Technology in the Dune Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worlds of Dune

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.

Final Thoughts:
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…

Dune, the miniseries (Part III)

We come at last to Part III and the final act of the Dune miniseries! Been a long time in coming, and funny thing is, I tried to do all in one post. Now here I am breaking it into four just so I can cover the original movie and the miniseries faithfully. But as I’ve said many times before, the book is long and dense, and requires lots of time and space to do it justice. Wow, is there some weird weird esoteric shit going on here? Are all these posts visually demonstrating how length is the difference between success and failure here?

Sorry about that, I think my latest batch of moonshine’s got some weird properties… making me talk funny! Let’s just get to the third act and wrap this baby up!

The final act opens on an attack being made by the Fremen on the city of Arrakeen, capitol of Arrakis. We see Paul as he’s overseeing this attack, now a full 17 years of age and hardened by desert life and the gift of his prescience. At this point in the story, they’ve been waging their war against the Harkonnen’s for a full two years now and things are finally coming to a head. The Harkonnen’s forces no longer go into the desert, the Fremen has free reign there, and are basically trapped inside the capitol while the Fedaykin strike at them with impunity. Paul stands on the edge of achieving his revenge and the Fremen are on the verge of receiving their messiah. But first, a few things need to happen before they can make their final assault and Paul can become the Mahdi. In order to become a true leader, Paul must ride the worm and assume control over Fremen tribe in the desert (at some point, this will involve calling Stilgar out, as hinted at earlier). And to become a true prophet, he must take the Water of Life.

What’s good about the miniseries at this point is that they take the time to flesh out the events that took place in this time. In the novel they were talked about, but not shown. We skip from the point where Jessica becomes the Reverend Mother to where Paul is riding the worm and all that happens in between is described but not shown. But here, in order to provide additional pacing and keep the audience up to speed, we have several scenes which were both important and well executed. One is where Irulan, upon returning from Geidi Prime, begins to share her suspicions with her father, and I can honestly say its one of the best scenes in the entire series. It begins with her father pointing out how the Baron is loosing men on Arrakis and pleading for help. And replies by indicating that the kill-loss rate is a clear indication of how superior the Fremen fighters are. She then ventures that the only reason the Baron would allow Raban (who is clearly incompetent) to deal with this problem is because he has a plan to enlist the Fremen, and that he is grooming his nephew to take over. Hearing this, Irulan and Fenrig finally say flat out what’s been hinted at repeatedly throughout the series. “(Ten million people)… toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…” “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar…” Fenrig is impressed, but Irulan concludes the scene with an obvious declaration. “My father can handle the Baron… it’s this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.” Aka. she’s almost positive its Paul!

We also get to see Paul and his mother talk about the path he’s on, something that was quite important and never really included in the book. She expresses concern that Paul is beginning to believe in the legends they’ve been exploiting, to which he counters with another legend: the Kwisatz Haderach. Again, the name is dropped, Paul explains how the Reverend Mother came to him in a dream and told him. Jessica then explains what the Bene Gesserit had planned, what the KH was supposed to be. Now the audience, having been primed, knows exactly what the KH is, and what this means for Paul. Jessica says that she only gave the Duke a son out love, that she never meant to give birth to “a God”. But alas, we can see that even she’s not sure who Paul is anymore…

In between all this, we get the important stuff that did make it into the book. For one, we see Paul ride the worm for the first time. He knew he would have to do this eventually, due in part to all the Fremen warriors who have come to challenge him over the years, and to the fact that sooner or later, he will have to demonstrate this ability if he’s going to lead the Fremen. The scene where he does this is certainly cool, better than the original because its not so over the top (aka. no internal monologues, no really epic music, just a high-energy scene that’s faithful). It also ends with a fitting reminder: now that Paul has shown he can command the worm, there’s the little matter of him and Stilgar. If he’s to lead, he will have to best him in combat… Paul is clearly saddened by this realization, and you can see it. But for the moment, they’re riding a damn worm! Not to the time to be worrying about other things!

We also see Paul’s reunion with Stilgar. Earlier on in the series, he saw him working with smugglers, a preview of their eventual encounter. During an ambush, Paul recognizes him and the bring him and his men back to the sietch where they Paul asks him to enlist with him and his Fremen. “I never left your side,” he says, predictably. Good ol’ Gurney! But of course, he is surprised to hear Jessica is alive, and suspects SHE was the traitor. Then, in a scene which never made it into the movie, he confronts with her with his knife drawn, bad Gurney! But of course, Paul and Jessica talk him down once they reveal that it was Yueh and why he did it. Everything is resolved… though Gurney obviously feels like a douche! We also get a gander at Paul’s son who was born in the preceding two years and see the blossoming relationship that’s taking place between Chani and Jessica. These are not just filler, they preview the decision Paul will have to make, the same one his father made. For the sake of politics, the Duke never married Jessica, thus ensuring he could marry the Lady of another house and create and alliance. Paul, it has been hinted at, may have to do the same at some point. Hence, Chani will also be only ever be a consort in title, but in reality, will be his true love.

But the real money is in the palace scenes where the Baron is summoned and makes excuses for his inability to crush the Fremen rebellion. His exact words were said later in the novel, when the Emperor showed up on Arrakis demanding answers. The effect of this was to make the latter chapters feel rushed; putting it sooner in the series, before the Emperor decided to intervene, was a good idea on Harrison’s part because it helped with the pacing. It also makes the Emperor’s eventual intervention seem that much more justified. But alas, the lines: “Your majesty, these people are mad! They women throw their babies at us! They hurl themselves onto our weapons to open a wedge for their men to attack… I could wipe the planet clean of the entire race, but then there’d be no one left to mine the spice. It’s a terrible dilemma…” The Emperor, naturally, is unconvinced. The Guild and the Bene Gesserit, fearing what Muad’Dib represents, want him to intervene, and Fenrig points out that they can’t attack the Baron directly because of their past involvement together. I.e. he secretly helped the Baron destroy House Atreides, can’t have that coming out! So the Emperor decides to send the palace to Arrakis, along with the armies of every major house. He’ll deal with the Fremen rebellion first and the Baron later.

And then, Paul takes the Water of Life! The experience almost kills him, and the scene is detailed and long, reflecting its true importance. In the original movie, it was quick and rushed, Paul did it and it was over. In truth, the experience was nearly fatal, and having come through it, Paul now knows he’s the Kwisatz Haderach, his visions are complete. He sees the future and all the terrible things he will do, but now knows they are necessary and inevitable. He also sees that the Emperor and the great houses are coming! War is upon them at last! When he announces this to the Fremen, they know at last that he is truly their prophet, and demand he call out Stilgar. Paul refuses, saying that their ways must change and he will not cripple himself by sacrificing his best warriors. To resolve this impasse, he declares that he is not their naib, but their Duke! In other words, he asserts his royal claim over the planet and asks for their loyalty, and they give it!

The time has come at last to mount their assault on Arrakeen, now that the Emperor is there! This was apparently the point in holding back. If they took the capitol before the Emperor and his legions were on the ground, the Emperor could always attack and retake the planet. This way, he will defeat both the Emperor and the Harkonnen’s in one blow, and dictate terms to them. But… there’s one more card he needs. He hints at this by telling Othyem, one of his loyal Fedaykin, to take a supply of changed Water of Life to a large pre-spice mass. Otheym knows what this means, and is aghast, but obeys. We don’t… yet, but we can tell its significant. We’re getting the impression that this is the whole “You alone know what I can do!” that Paul said in the original movie. Good! I was wondering… Paul takes the time to bury his father’s remains in a Fremen tomb, and has one final conversation with his mother about the future. She is afraid, naturally, but Paul has become fatalistic about the whole thing. It must be, and he has no qualms anymore because as he says “there aren’t any innocents anymore!” Paul then takes this opportunity to reveal to hes mother that he knows her ancestry. She’s a Harkonnen, and therefore so is he! Cruelty is natural to them, as is nobility. Because of this, he has everything he needs to be the KH, and it’s the perfect irony. The Bene Gesserit wanted someone like him so they could control things, but since they couldn’t control Jessica, she’s changed everything. But has arrived before his time, and the consequences they were told to expect are now here! Bad things will happen, bad, necessary things. A shocking revelation! And perfectly timed since its act III and the attack is about to come.

But, true to the original story, the Sardaukar attack sietch Tabr, where Paul and his family have been living for the past two years, and murder Paul’s son! They also take Alia hostage, the bloody bastards! Paul knows his son is dead just before they mount their attack, rather than hearing about it in the course of it – as happened in the novel, which was weird! Like most of what Herbert wrote in act III, it kind of felt he was rushing towards the climax, getting that writer’s itch to draw things to a close! I know the feeling… But, important here, Alia being taken hostage puts her inside the palace and before the Emperor, where she can deliver her messages to him and the Mother Superior who is there with him. She sees her and recognizes her as “the abomination the ancients warned us about”, i.e. a preborn child, which the BG’s naturally fear. Irulan also connects all the dots now that she has Muad’Dib’s sister before them. She is Atreides in appearance, hence Muad’Dib is Paul! Everyone is breathless!

And then, boom! Paul attacks! Again(!), this battle scene is a lot more impressive here than the in the original movie. Not because of special effects, but because its much more drawn out and the camera gets around. We see fighting in the city, fighting in the desert, at a distance and at close quarters, not just a bunch of Fremen shooting down Sardaukar from the backs of sandworms. What’s more, its true and detailed to the story. They use a tactical nuke to blow up the natural shield wall that protects Arrakeen from the terrible sandstorms, the ensuing storm neutralizes the palace shields, and then, they attack with the worms and take down the Sardaukar and Harkonnen armies! And of course, while scrambling, Alia stabs the Baron with the Atreides gom jabbar (a poison needle), thus killing the bastard! And in the ensuing scene where Paul has his defeated foes before him and is dictating terms, the miniseries takes the time to explain exactly what Paul can do and how he will do it… if he’s not obeyed.

As I said in the Dune movie review, Paul has not truly won at this point. Though the Emperor’s legions are dead and the Harkonnen’s defeated, the Emperor still has the armies of the royal houses to call in. Paul tells them, don’t bother! His men are in the desert over a pre-spice mass with changed Water of Life, which is fatal to the worms, and ready to introduce it in. This will destroy this mass, but also create a cycle of death amongst the sandworms as they spread it to other spice masses and other worms. All the worms will die, and hence all spice production will end; civilization will end! And, classic line to top it off: “If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!” So naturally, Irulan intervenes and suggests she be married to Paul, giving him the throne and staving off disaster. But not before Feyd offers his own solution: a knife fight! It all looks hopeless when Feyd is about to slip Paul a poison needle (the cheater!) but Paul manages to whisper to Feyd that they are cousins! The momentary distraction gives Paul the edge to slip away from the needle and he slips the knife in his throat. Then… (again!) faithful to the novel, and (again!) way better than the original, Paul snubs Irulan, his wife to be, stands before Chani and looks at her lovingly, and Jessica concludes the whole thing with a voiceover (Irulan style): “Let us hope she finds solace in her writing and her books, she’ll have little else. She may have my son’s name, but it is we, who carry the name of concubine, that history will call… wives.”

And that’s the full tamale! All three acts, one big miniseries, one REALLY deep novel! And alas, the creators didn’t stop there. With Frank Herbert’s Dune garnering such high ratings for the Sci Fi channel, it wasn’t long before they tackled books II and III, combining them into a single miniseries named Children of Dune. I shan’t get into that one though, that’s something for another day, a long time from now! In the meantime, let me just conclude by reiterating everything I loved about THIS miniseries. The direction and pacing were great, the acting solid, and with the exceptions of Thufir and Duncan, the characters well-developed and fleshed out. The plot and execution were also faithful to the original, improving it on it in many cases, especially where revelations and twists were concerned. All of this was great in its own right, but especially so since all other attempts to adapt it to the screen failed. For the fans of the Dune franchise, this took over three decades, and Herbert himself didn’t even live to see it. Sure, it wasn’t the silver screen, who who cares? Chances are, this accomplishment was never going to happen on the big screen, and never will. The scuttlebutt says more cable adaptations are in the works, with God Emperor of Dune (Book IV) on the way, and possibly even another attempt at the big-screen. But we’ll leave that to history…

Frank Herbert’s Dune:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (not recommended for people with short attention spans or special effects fetishes!)
Plot: 10/10 (Yo!)
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10

No endnotes! Ya’ll should know what’s what by now! 😉

Dune, the miniseries (Part II)

Okay, in my last post, I tried to cover Dune the miniseries and everything that made it work. I tried to do this in one post… and failed! Going over that six hour beast is like trying to devour an elephant. You can’t do it all at once, no matter how hard you try. I’m beginning to think this is how Lynch felt when he tried to go about condensing Dune into one movie… interesting!

So, with all that in mind, I’ve decided to divide my review into sections. And for simplification, I’ve renamed them so the first post covers the movie, and the three subsequent ones will address the miniseries. And since I covered all the background to the miniseries in the last post, we can jump right into the content itself! Okay Irulan, take us away!

(Content—>)
Part II opens with Irulan doing a quick intro and a recap, as is her function. We then get into the thick of things, the Harkonnen’s assessing their victory, and Paul and Jessica out in the desert taking stock of things. In the former case, the Baron talks with Kynes who was taken prisoner when they attacked the Fremen sietch. He decides to send him into the desert to die, because of course he suspects collusion. In the latter, we get a series of scenes where Paul and his mother are struggling to find their way to safety, and Paul begins to realize certain things. This section was of great importance in the novel, and it was interesting to see how Harrison would handle it. You see, Paul’s exposure to the open desert means he’s becoming even more exposed to spice. Throughout Act I he was beginning to realize how it was changing him, now he sees those changes plain as day. He recognizes that his mother is pregnant with his little sister, even though there’s no way he could have known this. He realizes that he is the result of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, but that his mother disrupted the processes, thus creating the anomaly that is him. In the novel, he also figures out just by looking at his mother that she is the Baron’s daughter, that she was the product of Bene Gesserit seduction and handiwork, something she herself never knew. But in the miniseries, we are blessedly spared this knowledge til later. Like other revelations, he clearly felt that this was something best reserved for the third act. A good idea, since pacing is important when it comes to revelations!

In the ensuing scenes, we see Paul and his mother out in the desert searching for the Fremen. We are spared some of the events from the book, thankfully, which otherwise would have made this section run long. In the end, the miniseries chooses to move us ahead to the point where, in the course of fleeing from a worm, Paul and Jessica stumble into a sietch and meet up with Stilgar and his tribe. Here, Jessica demonstrates her Weirding skills (which in the novel, as here, are hand to hand fighting skills, not some weird-ass sonic guns!) and takes Stilgar hostage. Stilgar agrees to take them in, mainly because he thinks these skills would be useful to them. Paul also meets Chani for the first time, and immediately recognizes her from his dreams. In between all this, Irulan goes home and confronts her father because she suspects he had something to do with the attack and was using her. He pleads his innocence, but not without telling her that she’s naive to the ways of the universe. This underestimation of his daughter, we shall see, will come back to hurt him later. This scene, I should note, was one more case of something that was mentioned in the novel, but only in passing. By illustrating it, the characters of the Emperor and Irulan, as well as their troubled relationship, get more fleshed out. It also helps to set up future scenes in which she had a role.

The story proceeds apace as Paul and Jessica are introduced into Fremen society. After moving with them to another sietch, everybody gets naked and Paul gets an eyefull of the beautiful Chani (his interest appears to be more prescient than primal though, which is more than I can say for the men in the audience!). His mother also takes this opportunity to speaks to him about how they should consider using the Fremen’s legends to their advantage. Paul is then challenged to a knife fight by one of the tribe, a young man named Jamis that he managed to best in a scuffle when they first met. This scene, which was left out of Lynch’s original but included in the director’s cut, is pretty damn central. It’s the first time Paul has ever killed anyone (did I forget to mention he won? Well… of course he did, he’s the main character!) It made it into Lynch’s Director’s Cut, but like every scene in the movie at that point, it was horribly rushed. In the miniseries, this scene takes its time. Paul is not challenged until after the Fremen leave the last sietch and they are settled into their new haunts, after Jamis has had some time to stew over his humiliation. In the course of the fight scene, much time is also dedicated to showing how Paul is unfamiliar with their customs and is afraid to kill. One of the best scenes of the series is when Paul drops Jamis with a kick and says “Do you yield?” Jamis is furious, and Stilgar angrily informs him: “Never yielding! It’s to the death, boy!” Naturally, his mother tells Stilgar that Paul’s never had to kill before. Stilgar is surprised, but simply replies, “He better learn…” So much is learned about Fremen culture in this one exchange! For one, we learn that life and death are interchangeable in their world, that honor matters more than staying alive, and that by the time they are teens, every Fremen has had to kill someone.

Naturally, Paul does win, and then witnesses the Fremen funeral custom firsthand. Jamis’ body is rendered for its water in a “death still”, and the tribe all gets a share. This process is a very important aspect of the Fremen culture, and – do I really need to say it? – it was left out of the original movie! Yep, not even a mention, all skipped in order to get to the next important thing. I should also mention that one of the reasons this part is so important is because that it is after Jamis’ water is rendered and distributed that Paul and Jessica are officially welcomed into the tribe, and he must choose a Fremen name. It is here that he chooses the name Muad’Dib, mainly because he had a run in with a desert mouse earlier and felt it was significant. Once Stilgar tells him what the mouse is called, Paul immediately recognizes it from his visions. It’s the name he hears the masses of Fremen calling… his vision is now unfolding! Speaking of visions, Jessica also speaks to Stilgar about the spectacle she just witnessed. He confides to her that someday, Paul may have to call him out too. Nobody recognizes leadership in Fremen society without the challenge of combat, and Stilgar feels that Paul may very well be the savior they’ve been told to expect. Therefore, the only way he can lead them, is literally over Stilgar’s dead body!

Anyhoo, Act II then moves about detailing the various aspects of Fremen society. We see how Kynes ecological plans for the planet were being carried out at every sietch. Each one has its own moisture traps for accumulating water, each one is busy growing species of plants and grass which they will use to turn the desert into savannahs and grasslands soon. Paul also learns that Kynes (Liet) was Chani’s father, and the two begin to bond over their shared losses. Again, because there were no time constraints, Harris was able to cover everything that happened in the book, and does so in a way that is well-paced and subtle, never telling the audience too much or how the characters are feeling. We can tell how just by watching them! Incidentally, Paul is also plagued by more visions, which are becoming more vivid and intense with each passing day. But in the meantime, he and his mother begin to exploit the Fremen legends, with Paul proposing to the naibs (leaders) of every sietch that they send him their warriors so he and his mother can train them in the Weirding Way. This way, they can form an elite fighting force – the Fedaykin – that will destroy the Harkonnens and usher in the golden age Liet foresaw. A force that will rival even the dreaded Imperial Sardaukar! Naturally, the naibs are intrigued, and recruits begin to pour in!

Meanwhile, Irulan and the Baron are conducting schemes of their own. Irulan is busy trying to find out exactly what happened the night of the attack on Arrakis, specifically if her father happened to be involved, and whether or not Paul and his mother were truly killed. Stories are beginning to circulate from Arrakis of a new person, a Muad’Dib who is turning the Fremen of the deep desert into a force to be reckoned with. We can see the writing on the wall here, how her fascination is actually a growing suspicion that Paul and his mother are alive. She is also made privy to a private discussion that takes place in the royal place between one of the Guild representatives and the Reverend Mother. It seems the Navigators are also concerned about Arrakis, because their visions are all centered on that place. It has become a nexus in their limited prescience, but beyond this nexus, they cannot see. The future is unclear… Wooooo! More intrigue, and more indications that some serious shit is about to go down on the desert planet and someone or some thing very powerful is behind it. And of course, both parties conspire to do what they can to deal with this problem. “The spice must flow”, “The balance of power must be maintained”, as they say.

And the Baron, back on Geidi Prime, confides in Feyd that he left Raban (the brutal idiot of his two nephews) to run the planet because he knows he will make a mess of it and Feyd will have to come in and clean it up. In the process, Feyd will look like the hero and the population will be more compliant. He is then forced to divulge his full plot after Feyd tries to assassinate him using one the Barons boys as a Trojan horse (poison needle on the inside of his leg, very scheming!) The Baron, of course, survives the attempt and tells Feyd that he should kill him as punishment, but can’t because he needs at least one heir who’s not a sadistic moron. Basically, he doesn’t intend to let Feyd take over Arrakis anytime soon. Instead, he wants Raban to keep screwing up so the Emperor will have to intervene, in the process being forced to travel away from the royal palace to the fringes of civilization, where he can be reached! So, Feyd concludes, the move against Duke Leto was just a prelude to moving in on the royal throne itself, and since he wants in, he promises to behave himself. The Baron is pleased, and finishes the scene with a rhyming couplet: “Let the Emperor mock House Harkonnen and call us swine. For the in the end, his throne will be mine!” All class!

As I think I already mentioned, in the novel this conflict between the Baron and Feyd were being fueled by Thufir, as was the Baron’s plotting against the Emperor. This was his revenge for what they did to Leto, his friend and master. However, in the miniseries, the Baron and Feyd are doing this of their own accord, plotting and scheming without the need for outside help. While I did not like the way Thufir was minimized at first, I could see the wisdom in how Harrison chose to do it. By minimizing Thufir, he gave more credit to the Baron, Feyd, and even Irulan as players in the all the schemes. And right or wrong, this worked pretty well. For one, it made the Baron more credible and made the conflict between Feyd and him more real (chip off the old block, trying to kill his own uncle!). It also gave Irulan some credit for uncovering it bit by bit.

Alas, part II concludes with some very important, and poignant, scenes. The first involves the local Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit missionary who’s joined the Fremen, who comes to see Jessica and warn her of the troubles that are coming. Like all Bene Gesserit, she knows what the Fremen legends are and how she and her son have been exploiting them, and lets her know that in so doing, things could backfire horribly. More foreshadowing for the audience to munch on! Then we get Paul and Chani going out into the desert where she tutors him on the subject of the worms and the spice, another nice, paced piece of expository info, right before they duck into a private tent to consummate their budding romance! Hot! But more significance follows when Paul has a dream where the Reverend Mother comes to him and leaves him with a cryptic message. “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows not far behind. You are the Kwisatz Hadderach, boy. The one who can be many places at once. You are the whirlwind…” This line is paraphrased from the novel, which in its original form was much more verbose (like the litany against fear). Like many other elements in this installment, it establishes a great deal of suspense for the final act. What’s more, it is the first time the term has been used in the series. More evidence of slow pacing and gradual revelation.

To clinch things off, we see Irulan go to Geidi Prime for Feyd’s birthday, where she seduces him and pumps him for information. In the course of boasting about their victory, he confirms that the Harkonnen’s never saw the bodies of Paul or his mother, thus adding weight to her suspicions. What is missing from this scene, at least when compared to the original novel, is where the Baron and Fenrig begin talking about the Harkonnen’s rule of Arrakis and what the Baron intends to do there. In the novel, the Baron accidentally slips that he intends to follow the Emperor’s example and use the planet as a prison/training grounds for his troops. Fenrig is visibly disturbed by this, because its something the Emperor was worried about (remember the various hints?) But in the miniseries, they leave this out at this point, leaving it to Irulan to mention later as a reason for why the Baron is letting the planet go to hell. Not sure why they did it this way, possibly because they chose not to go with the “Thufir playing the Baron” plot arc, possibly to make the Baron seem more cunning, or maybe just as part of their attempts to pad Irulan’s role. Either way, it was a change, but it still worked without disrupting the flow of the story. And finally, there’s the final scene of Act II where the Reverend Mother knows she near death and passes on her title to Jessica. She in turn, takes the water of life in the big ritual, becomes a true Reverend Mother, and her unborn daughter Alia becomes “preborn” in the process. To celebrate, the entire seitch engages in a big orgy, as is their custom. During this spice-induced ritual, Paul also experiences a terrible vision where he sees fields of dead people and his hands covered in their blood. A fitting end for the second act because it ties in with all the other bits of foreshadowing we’ve been fed up until this point. We now know that Paul’s fate is to be a great leader, but that it will come with a great cost, mainly in terms of lives.

Thus ends Act II. Tune in again for the final installment on the Dune miniseries!

Dune, the miniseries (Part I)

In my previous post, I think I made it pretty clear that the Dune movie was a flop. And I mean this in every sense of the word: commercially, critically – hell, even Lynch distanced himself from it! But that was to be expected, since Dune is just not something that translates into a movie format. There’s simply too much going on, and any fan of the series knows exactly what I’m referring to here. In terms of length, pacing, content, characters, background, detail, depth and commentary, Dune is just too dense to fold into a few hours of footage. As I also stated in my last post. Lynch attempted to address this problem in a number of ways

1.) Prologue: In the original movie, Lynch tried to cover Dune’s extensive background by having Irulan give a breakdown of how the universe works. In the Director’s Cut, he took a different route and went with a narrated preamble (using animated stills) that covered all the major events leading up to the original novel. These included the Butlerian Jihad, the founding of the Guild, the Bene Gesserits, and other secret societies, and then moved on to cover the basics about the Dune universe, such as its feudal structure, the spice, etc. Nothing wrong with either of these, except that they were both kind of awkward. They were a tad expository, and in the case of the animated opening, it went long. (Yeah, yeah, just like my reviews!)

2.) Exposition: In the opening scene, Lynch uses a reworked plotline to help the character of the Emperor set up everything that’s going to happen in the first act. In the subsequent scenes, all the other main characters do the same thing. The Baron and Piter de Vries explain their plan to attack the Atreides to his nephews, and Paul is told the reasons for their move to Arrakis by his mentors. But the problem here was, it all felt too unnatural and clunky. You really got the feeling that someone had read the book and was trying to give a synopsis to the audience, no suspension of disbelief. You can’t make a decent movie if everything feels like there’s a sense of duty behind it, then it’s just boring.

3.) Internal monologues: it goes without saying that you can’t clog up a movie with endless dialogue, especially stuff where characters are just standing around and explaining things in an unnatural way. Some degree of this is understandable, but after awhile, the audience will simply begin saying, “Nobody talks like this! Get on with it!” So Lynch tried using internal speeches, and like I said before, it was annoying as hell! Even after all the expository speeches his characters made, there was still tons of things the audience needed to be told in order to know why stuff was happening or why it was important. And, as I also said before, the movie would have worked better without it. Let the camera and the actors tell the scene, not the little voice on the track!

Okay, at this point I’m thinking anyone reading this is saying “We get it! It didn’t work, move on!” So as I’m sure I’ve said a few times already in the course of this thread, a miniseries was created in 2000 that sought to adapt Dune into a miniseries, one that wouldn’t be hampered by these difficulties. By going with a three part, six-hour format, the creators clearly felt that they would time enough to provide adequate build-up, character and plot development, and make sure that nothing big would be left out or glossed over. And, with some exceptions, they did just that! Even before I read the books, I saw the miniseries and was highly entertained, and even felt that I had been given the complete rundown of everything in the novel. Then, upon reading the novel, I decided that the miniseries was not only faithful to the original material but even improved upon it in some areas. But I’m going long here and I haven’t even got to the good stuff. Nothing worse than a long preamble, right? (Sorry Mr. Lynch, I had to!)

(Background—>)
The miniseries itself was a collaboration between several studios, which included New Amsterdam Entertainment (US), Blixa Film Produktion (Germany), Hallmark Entertainment, and the Sci Fi Channel. Much like the studios involved, the cast was also very international in scope, with actors and actresses from the US, Britain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy filling the top roles. These included such big names as William Hurt, Giancarlo Giannini, Ian McNeice, and P.H. Moriarty. It would take me too long to list all the movies these people have been in, but trust me, you’ve seen them! John Harrison, a veteran television writer/director with a tonne of sci-fi, fantasy and horror titles to his credit, was brought in to direct, but also had hand in writing the script. In describing the final product, he claimed that the miniseries was a “faithful interpretation”, in which changes and elements that he had introduced served to elaborate on rather than edit material from the original. Having seen the miniseries and read the novel – in both cases, more than once – I can verify this claim. While their were several differences between the miniseries and the novel, I can honestly say that they worked in its favor. But I can’t really say how without getting into specifics, as well as the differences between this adaptation and Lynch’s failed attempt. So let’s get to it!

(Content—>)
The miniseries opens with a rather brief prologue by Princess Irulan, explaining the significance of Arrakis (Dune) and the spice. We then cut to a quick montage of images that represent a nightmare being experienced by Paul, where we see Arrakis, the carnage that is to come, Chani, and of course, Paul’s father dying. Upon waking, Paul realizes he’s left one of Doctor Yueh’s recordings on, a recording which explains the importance of their move and recaps the balance of power their society rests on. This intro, unlike Lynch’s, provides a brief yet informative snapshot of the Dune universe and what is to come. And unlike the novel or the original movie, the opening scenes are not taking place on Caladan, but on the Guild space liner that will be taking them to Arrakis. I’m not sure why Harrison went with this, but I can say it doesn’t mess up the scenes at all. The setting works, and more importantly, the actors and dialogue are spot on. Paul, and everyone around him, understand that this move is a big deal, that is there is a great deal of danger involved, and that in spite of the fact that it is almost surely a trap, that they have no real choice.

What follows is an altered, but faithful reenactment of the Mother Superior scene. Having come aboard their ship to see Paul, they discuss the subject of his dreams, giving the audience a crucial hint as to how Paul is special (i.e. he’s potentially prescient) as well as some hints of how the story will unfold. From his brief, broken glimpses, Paul can tell that Arrakis holds many things for him. He tells her that he sees desert people chanting his name, terrible wars, and his father dying. The Mother Superior is intrigued, and of course, she conducts the pain box test. Naturally, Paul passes, but storms out in anger, leaving the Mother Superior and Lady Jessica to discuss her defiance to the order. As anyone who’s read the novel knows, Bene Gesserit sisters are under strict orders to produce daughters only, as part of their breeding program, until the eugenics program is complete and one will bear a son. This son, if all goes as planned, will be the Kwisatz Haderach*, their superman who has perfect memory and perfect prescience. So by giving her Duke a son, Jessica has disobeyed the sisterhood, and potentially doomed herself and her son in the process. The Mother Superior says they will suffer for this, not at their hands, but in general. She also says that they will do what they can for the boy, but “for the father, nothing…”, thus letting us know that something’s in the works, that the Bene Gesserit know about it, but appear helpless to stop it. Another thing they do right here, even though its breaking with the novel, is that at no point are the words Kwisatz Haderach mentioned! That’s something Harrison chose to reveal slowly, and in increments instead of giving it away early on.

All of this is starkly different from the original movie and even the novel. It is expository without being preachy or dutiful. If anything, its cool and intriguing, relying on well-honed dialogue that lets us know what’s coming without giving it away. Another change I should mention is Paul’s character. Whereas in the novel and original movie he’s a cheery and positive boy; here, he’s angry, impatient, and resentful, which is what any teenager would be in his situation. In fact, his angst and defiance run through all of Act I, and this is one change I highly approved of, as its far more realistic. Whereas Paul was always portrayed in the novel as the kind of child who never had playmates or a normal childhood but was still well-rounded and upbeat, here we see the realistic outcome of that. He misses his father and Duncan, the closest person he has to a friend, and chooses to take that out on his mother, the Mother Superior, and Gurney when they’re training. It just works!

Then… boom! Cut to Arrakis. Here, we see Duke Leto and Duncan Idaho for the first time as they are talking about the Fremen and their leader, a man named Liet. This is another thing the miniseries did so much better, the fact that they actually went into detail about him instead of glossing over his significance. We are told that he is the quasi-leader of the Fremen, and that Leto wants to find him so they can enlist the help of those Fremen who live in the deep desert. This too is something the miniseries does very well, showing how Leto is concerned with cultivating a relationship with the natives of the deep desert, as he is aware that their abilities and knowledge may be what they need to rule. Like in the novel, this was something that came up again and again, and it was hinted that the Emperor himself was worried over it. Basically, the Fremen of the deep desert are the toughest, meanest badasses in the universe. And while their technology might be limited, their skills are second to none. Therefore, whoever controls Arrakis, has access to what are potentially the best soldiers in the universe. But more on that later…

Several scenes follow, all true to the novel. Paul attends his father’s council meetings where he offers up effective suggestions of how they can run Arrakis and recruit the smugglers. Lady Jessica meets with the household staff, which includes the Shadout Mapes (the head servant) and they slowly learn that she may very well be the mother of their messiah. And of course, Jessica bans the water custom where servants scrounge and sell water and offers a free ration of it to everyone in the city, three times a day. Like everything in this miniseries, things are done slowly, the time being taken to develop things carefully and not drop too much info at once. There is no internal dialogue or characters constantly saying stuff like “oh, the legend, the legend!” when they see Paul or his mother. It is only after many scenes that the issue of Paul messiah-hood is brought up, when people in the streets start saying “Mahdi” in his direction, and Thufir is brought in to explain what the significance of this is to Paul’s father.

This is further exampled during the scenes where Dr. Kynes (who is also secretly Liet) is introduced and takes them out to observe a spice harvester at work. Again, these scene were faithful to the novel without being imitative. Whereas Herbert openly wrote what Kynes and Paul were thinking in the book, the miniseries manages to develop this without the need for internal monologues (even though that would a director’s first choice of how to convey thoughts). Instead, we see through a number of shots how Kynes and Paul they are becoming fascinated with one another. Kynes notices strange things about him, like how he knows how to wear a stillsuit** and understands Fremen ways, while Paul is picking up on the fact that Kynes is clearly a Fremen and is holding back information on Arrakis and the worms. All of this is made clear through simple direction, proper camera work, and dialogue, which makes it much more effective. Then, of course, the scene where the spice harvester is attacked! This, like most special effects in this series, was done through CGI, which was only a marginal improvement on the original.

What follows is a major scene, and one that didn’t make it into the original movie: The dinner banquet. Might not sound important, except that it’s a central part of Act I in the book and because its also the first time we see Princess Irulan in the series. Whereas in the original movie she was just voiceover and a background character, in the miniseries she played a central role and it begins here. Clearly, Harrison and his writers felt that the best way to resolve the ambiguity of her character was to write her in to several key scenes, where she is playing the role of the political pawn, but is actually executing an agenda of her own. This works, because it gives her character a sort of phantom presence, a behind-the-scenes quality that is consistent with her role in the novel. Her inclusion in this scene also works because, during the course of the banquet, she has a chance to talk to Paul. We see how they are similar, how they are both intelligent people who don’t like their worlds, and how this predicts their coming together in a political union by the end. Another thing that makes these scenes work is the skilled acting of Alec Newman (Paul) and Julie Cox (Irulan). You really get the feeling that these two will meet again, that they have a connection that supersedes their loyalty to their houses, and that they are likely to be friends and not lovers. Whereas Irulan is thin, fair and proper, Chani (whom Paul marries) is voluptuous, animated, and dark. Clear case of the platonic versus the sensual here!

While this is all taking place, we cut to the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime several times so that we can see how the Atreides’ arch-enemies are doing. Ian McNeice, who plays the role of the Baron, gives all of these scenes a dramatic flair that puts them light years ahead of what was done in the original movie. Instead of being revolting and loathsome, he’s graceful, animated, and even effeminate, not to mention entertaining! This is preferable is so many ways because ultimately that’s what makes for a good villain! He might be bad, but audiences will him all the more likeable, the guy they love to hate! There’s also a scene early in Act I where we cut to the royal palace. Here, the Emperor, played by Giancarlo Giannini, speaks about the Atreides and the plot against them, and yes, its not horribly expository either! Not once does he say that he’s sending his Sardaukar to help the Baron in the attack, nor that an attack is even taking place. Instead, he and Count Fenrig simply say that he needs to find a suitable husband for his daughter (Irulan), and that it’s “too bad that Atreides boy won’t be around”. See? Subtle!

Anyhoo, the attack takes place shortly thereafter. We see for the first time (unlike in the novel and movie where it was foretold) that Yueh is in fact the traitor. Here, and here alone, he reveals that he did it because the Baron has his wife and he must see her again, even if she’s already dead. More changes, Thufir is killed in the attack rather than taken prisoner. In the novel, he became the Baron’s new Mentat after Piter is killed by the Duke’s poison-gas tooth. By being his unwilling Mentat, Thufir was at the center of all the Baron’s machinations in the novel. But with him dead, his importance gets minimized. However, this did give the Baron and Feyd an expanded role by making them responsible for all the plotting that takes place between them, thus making them seem smarter and more villainous (more on that later). It is also here that we also see the Baron do some of the best acting in the whole series. We already get to see how his Shakespearean talents and flare steal the show, and how he ends every scene with a rhyming couplet. But here, it’s wonderfully over the top and just plain fun to hear! “I, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, am the instrument… of his families demise!” “What more proof do you need of what heaven’s intention is? Atreides dead, and Harkonnen lives!” Punctuated, of course, with tons of evil laughter. And best of all, no heart plugs and boys being molested to death! Classy!

Paul and his mother, of course, then make it to safety with the help of Duncan Idaho. And much like in the movie, it feels like he’s killed off way too fast. But at least he made it this far, whereas in the original movie he’s knocked off without ever making a difference. And in the ensuing chase, we also get to see a very important scene which was (you guessed it!) left out of the original. Dr. Kynes, who helps save them by suggesting they flee into the deep desert where the Fremen will protect them, is revealed to be Liet. Paul figures it out when they are in a seitch (a Fremen hideout) and he hears someone mention the name. He explains, intrinsic to the plot arc, that he is not the Fremen’s leader, but more of a guide, who is to stay around until “Mahdi comes”. This helps to illustrate a key element in the story: how the Fremen and the planet’s Imperial ecologists have been working together since the time of Kyne’s father. Ever since the elder Kynes was welcomed into a Fremen community, he busily taught them of how Arrakis’ ecology could be changed, how moisture dens could be created and used to fertilize plants once they had been strategically planted, thus giving rise to a lusher climate. Over time, this idea merged with the legends planted by the Bene Gesserit, of how a messiah would come and lead them to freedom. Paul, and hence the audience, is now beginning to see how these prophecies (self-fulfilling though they may be) are coming true thanks to his arrival. So you can see why this is important, right? Including it only makes sense!

Then, of course, Paul and his mother flee because the enemy is coming. They take to an ornithopter, and fly even deeper into the desert. In order to escape the pursuing Harkonnen planes, they are forced to fly into one of Arrakis’ massive storm. Now this scene I got a problem with, admittedly. “You’re not going in there are you?” “They’d be crazy to follow us!” Yeah, I know David Lynch ripped off the Star Wars franchise, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Okay, then Paul recites the litany against fear, and they go for it! And Part I ends with Irulan quoting from the book, and saying that the saga of Dune is far from over…

Thus ends Act I. And given the length of this review, I shan’t go on! Tune in again tomorrow for Act II, I promise it’ll be shorter!

Endnotes:
*This term is derived from “Kefitzat Haderech”, a Kabbalah term which means “The Way’s Jump”, apparently relating to teleportation. In this context, it means “Shortening of the Way”, referring to the bridging of past, present and future, i.e. prescience.
**A suit that allows the wearer to retain water lost through respiration and perspiration by catching it all in its skin, filtering and processing it, then depositing it in a series of bags the person can draw from.

Of Dune and its Descendents

I could never create a blog about science fiction without mentioning the man who is by most standards the greatest sci-fi author of all time. Frank Herbert, author of the Dune sextet, was not only a master at creating detailed universes and realistic characters, he was also the man who literally wrote the book on hard sci-fi. In essence, he was the one who taught people how to take science fiction seriously, something rarely seen before his time. Philip K. Dick, another great of hard sci-fi claimed while writing in the 1950’s that whenever he spoke of his work, he would constantly be asked: “have you ever thought about writing something serious?” I myself have fallen into this trap many times, thinking to myself that anything I write that is set in an alternate universe or the distant future is somehow less real, less meaningful than something written about today or true life events.

It took Herbert’s Dune to snap me out of my complacency. It was after reading the first three of his novels (re-reading actually since I’d already cracked them before) that I realized that a bunch of ideas that I had been keeping bottled up in my head could actually be made into a full-length novel, maybe even a series of them. Up until that time I had been looking for something to write about, but had placed any thoughts of a sci-fi nature into a folder marked “idea for a TV series”. Yep, the best I figured I could do with any science fiction material I thought up was maybe pitch an idea for a TV show someday, you know, in case teaching and writing “serious” stuff never panned out. This was a long-shot in its own right, not to mention something I knew nothing about. Writing for TV? Not my thing, but at the time I figured that was all my ideas would be good for. At no time did I think they could be useful in helping to solve my writing dilemma. But then, after reading Dune, I felt inspired and started putting pen to paper (well, fingers to keys if you want to get technical) and the rest has been history.

But this isn’t about my work, its about Frank’s. And as every fan of Dune knows, Frank’s sextet ended on a somewhat uncertain note. His original six novels did not complete the series; for instance, we were still left with many unresolved threads in the last book, the whole “Golden Path” thing that Paul Atreides and Leto II “The Tyrant” had foreseen had yet to be explained or brought to fruition as well. After years of waiting, wondering and speculating, the Dune fan community finally caught a break when his son Brian Herbert picked up the mantle and revealed that his father had kept notes on a seventh and final Dune book in a safety deposit box that would cap off the series and answer all their unanswered questions. I was lucky enough to have finished the sixth book just in time to get in on this and was relatively excited.

And I’m sorry to say that the only thing greater than the build-up was the letdown! I sound like a prick saying this, but I honestly feel that Herbert’s legacy has fallen on hard times in the hands of his son and coauthor, the soft sci-fi writer Kevin J Anderson. After first announcing their collaboration and plans to complete the series, they started out with a pretty sensible and predictable stunt: they wrote prequels. The first was the trilogy known as the “Prelude to Dune” series. I read two of the books in this trilogy, “House Atreides” and “House Harkonnen” (but not the third and final, “House Corrino”) back in the early 2000’s and was generally unimpressed. In fact, it would be an exaggeration to say I read them, Atreides I put down two-thirds of the way through and Harkonnen I didn’t even get one hundred pages into before I got bored and dropped it.

This I blame in part on the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of prequels. For one, they have to be done right! And if the audience is already familiar with the story, the characters, and where everything is going, it’s not going to make for a very good read. It’s just filler, people reading to see how it happened, not what, where, when, and why. Anyone who sat through the Star Wars prequel trilogy ought to be able to relate. Another reason was the fact that the books seemed relatively uninspired. Not only did they suffer from that prequel sense of duty, having to explain how events the readers were already familiar with came to pass, it was almost always in a way that disappointed. When it comes to background, like most things, less in more. And these two authors really didn’t seem to be bringing anything new and original to the table, just recycling old stuff they knew the fans liked. Just seemed… I don’t know, lazy and kinda crass.

However, this did not stop me from perking up when they announced the second prequel trilogy, the “Legends of Dune” series. It seemed a bit consumerish for them to put out another set of prequels keep us fans waiting for Dune 7 like this, but what the hell right? We all wanted to know what the heck this thing called the “Bulterian Jihad” was all about. In the original Dune series, Frank had indicated that 11,000 years in the future – 10,000 years before the events in the first novel – there was a religious war that was waged by humanity against any and all thinking machines. This war altered the shape of the universe and ushered in the socio-political landscape that characterized the original novels. But beyond that, no one knew what happened. So, the son and the coauthor decided to write about it. What could go wrong?

As it turned out, a lot! Purely my opinion, but these books were an example of what never to do in writing. The first book, “The Butlerian Jihad”, I bought with some interest, and I am sad to say it was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen! It was totally one-dimensional, predictable, and the plot was full of starts and stops and just seemed to fumble its way towards the conclusion. The characters were also completely superficial and really just a bunch of bad stereotypes and cookie cutter heroes and villains. But, I finished it, mainly out of curiosity and even managed to talk myself into buying book two, “The Machine Crusade”. Another suck-fest! The same exact weaknesses as the first! The good guys were too good, the bad guys too bad, and the story was ridiculous and thin as the paper it was written on. I couldn’t believe that Brian Herbert and Anderson could even think about putting the name Dune on it! Surely they had to be sick with guilt over it! But apparently not because they just kept on turning them out. To be fair, I never read book three of the series, for obvious reasons. And based on the synopses I’ve read, I think I made the right choice. While some reviewers hailed the literary duo for their ability to connect past with present, others described it using the same words that I did. Namely, contrived, superficial and not up to the originals.

And yet, I still went out and bought the Dune 7 book when it came out! I might have been a sucker for it, but after years of waiting and many dollars wasted on useless prequels that did nothing to satisfy my curiosity, I had to know how the damn thing ended! I was already writing my own novels at this time, so I felt all the more driven to see how my mentors own vision wrapped up. Sure, this latest book was only book one of two, yet another conspicuous act of opportunism by these two authors, but what did I care? I had to know how things ended and as usual, I felt that the writing style and narrative ability of the duo left something to be desired, but I was still intrigued and held on throughout, waiting for the awesome conclusion to book one of two.

Then I read it… I threw down the book in disgust and never touched another publication by them again.

“Seriously?” I said to myself. The conclusion to the whole story was that the machines were coming back? All that build-up, all that talk of humanity’s extinction and the need to alter the future, it was because those lame-ass, tinker toy, evil the cat, cardboard cutout, villainous robots were coming back to settle an old score? Needless to say, I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe that Herbert’s own son and the hackish Anderson would ever stoop to ending Frank’s masterpiece with a tie-in to their own pitiful work! I refused to believe that the book was even the result of looking over the contents of a safety deposit box that Frank Herbert’s had left behind. In my mind, this ending was merely an attempt to conclude the series in a way that paid homage to their own weak interpretations of the Dune universe. Attempting to rewrite history, as it were, to suit the son and his second, not to complete the vision of the father. (Bit of a Dune-esque theme in there I’m thinking!)

Of course, I could be all wrong. It’s entirely possible the Legends of Dune prequels and Dune 7 (titled “Hunters of Dune”) were the direct result of Herbert’s own notes. But I couldn’t see how. They were nothing like his original books, and all throughout the originals, where hints were dropped as to the possible outcome of the “Golden Path”, not once was machines mentioned or any hint given that the threat to humanity came from the return of some old enemy. If anything, Herbert seemed to be suggesting that it would come from within, from humanity itself, or possibly from an alien intelligence, something humanity had yet to encounter. And while I wanted desperately to know what happened in book II of Dune 7 (“Sandworms of Dune”), I just couldn’t bring myself to waste the money. Luckily, I managed to get a hold of some reviews and synopses which told me all I needed to know. The story ends with more Deus Ex Machina plot twists, contrivances and plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. And the final message, the moral of the whole Dune saga? Humans and machines need to live together in peace! …Really? Where did they get that shit from, the Matrix playbook? Had they just watched that whole trilogy and figured ripping off another franchise was a good way to end Herbert’s legacy?

I mean really, THIS was how six books about human evolution, ecology, science, social and economic models, politics, social control, revolution, upheaval, prescience, survival, genetic engineering, eugenics, holy wars, secret societies, resource control, awareness drugs, chivalry and knife fights was to end? All that history and timeless wisdom that Herbert drew on, and the final message was that humans and machines need to learn how to live together? Dear God, I could imagine Frank Herbert turning over in his grave! But what can you say when its own son who’s putting out these things? You figure he must have the best of intentions.

But good intentions or not, the duo weren’t finished there. Shortly thereafter, they began writing stories that fell (ahem!) between the original books. Yes, as if prequels and sequels weren’t enough, now they were writing… I’m not even sure what to call those! “Paul of Dune”, “Winds of Dune”, and coming soon, “The Sisterhood of Dune”, are all stories that take place between the respective novels in the original series. Again, out of curiosity, I picked up these books to give a gander at their dust jacket and see just what the hell they were about. Again, I felt my IQ drop and promptly put them back down! Even after all the crap I had endured at the hands of these two writers! And yet, I somehow found fresh reasons for being offended by their latest attempts to cash in on Frank’s good name. One, the stories obviously do not cover anything new! Events between the first three novels are all covered in the originals themselves, and at length! Nothing more needs to be said! Second, these guys had already put out six books of pure filler, unoriginal stuff that does nothing but flesh out stuff Frank already wrote about. So it would hardly be unfair to say that the “Heroes of Dune” series, as its called, will be any different. Every time these two publish a book with the Dune name on it, it becomes an instant bestseller, purely for reasons of recognition, never for reasons of quality or originality. Profit incentive is the only reason to keep doing it!

To be fair, its hard for anyone to step into the shoes of a great author, let alone someone like Frank Herbert who left a mountainous legacy. And hey, we all gotta eat right? But in the case of Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, I think it’s safe to say that their work and continued attempts to cash in speak for themselves. When it comes to raping the legacy of Frank Herbert and the Dune series, these two just can’t seem to get enough! Where there’s more money to be made and fans to exploit, these two will pen something else thats equally fluffy and superfluous and just sit back and let the royalties roll in. But how much longer can they keep this up? Who knows, these guys are good like that!

So out of respect for the master and original creator, I implore his son, Brian Herbert, to please stop! Its noble and brave that you’ve decided to step into your father’s shoes to finish off his masterpiece, but the direction you’re taking it in threatens to destroy every last trace of authenticity it once had! And to Kevin J Anderson, let me humbly suggest that you take this opportunity to go back to doing what you do best: writing fan fiction for Star Wars, X-Files and other generic sci-fi franchises. Hell, Star Gate has to be hiring, and Halos pretty damn popular right about now, maybe you could pen something for them. But for the love of God, stay away from Dune, it is clearly out of your league and I don’t think the fans can take much more, let alone the memory of Frank Herbert! I know its kind of late in the game to be asking this, but if there’s anything you two have demonstrated, its the ability to find new ways to squeeze blood from Frank’s corpse. So please, in the name of the master and all that is good and literary, I implore you, STOP!