligned Worlds”, a group made up of fifteen sentient races who were all smaller powers, but together exercise a fair degree of influence over policy.
The Centauri, who were based on the late-period Roman Empire, are a declining power, the once proud rulers of most of the quadrant who have since regressed and are looking to reverse their fortunes. The Narns are their chief rival, a younger race that was previously occupied and brutalized by the Centauri, but who have emerged to become one of the most powerful forces in the quadrant.
Based heavily on various revisionists powers of history, they are essentially a race that is familiar with suffering and freely conquers and subjugates others now to ensure that such a thing never happens to them again. The Mimbari, an older and somewhat reclusive race, is nominally committed to peace. But as the war demonstrated, they can easily become a force to be reckoned with given the right provocation. And then there are the Vorlons, a very old and very reclusive race that no one seems to know anything about, but who nevertheless are always there in the background, just watching and waiting…
As the show progresses, we come to see that B5 will actually serve a purpose that is far greater than anyone could have foreseen. It seems that an ancient race, known only as the Shadows, are returning to the known universe. Before they can to invade, however, they must recruit from the younger races and encourage them to make war on their rivals and neighbors. This will sow the seeds of chaos and ensure that their eventual advance will be met with less resistance.
The Vorlons and the Mimbari ambassadors (Kosh and Delenn) are aware of this threat, since their people have faced it before, and begin recruiting the station’s two human commanders (Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan) to help. This proves difficult, as the Shadows appear to have contacts on Earth as well and are backing the power play of Vice President Clarke, an ambitious man who wants to be a dictator. They are also ensuring that the Centauri and Narn go to war with each other as a way of keeping all the other member races preoccupied.
However, using the station as a rallying point, Sheridan, Sinclair, Delenn and Kosh eventually manage to organize the younger races into a cohesive fighting force to turn back the Shadows. Things become more complicated when they realize that the Vorlons are also the enemy, being involved in a power struggle with the Shadows that goes back eons. However, with the help of other First Ones (very old races) and a commitment to stand on their own, they manage to force both sides to leave the known universe.
In the wake of the war, a new spirit of cooperation and cohesion is formed amongst the younger races, which eventually gives rise to the Interstellar Alliance. This organization is essentially an expanded version of the League, but where members are fully aligned economically and politically and committed to defending each other. This comes in handy when the allies of the Shadows, younger races who are armed with all their old mentors’ gear, come out of hiding and begin to make trouble!
Naturally, the full story is much more complex and I’m not doing it justice, but this is the bare bones of it. Relying on historic examples and countless classic science fiction themes, J. Michael Straczynski establishes a detailed universe where multiple races and political entities eventually come together to form a government that rules the known universe and stands the test of time.
Here we have a franchise that had multiple inspirations, according to the creators. The focal point of the franchise is on massive war machines, known as battlemechs, which were apparently inspired by Macross and other anime. However, the creators also came to incorporate a back story that was very European in its outlook, which revolved around the concept of an ongoing war between feudal states.
One could make the case that the Shogunate period of Japan, a time of ongoing civil war, was also a source of inspiration for this story. However, upon familiarizing myself with the background of the series, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing had a predominantly Russian feel to it. In addition to the heroic characters being named Alexandr and Nicholas Kerensky, something about the constant feudal warfare and the morally ambiguous nature of humanity in the story seemed analogous to much of Russia’s troubled history.
To break it down succinctly, the story takes place in the 31st century, a time marked by incessant warfare between different clans and worlds, all of which are populated by humans.Terra (as Earth is now called) was once the center of a grand empire known as the Star League. After centuries of conflict, in what is known as the “Succession Wars”, Earth and many its immediate neighbors were rendered damaged or completely uninhabitable.
As a result, the focal point of the universe resides within the Inner Sphere, a region that is 500 light years away from Earth and dominated by five Great Houses. The leader of each house claims to be the rightful successor of the Star League, and hence the houses are all known as the Successor States. Outside the Inner Sphere lies the Periphery, a large ring of independent star systems that predate the League and the Successor States, but are inferior to them in terms of technology. Though nominally independent, none of these regions have the ability to stand against the houses of the Inner Sphere, and thus avoid conflict with them whenever possible.
A key feature of the Battletech universe is the absence of sentient species outside of the human race. This serves to make the ongoing warfare more realistic, as well as establishing how the current state of war is a direct extension of earlier rivalries (some dating all the way back to the 20th century). Another interesting feature about this franchise is the fact that humanity has not evolved very far beyond its current state, in spite of the lengthy passage of time.
Again, the constant state of warfare has much to do with this, which has had a slowing and even reversing effect on the technological development of many worlds. In short, the franchise is gritty, realistic, and has a pretty dim view of humanity. In addition, there is a palatable sense that humanity’s best years are behind it, and that barring the appearance of some external threat, humanity will war itself into extinction.
A couple of things stand out about each of these examples of a galactic empire. And for anyone interesting in creating their own, they are considerations which have to be taken into account. All of the previous creators, from Isaac Asimov to Weisman and Babcock, either took a singular approach on these issues, or adopted a combined one. Here they are, as I see them:
Humans and Aliens: This is arguably the most important consideration when developing a sci-fi franchise, especially one where a galactic empire is concerned. The creator must decide, is this going to be a universe where humans and aliens coexist with one another, or is it going to be strictly human? Both options open up a range of possibilities; for example, are humans and aliens living together in harmony in this story, is one subjugated to another, or something else entirely? What’s more, what role will the aliens play? Are they to be the benign, enlightened aliens who teach us “flawed humans” how to be better, or will we be the the species that’s got things figured out and they be allegorical representations of our past, flawed selves? Inevitably, aliens serve as a sort of mirror for the human condition or as examples of past human societies, in any story. There’s simply no way around it, not if we want them to be familiar and relateable.
Utopian/Dystopian: Another very important decision to make when creating a universe is the hue its going to have. In short, is it going to be a bright place or a dark place? Would humanity advance as a result of technology and space exploration, or regress because improved weapons and tools merely meant we could do more harm? Both visions serve their purpose, the one eliciting hope for the future and offering potential solutions to contemporary problems, the other making the point that the human condition is permanent and certain behaviors will never be overcome. However, in my opinion, the most respectable approach is to take the middle road on this. Sci-fi franchises, like those of Straczynski and Alastair Reynolds (creator of the Revelation Space universe) did their best to present humanity as being morally ambiguous. We were neither perfect nor unsalvageable. We simply did our best and tried to make a difference, but would always have our share of flaws.
Space Travel: Almost all galactic empires are agreed on this one front. When it comes to creating a extra-solar empire, one that encompasses hundreds or even thousands of star systems, one needs to be able to travel faster than the speed of light. It might mean contravening the laws of physics (causing Einstein to roll over in his grave!) but you can’t really do it otherwise. Whether it’s by the Alcubierre drive, hyperspace, warp, jump gates, or folding space, all of the aforementioned franchises incorporated some kind of FTL. Without it, humanity would require thousands or even millions of years in order to expand to encompass the known universe, at which point, we’d probably have evolved to the point where we were no longer even human! In addition, the problems of subjective time and perspective would wreak havoc with story lines, continuity, and the like. Better and easier to just say “Here (zoom!) Now there!”
Technology: Following on the heels of FTL is the issue of how technology in general is treated within the universe in question. Will it be the source of man’s betterment and salvation, of their downfall, or something in between? Star Trek is a perfect example of the former approach, set in a future where all hunger, disease, poverty and inequality have been eliminated through the application of technology. Despite the obvious utopianism of this view, the franchise really isn’t that far off if you think about it. If we did have matter replicators, machines that could manufacture food, materials and consumer goods out of simple trace elements, then money, precious metals and other artificial means of measuring wealth would become obsolete. In addition, there’d be no more food shortages or distribution problems to speak of, not as long as everyone had access to this technology. And if fusion power and warp technology were available, then energy would be cheap and abundant and commerce would be rapid and efficient.
However, Roddenberry would often show the downside of this equation by portraying societies in which technology had been allowed to run amok. A good example is an episode in Star Trek TNG where the Enterprise comes upon a planet that is run by an advanced machine named Custodian. The people of the planet have grown entirely dependent on the machine and have long since forgotten how to run and maintain. As a result, they have become sterile due to radiation poisoning and are slowly dying off. Another perfect example is the Borg, a race of cybernetic beings that are constantly expanding and assimilating anything in their path. In terms of aesthetics, they are dark, ugly and sterile, traveling around in ships that look like giant cubes that were slapped together out of toxin-spewing industrial junk. Is there a more perfect metaphor for the seemingly unstoppable march of technological progress, in all its darker aspects?
Asimov’s Foundation series also had a pretty benign view of technology. In his universe, the people of Terminus and other Foundation worlds distinguished themselves from their neighbors through their possession of superior technology and even used it to their advantage wherever possible. In the first novel, for instance, the Foundation’s scientists began to travel to neighboring worlds, places that had the use of nuclear power and began teaching them how to rebuild it. Over time, they became a sort of priestly caste who commanded reverential respect from the locals thanks to all the improvements their inventions brought to their daily lives. When in the first book a warlord from the neighboring planet of Anacreon tries to conquer them, they then respond by cutting off all power to the planet and their forces, and use their status as religious leaders to foment rebellion against him.
However, other franchises have a different take on technology and where it will take us. For example, Battletech tends to look at technology in a darker perspective. In this future, the focus of technological development is overwhelmingly on battlemechs and weapons of war. In addition, the ongoing war in the series has had a negative effect on the development of other forms of technology, particularly the kinds that are beneficial to society as a whole. In short, technology has not corrected for mankind’s flaws because it has failed to remove the greatest cause of war and suffering – i.e. ambition!
Frank Herbert, on the other hand, took what could be construed as a mixed view. Whereas in his universe, instantaneous space travel is possible, energy shields, laser guns and nuclear power are all in existence, the overall effect on humanity has not been progressive. In the first Dune novel, we learn that humanity fought a holy war against thinking machines and automation over ten thousands years prior to the main story (the Butlerian Jihad). The target of the jihad was apparently a machine mentality as much as the machines themselves, and the result was a sort of compact whereby future generations promised never to develop a machine that could take the place of a human being. That, in addition to the invention of energy shields, led to the development of a feudal society where nobles and merchant princes were once again responsible for controlling planetary resources, and where armies went to war using swords and daggers in addition to lasers, slug throwers and missiles.
In subsequent novels, this was developed even further to present a sort of twofold perspective on technology. On the one hand, it is shown as being potentially harmful, where a machine mentality and a society built on unrestricted production of material goods can lead to social chaos and anarchy. Not necessarily because it can be harmful in and of itself, but because it can lead to a situation where humans feel so alienated from themselves and each other that they are willing to regress to something simpler and less free. On the other hand, advanced technology is also shown to have a potentially retrogressive effect as well, forcing people to look backwards for solutions instead of forwards. One can see genuine parallels with history, like how industrial civilization, in spite of all its benefits, led to the rise of fascism and communism because of its atomizing and alienating effects on society. Or how the Japanese of the post-Shogunate period deliberately regressed by destroying their stores of muskets and cannons because they feared that the “coward weapons” were detrimental to the Bushido.
Personally, I thought Herbert’s perspective on things was by far the most brilliant and speculative, packed full of social commentary and irony. It was therefore a source of great disappointment that his successors (Brian Herbert and KJA) chose to present things in a far more myopic light. In the prequels to Dune, particularly the Legends of Dune series, the jihad is shown to be a struggle between advanced machines that have enslaved the human race and the few free human worlds that are locked in a life and death struggle to defeat them. However, in twist that is more contradiction than irony, they find the solution to their problem by using nukes to level every machine planet. The fact that the “free worlds” relied on slave labor to compensate for the loss of automation was somewhat interesting, but would have been far more effective if the enemy machines were not portrayed as purely evil and the protagonists as selfless heroes.
The concept of a galactic empire is something that has a long history and many, many incarnations. But as always, the purpose of it seems to be to expand the focus of the commentary so that as many possible aspects of the human condition can be explored. By placing human beings on hundreds or thousands of planets, authors generally seek to show how different places can give rise to different cultures. This is as true of different parts on the globe as it is for different planets in the universe. In addition, the incorporation of aliens also gives us a chance to explore some of the deeper sociological questions, things that arise out of how we interact with different cultures around the world today. For in the end, all science fiction is really about history and the period in which it is conceived, regardless of it being set in the future. Like all other genres, the real aim is to serve as a vehicle for speculation and investigation, answering questions about who we are and what makes us us.
Whew! I think I got a little tongue and cheek there myself! In any case, I enjoy delving into this conceptual stuff, so I think I’m going to do it more often here. Next time, something a bit lighter and more specific. I was thinking about something along the lines of PLANETKILLERS! Stay tuned!
Wow… when I first started doing these movie reviews, last week, I knew that at some point I’d have to cover the book-turned-movie that inspired me to write! And truth be told, I actually saw this movie before reading the book. Yes, Dune was just like Lord of the Rings for me, a film that I was drawn to because I knew it was based on a classic. And upon learning that the movie was significantly different from the book, I decided that at some point, I’d check the latter out. However, it was not until years later, with the production of Frank Herbert’s Dune (the six part miniseries that was much more faithful to the novel) that I finally put my money where my mouth was.
Well, you know the rest… sort of. Short version, it inspired me; long version, I read the first three books, had to return them, then read all six… twice over. Guess you could say I liked them, though I got to admit, not as much as some people! Since I first posted my thoughts about Dune and its Descendents, I’ve learned that their are Dune fansites out there where its all they talk about. And boy do they know their stuff! So let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the good folks at Jacurutu and Hairy Ticks of Dune! Keep up the good work!
I think I also mentioned somewhere that movies based on books, especially where they differed, would get special attention. To make good on this drunken boast, here’s my review of Dune (1984, directed by David Lynch) and Frank Herbert’s Dune (the 2000 miniseries that premiered on the Sci-fi network). First up, Lynch’s adaptation of Herbert’s Magnum Opus!
Since 1971, six years after Herbert wrote Dune, attempts were made to adapt the novel to film. Several directors tried and failed, among them Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott. However, all came up short. Then, in 1981, the Italian film producer Dino De Laurentis decided to tackle it and brought in relative newcomer David Lynch to direct it. This did not mean that the two did not go through hell to create it though! The movie did not hit the screen until 1984, Lynch distanced himself from the work, saying he was denied final cut privileges, and several versions have been released over the years. The original was a two-hour movie that glossed over much that happened in the book and simplified the plot. A three hour version was also released, but this too was guilty of the same faults (i.e. glossing and simplifying). But then again, how do you do justice to a book that is as dense as Dune while still making it fit into a two hour format? Hell, even a three hour format is pretty damn tight, and Lynch cited pressure and deadlines as a reason for the disappointing final product. So really, its lack of commercial success and mixed reviews are entirely understandable. But, as Nietzsche said, “God is in the details”. So let’s get down to the particulars and see just what made the original flop and the miniseries work.
The original movie opens with an intro that parallels the novels, but which seems, in a movie format, to be both confusing and misleading. Princess Irulan (played by Virginia Madsen) gives us an overview of the known universe, set to a background of stars. She lets us know what year it is, how her father’s the Emperor of the known universe, and how the spice runs everything. She also introduces the namesake of the movie, the planet where all spice in the universe “flows” from – Arrakis, aka. Dune. Now here is why this is confusing. Aside from this intro, she has voice over lines for the rest of the movie, and one line of dialogue in the opening scene. But otherwise, we don’t hear or see from her until the very end, and even then she’s just a stand-in. A glorified prop. This is faithful to the novel, in which every chapter opens with a quote from her Histories of Muad’Dib and what not, but like I say, doesn’t work here. In a movie, if someone’s doing the intro, you’d expect them to have some kind of role throughout the movie.
Moving on, the original movie then introduces us to the Spacing Guild by having them confront the Emperor about a possible conspiracy they got wind of. They demand that the Emperor explain the key elements to them, which is really just an excuse for some exposition. I should mention that none of this takes place in the original novel, and it feels like a total info dump, especially if you’ve read said novel. There, Herbert took his time to build up the conspiratorial relationship that existed between House Harkonnen and the Emperor and used dialogue to put it into the background, which is something they should have done with the movie. Dropping it on the audience all at once just seems forced. Oh, and once the Emperor is done explaining his conspiracy, the Guild adds their two cents: if Duke Leto Atreides is to die, could he throw in the son as well? Why? They try to explain that later. In the meantime, we are left to wonder for ourselves, and the Emperor even asks this obvious question in an internal monologue. I should note that this ALSO did not happen in the original book. In fact, the Guild never made any demands at all and had nothing to do with the conspiracy that gets Act I rolling. So again, no real need for this, except to set up the truncated, simplified plot they went with. The scene did involve some cool costumes though, not to mention a big, animatronic navigator in a pressure tank; all of which was pretty original since the appearance of navigators was never described in any great detail. But for the most part, this scene is kinda useless. It also sets up the rather annoying and persistent habit this movie has of relying on internal monologues. I’m reminded of Blade Runner, where Scott felt that need to include narration in the theatrical version, something which was left out of the Director’s Cut. And as time has proven, the latter was better, relying on the actors and direction to establish things and convey information instead of just telling the audience what’s going on.
The movie then moves to planet Geidi Prime, the home of the Harkonnen’s. This scene I actually liked, at least until the dialogue really started to flow. The reason was because the sets were actually very cool. They create the kind of dark, fearful atmosphere that you would expect from a director like Lynch. But then, a big expository speech is made in which the Baron (Kenneth McMillan) and Mentat Piter De Vries (Brad Dourif) explain to Feyd (played by Sting!) and his brother “The Beast” Rabban, what their plan is, in painfully simple terms! “We got us a conspiracy here, and nobody can know about it, k?” I mean, c’mon people, a little subtlety! They go over the top just a little to make the Baron look evil here too, like how he’s got disease ridden flesh that a doctor has to lance constantly, or how he molests some boy to death, or how Rabban and Feyd enjoy the spectacle immensely. I mean, we get it, they’re evil. Move on!
Speaking of moving on, we are brought to Caladan next, home of the Atreides. We meet Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) as he’s brushing up on his planet studies from what appears to be an iPad/audiobook. And of course, more internal monologue is used to tell us what we need to know about these places. And it’s annoying as all hell! “Geidi Prime, home of our enemy…”, “Kaitain, where the Emperor lives…” “Arrakis… Dune… Desert planet…” Then, we get to meet Paul’s tutors, who stand still and stare at Paul long enough for the narration to introduce them all. Really? Why not just freeze frame it, or better yet, NOT have Irulan introduce them? Seriously, it looks like they’re in a stage play and are waiting for the damn chorus to stop talking so they can say their lines. Okay, so there’s Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart, aka. Captain Picard), Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones) and Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell, aka. Al from Quantum Leap). More expository dialogue follows as they dump info on Arrakis, the Fremen, the giant Sandworms, the spice, their enemies the Harkonnens, and how they suspect the Emperor’s in league with them. Then we get a quasi-action scene as Paul takes down a robot using a Weirding Module (a gun that relies on sound, already mentioned in the movie). Do I even need to mention that these things were never in the original book? In truth, they are kind of neat, and the settings used for this scene are also lavish, just like the ones used to reconstruct the emperor’s palace and Geidi Prime. But, you kind of get the feeling that they are setting the tone for the rest of the movie at this point, like all the money went into wardrobe and sets and none was left over for decent writers!
After beating up the robot with his Weirding gun, Paul meets up with Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), who tells Paul he’s proud of him and explains how their move will do them good in spite of the danger. Why? Some stuff about how the “sleeper must awaken”. Now of course this is a case of foreshadowing, but even with all the info dumping and internal monologues, its never quite clear what this means, even by the end of the movie. The Lady Jessica is then introduced, Paul gets to meet the Revered Mother, and she tests him with that funky black box that induces pain. This is also in keeping with the novel, as it establishes that Paul might be the Kwisatz Haderach*, and that there is a conspiracy in the works against Paul’s father. Unlike the previous scenes, this one doesn’t feel so info-dumpish. Maybe that’s because its actually pretty close to what was in the novel, so the writers didn’t feel the need to be so expository. But alas, this good scene is followed by a pretty stupid one in which Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan) is intro’d and Paul says good-bye to him, since he will be going to Arrakis with an advance party to check the place out. What makes this scene stupid? Two lines of dialogue: “May the hand of God be with you,” says Paul. “May the hand of God be with us all,” replies Duncan. Just substitute the word Force and you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands. What the hell! That wasn’t even a subtle attempt at ripping off Star Wars, which was by 1984, the most popular sci-fi franchise of all time! What were they trying to do, cash in on one-liner recognition?
We then cut to the Guild transport ship where we get a special effects montage that is meant to illustrate the mysterious process of how a navigator “folds space”. This, as the novel explains, is an instantaneous form of space travel, which is dependent on navigators who have heightened, spice-induced mental abilities to merge time and space. Whoa! Okay, while the special effects in this scene are not up to current standards, it was still pretty cool. And I did love the models used to create the scene, mainly because you get a real sense of grandeur from them which is what Lynch was clearly going for. In the novel, Herbert emphasized that the Guild ships were really, really big! So kudos for more good set work, David. That’s one thing this movie keeps doing well. Then, cut to Arrakis, where the ship has deposited them safely.
What follows is several scenes in which we see the Duke’s men deploying and settling in. Lady Jessica also meets the Fremen and we find out that they also have legends that involve a Messianic figure that parallel the Bene Gesserit’s. We also get a good long scene where Doctor Kynes (Max Von Sydow), the planetary ecologist, takes them to the desert in an ornithopter and we get to see a worm attack a harvester. Again, kind of cheesy by current standards, but the scene is quite well done and does a pretty good job of conveying Paul’s wonder and the obvious tension over being attacked by a gigantic beast. Then, an attempt is made on Paul’s life, they find booby traps, yadda yadda, yadda. And all the while, Paul becomes more and more entranced with Arrakis, the spice, and his own fate. Then, after ALL that build-up, the Harkonnens and the Emperor finally attack! The combat scene is short, people die, Doctor Yueh betrays the Duke, and Paul and his mother are ushered to safety. Duncan also dies way too soon, having lost the better part of his page time and any involvement he had in making sure Paul and his mother survived. But this was obviously done in order to speed along the movie, which was already going long and had lots to cover still.
Speaking of which, Paul and his mother then find themselves in the desert where they narrowly escape a worm and the Fremen find them. Now this part, mainly the scene where they see the desert Fremen for the first time, I got a problem with for three reasons. First of all, they totally change the reason why Paul takes the name Muad’Dib. Its the name of a desert mouse, not the damn “mouse shadow” that’s on the planet’s second moon! Why’d the movie writers change that anyway? Was the book’s version not messianic enough for ya? The nerve! Second, the acting is wooden, from Stilgar (Everett McGill) to Chani (Sean Young), and just about everyone else in this scene! Everything they say just sounds laughable and cheesy. Third, they speed through it like they’re in a huge rush, which is precisely what the movie does from this point onward! Like I said, its as if they acknowledged that they’ve already spent half the movie on Act I and need to rush through Acts II and III. So from this initial encounter where Paul and his mother are welcome into the tribe, we are rushed to the Fremen’s hideout where they show Paul and his mother one of their moisture traps, the Reverend Mother dies and Jessica take her place (in the process drinking the “Water of Life”** and altering her unborn daughter, Alia), Paul begins teaching the Fremen the “Weirding Way” (still sounds weird!) and they begin their campaign against the Harkonnens, and Paul and Jessica fall in love. Totally, totally rushed! Scene by scene, minimal time is given to establishing the significance of these events, Lynch relying on internal dialogue and narration to relate what the audience needs to know. Even the scene where Paul rides the worm feels rushed, and its got the epic music and a freaking Sandworm!
To make matters even worse, Irulan’s voiceover is cued again and we’re told that Paul then spent the next two years waging war against the Baron’s spice production, Alia grew up way faster than any normal child, and Paul and Chani fell in love. Really? All that just happened, huh? And we’re only an hour and fifteen minutes in? Wow, were making great time! Naturally, the book did this too, but it dedicated plenty of page time filling in those gaps. They didn’t just phone it in! I know, I know, time constraints, but even in the long version, it’s the same. Just a montage of shit blowing up, then we come to the scene where Paul meets Gurney again – whose taken up with some smugglers since the attack – and they join forces. I should also mention that the movie then skips a whole bunch of scenes that took place in the novel and moves right to the part where the Emperor comes to Arrakis to demand answers. He does this, in the movie, because the Guild demanded it of him. Again, not in the damn book! In the book, the Emperor intervenes because the Baron’s incompetence in suppressing the rebellion demanded it, not because the Guild is pissed. Then, we learn why the Guild wants him dead. They say so, and Paul sees it in his dream. They are afraid he’ll drink the “Water of Life”, apparently, because… Well, we’re not sure why at this point. And we’re not even sure why Paul will do it, aside from the fact that we’re told, point blank, that he HAS to. His visions are interrupted, you see, and he needs to take the water of life to regain it and “become what he is meant to be”, or some such prophetic shit!
Anyway, Paul achieves a higher state of awareness after surviving the ordeal, as is demonstrated by a series of watery images and more internal monologue. The truth, he realizes, is that the worms create the spice and the two are interrelated. Duh! But apparently, drinking the water has not just restored his visions but given him control over the worms too. Oh boy! Do I even need to say it? NOT IN THE BOOK! In the original story, Paul drank the water to gain full awareness, which is something every Bene Gesserit sister does and Paul knew he’d have to do sooner or later to see if he was the Kwisatz Hadderach. And he didn’t gain control over the damn worms in the process! What’s more, the Guild didn’t give a shit about any of this, nor did it ever even come up, mainly because they didn’t suspect he would take control over the spice-producing worms in the process. That was all invented by the movie’s writers, and it was pretty damn flaccid, you ask me! It was the simplification I mentioned, and for any fan of the novel (or anyone with half a brain, for that matter) it was a letdown. This, apparently, was what his father was talking about when he said those prophetic words: “The Sleeper must awaken.” Well, seems it has. Makes no sense, but whatever…
So, Paul and the Fremen get a hold of a whole lot of Sandworms and decide to attack the Emperor, who’s arrived on Arrakis in his Imperial fortress. And this climactic action scene is, once again, rushed and pretty sloppy. Lots of tracers and lots of things blowing up, but hardly a satisfying fight scene with the kind of urgency or desperation you’d expect. I mean, I know Paul’s prescient and has already foreseen victory, but that doesn’t mean it should be all one-sided. Then comes the final scene where Paul is dictating terms to the Emperor, a scene which is truncated and underdeveloped by any standard. Yes, he does order the Emperor to abdicate and give him power, which involves marriage to Irulan (who appears in this scene, but says nothing), and yes, he tells off the Mother Superior; all of which is in keeping with the original novel. But nothing is mentioned as to how Paul plans to back up these demands. In the novel, his victory is not complete since the Emperor still has the armies of every noble house sitting in orbit, just waiting for him to say “attack!”. He cannot bring the Emperor and the entire universe to heel until he threatens to destroy the spice, which he knows about because he’s stumbled onto the secret of how water is lethal to the worms. “He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing”, as the novel put it. But in the movie, the Emperor is about to protest until the Guild simply tells him to shut up, because apparently, they “know what he can do”. Uh, mind telling the rest of us? Paul controls the worms, so does that mean he can shut off spice production? Tell the worms to simply stop making it? What?
But all that gets pushed aside so Paul and Feyd (aka. Sting) can have their final knife fight scene. Of course, Paul kills him, and makes his proclamation, also from the novel. “We Fremen have a saying. ‘God created Arrakis to train the faithful’. One cannot go against the word of God’. Then comes the two stupidest parts of the movie, nice that they saved them for last! First, Irulan’s final voiceover of the movie explains that Paul ushered in some kind of golden age. “Where there was war, Paul would bring peace. Where there was hate, he would bring love.” Are you freaking kidding me? I could mention that this is a total perversion of what happened in the novels, where in fact Paul’s reign brought in successive Crusades against the world’s that resisted him, killing billions, but I think I’ll just point out how this makes no sense. For starters, this bringer of peace and love, is this the same guy who just waged a war against the Harkonnens for two years, a war that was based on tons of guerrilla/terrorist-style attacks? The same guy who brought down the Emperor’s army by using a tactical nuke, followed by a full-frontal assault that involved monster-like creatures? Second, just how is this messianic emperor (who happens to have an army of skilled religious zealots at his disposal that see him as a living god and obey his every comomand) going to spread peace and love? Boxes of candy and flowers? Get real! It’s “Do as I say, or freaking die like these other bastards!” Why the hell they even threw this line in in the first place is beyond me! It totally goes against everything the book stood for, which was a sense of historic and humanistic realism. Paul wasn’t no Gandhiesque Jesus figure who loved his enemies and fell on their swords. He was a bass-ass prophet with the toughest army on the block, who smote his enemies hard, fast, and where it hurt! Second, its just plain stupid!
Oh, but I’m forgetting the other stupid thing. Paul makes it rain. Yeah, that’s right. As a demonstration of his powers after he’s killed Feyd and brought everyone to heel, he uses his mind and makes the skies open with tears. Um… what??? What the hell is this, more totally over the top messianic crap? The man is NOT God, in spite of his freaky powers or what his followers think of him. Furthermore, as the extended movie already established (not to mention the novel, many times over), water is poisonous to the worms! This is why Arrakis is a desert planet, for chrissakes! The worms altered the ecology so they could survive. So making it rain would automatically kill all of them and shut down spice production forever! And, as the novel and movie both mentioned, spice is the life blood of EVERYTHING! Without it, people die, and I don’t just mean from the total breakdown of trade, commerce and transport. I mean they start Jonesin’ and freaking die! True, the book did dedicate vast amounts of page time explaining how the Fremen want to alter Arrakis’ ecology so it will be lusher and more hospitable, hence all the moisture traps, but this plan involved centuries of ecological engineering, with great care being given to ensure that some patches of desert would remain so the worse could survive. So not only was it a completely over the top, Ten Commandments-style trick, it also contradicted everything established in the movie – and more importantly, the novel – up until this point.
Ah, screw this! Roll credits!
Okay, no two ways about it, I didn’t like this movie. Obviously, my love of the original book has much to do with that, but so does my commitment to a well-drawn out, well-written story! And while I liked the sets, the costumes, and felt they did a good job of casting, that’s about as far as my love went. The dialogue moves between wooden and preachy, their are far too many expositions being made, the internal monologues are as annoying as they are persistent, the pace is rushed, and the plot feels like a cut and paste job. Once again, I must acknowledge that time constraints and production difficulties were responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like they cut a whole lot of corners in this movie, then pasted on some half-assed plot lines in their place to make it fit and still make sense. Well… not exactly make sense, but you get the point. And I’d be one of the first people to admit that this was inevitable since Dune really can’t be made into a two or even three hour movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that the end result was still pretty bad. Not all bad, mind you. In fact, the first hour or so is actually pretty enjoyable if you don’t know what to expect. But then, it all kind of goes to hell and by the end, you get the feeling even David Lynch was saying it “screw it, roll credits.”
And as was to be expected, the movie was panned by critics and did poorly at the box office. A cult classic like Dune you’d expect to not garner a lot of attention at first, but at least you’d hope it would get the attention of critics and command a cult following. Alas, this movie did neither, and it was for this reason that the miniseries was made some sixteen years later. Essentially, many felt that the Dune franchise, with all its adherents and devoted fans, deserved a second shot at a worthy adaptation. And by opting for a miniseries format – three episodes, two hours each with commercials – they would be able to do it justice. And you know what, they did! But more on that in my next installment…
Entertainment Value: 6/10 (good for the first hour, then not so much)
Plot: 3/10 (weaaaaak!)
Direction: 8/10 (nothing wrong with how Lynch shot it!)
* A superbeing the Bene Gesserit were conspiring to develop through selective breeding. A male that would combine all their powers of genetic memory, prescience, and super-human kills.
** The liquid exhalation of a sandworm that is excreted in the course of their dying, which the Bene Gesserit rely on to achieve higher awareness. The “trial” involves drinking the poisonous water and converting it by using their mental acuity. Those who survive achieve higher awareness, those who fail die.