A Little More on the End of Dune

I’ve been running a Dune book club over at dunecember.com since December, in case you didn’t know. We (and I) just finished the book this week, and I wrote a looooong recap of the last 50 pages and discussed it a bit. I had some more that I wanted to share with regards to my perception of the book’s conclusion and the official Dunecember blog didn’t feel like the right place for it, so here we are.

Over in my post, I said:

This book seems to make the case for looking toward the unexpected, the uncontrollable, the “chaotic” over the planned and the foreseen. It’s an interesting way to look at things.

And I have found myself looking at things this way since I first read this book a few years ago. It’s not an easy way to look at things without a sufficiently-large view of God. The “chaotic” mentioned above is, to me, only literally chaotic to those (including myself) who are incapable of understanding God completely. I believe that God has ultimate authority in every situation and that nothing happens beyond His control. This is a tough way to look at things because, well, shit happens. Daily. From tiny things that suck all the way up to enormous, ghastly tragedies.

Either these things are out of God’s control, or they are part of his plan in a way that will eventually glorify Him. For God to be the supreme being He says He is (“the Beginning and the End”), He must be capable of thinking and planning beyond anything humans are capable of perceiving. Thus even horrible atrocities must have a place in His plan, since they occur and everything that occurs is part of His orchestration.

(This does not square with the concept of Buddy Christ–the God who’s totally your best friend and is going to make you rich. It also makes people uncomfortable to think that every terrible thing they have experienced has been for a reason–understandably, I might add, since people go through terrible things and have a tendency to blame God for making their life hard.)

In Dune, the best-laid plans of a powerful order are diverted by one woman’s decision, due to her love for her husband, to have a boy instead of a girl. (Within this order, women are capable of such minute control of their bodies that they can determine the gender of their child.) Centuries of careful breeding are thwarted by this one decision, and the son becomes the One that they have sought all this time.

While I know that fiction is not evidence of the manifestation of God in our lives, I believe that the act of creativity and creation can be a form of worship–that even non- and anti-Christians can reflect God in art. I think God is reflected in Dune.

Accepting the idea that “chaos” in our lives can be God’s path for us is weird and kind of difficult. In Dune, Paul (the aforementioned One) has limited precognition–he sees things that could happen based on his actions. Sometimes, though, his perception of his various paths dips out of his view. These are the times he knows that he must act–he fears and anticipates them because he knows that it is in these moments that change will come into his life. Our lives have similar instants where small decisions make a big difference later on. Sometimes, we can even see these decisions coming and decide whether to embrace or avoid them.

My encouragement for you is: embrace these decisions. Trust God. Know that things won’t always been perfect or even good, but that He has a place for you in a plan so complex that we aren’t even capable of comprehending.

(Before anyone brings it up–I’m not arguing for predestination 100%. I think that predestination/free will is not an either/or situation. The best way I can put it is especially for nerds: think of light. It is a particle, a photon. Also, it is a wave. Sometimes it acts like one, sometimes it acts like the other. But as far as we can tell, it’s both at the same time. That’s my answer to the predestination/free will argument–as far as we can tell, it’s both at the same time.)

Dunecember: End of the Story Discussion

J. Scott Campbell's Frank Herbert

Have you finished Dune(cember)?

I have. Let’s talk. Continue reading

Dunecember: Week 8 Roundup

Japanese Dune Cover

Here we are: halfway through book three, most of the way through Dune. Crazy things are still happening: our main character(s) are still finding their place in their world. The protagonist and the antagonist haven’t even met yet, and we’ve only got about 50 pages left (plus the appendices)!

Thus far in Book Three, the focus has partially been on bringing the Atreides crew from Book One out of hiding. We find that, two (or is it three?) years later, Thufir Hawat, the mentat, is still in service of the Harkonnens. He has been busy, however. We find that he is playing multiple sides against each other, making it look as if each is the sole beneficiary of his schemes. Taking his sketched-out plans on the whole, it looks like he is going for revenge against the Baron, his chosen successor, and the emperor. His plans are also working to drive Arrakis into the hands of Paul, though he may not know it.

A word on the Baron real quick: I think Herbert’s emphasis on his huge fatness belies the power, intelligence, and scheming that the Baron seems capable of. He has plans layers and layers deep, keeping everyone who could be of any use to him beholden to him in some way. Every person who works with him or deals with him has an exploitable weak spot that the Baron is not afraid to take hold of and squeeze. This guy is a pretty great foil compared with the young, quick Paul. And they haven’t even met!

At the end of our section, Gurney Halleck (how awesome of a name for a fighting man is Gurney by the way?) rejoins Paul and Jessica. He has spent the time as a spice smuggler, and is still motivated by thoughts of revenging his Duke. He’s not the schemer that Hawat is, but it seems he was, in a way, the soul of Duke Leto’s former crew. He provides some of the more emotional moments in the book, I think.

Paul’s story is really coming to a head as a bildungsroman. He’s fathered a child. He goes through the Fremen rite of manhood in catching and riding a maker. He’s gone from reacting to things that are happening or are about to happen to planning for the future. Paul seems to have a lot of schemes laid out as well. I really really like his philosophy of compromise. He sees two distinct futures ahead of him and constantly tries to have it another way. It’s, in a certain sense, youthful rebellion; it’s also the sign of someone who refuses to just accept his fate and give up fighting. I am thoroughly convinced by his speech explaining the compromise of being leader while keeping Stilgar alive and in charge of the seitch (it makes Stilgar…governor while Paul is…president?). And I think he is up to some craziness with the ending of the chapter. What he has decided to do makes sense with his take-charge-instead-of-waiting method of leadership, even though it’s nuts.

This is our last week! Read to THE END OF THE BOOK! I’ll try to get a roundup in by Thursday or Friday, and then write another one for some Appendix discussion. Also this week I am looking to have some guests discuss their favorite characters or scenes or locations or technology or whathaveyou in Dune. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in sending me ~500 words on stillsuits (or whatever).

The picture up top is stolen from Brandon Graham’s livejournal. He’s one of my favorite comic book guys–his book King City comes out roughly monthly from Image. And, because I haven’t made a Star Wars connection in a while: Fremen with stillsuits = Tusken Raiders???

Dunecember: Weeks 6 + 7 Roundup (Book 2)

What a crazy couple of weeks for Paul and for Arrakis. Actually, I don’t know how much time passed during Book Two, but I get the feeling that it was not a long period of time. It may have been shorter than two weeks. But we read the section in two weeks, so I’m just going to go with that.

This was the setting-things-up section of the book. The first part gave us the facts about the planet and the characters. We learned of the political situation and were given some insights into what was going to happen (and some things that only might happen). This part placed all the pieces in motion. Betrayals were handed out, as were executions. Partnerships were formed, and titles were distributed. It seems that everything was laid out for the commencement of the action–the forward movement–of our last section.

I’m going to stick to my format from last time and bullet out some of the important plot points from the last ~160 pages:

  • The Atreides have lost Arrakis to the Harkonnens–everyone’s believed dead except Hawat.
  • Paul and Jessica survived in the open desert and were initiated into Stilgar’s Fremen tribe
  • Paul > Lisan al-Gaib/Usul/Paul Muad’Dib
  • Jessica > Reverend Mother
  • Baron Harkonnen > Still a bastard

There is an insane amount of detail and complexity I am leaving out here, but, well there you go. The ending scene of Book Two was pretty dense with information. Jessica becoming a Reverend Mother seems to have awakened her generational insight while also awakening the child growing inside her. The spice that Jessica consumed and transformed is enjoyed by a drug in the seitch “orgy” which may be as much or more metaphysical than it is physical (though it seems that Paul and Chani–Liet-Kynes’ daughter–do get physical). The whole thing reminded me of that scene in Matrix Reloaded, except without Keanu Reeves’ naked butt.

We’re caught up to this post in DHarbin’s Dune book club. Read his stuff for more insight–and his comments for actual discussion!

Next week, we’re reading to around page 437–the chapter that begins “How often it is that the angry man…” and ends with “His body had slowly acquired…” Enjoy (I’ll round it up, I promise!)

Dunecember: Week 5 (Book 1) Roundup

How about that post last week, huh? Drew’s comparison of Paul’s upbringing with the molding of details into poured concrete was a very evocative and, I think, apt one.

This week we wrapped up the first part of Dune. There was quite a bit of action, and it was certainly thrilling. In classic unfolding drama fashion, get had a lot of questions answered and a lot of new questions come up.

We finally saw:

  • Yueh’s betrayal
  • The Duke’s death
  • Paul and Jessica’s escape
  • The Harkonnen plan
  • Jessica’s parentage

But we were presented all kinds of questions:

  • Who of the Duke’s men made it out?
  • Where will Jessica and Paul go?
  • Who will win the battle?
  • What is the true nature of Paul’s new found powers?
  • Jihad?

The question about Paul’s powers is definitely, for me, the biggest one. It seems like he is looking into the future, but not just one, predetermined future, but all possible futures, based on his choices. He can also sense the past, and read more into people than we’ve previously been informed was possible. (He determines his grandfather is Baron Harkonnen just by looking at her face–and analyzing all the facts at hand!)

I’m interested to see what you, dear readers, think about his decision with the two paths laid out for him: He mentions one involves greeting the Baron by calling him “grandfather” and the other he sees a shrine of his father’s skull and “jihad.” I have an idea of what these mean (I’ve read this before, relatively recently) but I’d really love to hear what you think.

This week, the reading schedule doubles! We’re reading about 75 pages this week–half of book 2. Reading ends with the chapter beginning “This Fremen religious adaptation…” and ending with “Even the hawks could appreciate these facts.”

Dunecember: Week 4 Roundup

This was written by my good friend Drew Morgan.

Well, this week we spent most of our time watching complicated personal interactions among the Atreides household and company. We seem to finally be starting to fade from inside to outside, to transition from control to chaos, to feather from exercise into execution. If you will permit me one of my odd metaphors, the household that has formed Paul into the (presumably) future ruler of Arrakis is like a womb–he has been protected and formed by Caladan, the Duke Leto, the Lady Jessica, and their chosen assistants–and the tenuous Atreides household on Arrakis is the birth canal to his destiny.

I made a sculpture last week, as a present for my brother. It is a ~250 lb, 3 ft concrete cross, with faceted sides; at risk of sounding proud, I think it is a beautiful design. I precisely cut 23 irregular quadrilaterals from plywood and attached them together with duct tape and spray foam, creating a form to hold the oatmeal-like wet concrete. When I poured it in the top, across the rebar built into the interior, I was nervous that the untested form would split open and waste my efforts all over my garage floor, but it held. I let it be for 24 hours while it hardened until it could support itself.

You may be wondering why I tell this story; maybe you see that I am about to compare Paul to my sculpture. But the point of my story is the part where I destroyed the wooden form on Christmas Eve. I used a utility knife to slice quickly through the tape and foam down the length of the mold, and piece-by-piece I pried off the wooden facets and tossed them into a pile on the floor. After I was done, I found my hands resting on something more than I had bargained for. Not only did I see the angles and proportions of my design, but I was presented with a wonderfully accurate, though pocketed and sandy, reproduction of wood grains and ribbed strips of tape.

This is why I think Mr. Herbert has written the first portion of Dune for us: so that as we begin to enjoy the main body of his epic storyline, we are not watching only the explicitly blocked-out, major facets of Paul’s character unfold upon Arrakis, exciting and enjoyable though they are. We are instead poised to watch the life of a fully textured and detailed man, formed with detailed imprints of his good and courageous father, his deep and sensitive mother, his quirky and wise teachers, the succulent household of his upbringing–all of which we know well and have now enjoyed with him.

I have not read this book before, so I could be entirely mistaken about the meaning of this first part, but I am (as you can see by my writing this) betting that I’m right. I don’t know exactly where the story is going, but I am morbidly excited to see how the good Duke follows his path to his end. I can’t wait to find out how well the desparate Dr. Yueh’s is able to execute his madly-outlined plans, and what possibly-unhappy destiny the Lady Jessica has in store for her. I am anxious to see what strange (tragic?) role the blue-eyed Piter has to play, and what will become of the disgustingly evil Barron Harkonnen. Even further, I can’t wait to find out about our mysterious almost-narrator and foreshadower Princess Irulan; how is she connected to the story?

We’ll be finishing book one this week (at page 200 or so), so I’m sure some of our questions will be answered. But many will not, and new loose ends and tensions will certainly appear. But that’s what it is to be human, right? We don’t get to see the world at once; we must watch it slowly ravel together. Enjoy your reading, and may you welcome the new year with Joy as it begins to take its course.

Dunecember: Week 3 Roundup

Moebius' Kynes

The focus this week was entirely the Duke Leto Atreides. We saw him deal with his son, his staff, and the unknown. I can’t help but feel that every moment we’re given with him is, in a sense, pointless. I know he’s going to die, so I feel myself writing him off. He’s pivotal to the book, though, in how he has shaped those around him. And the knowledge of his greatness develops what would otherwise be empty tragedy.

There is a a split, but not a dichotomy between how he deals with the issues facing himself and his son versus leading his staff. In the former, he’s compassionate and almost conspiratorial. He sees the man his son is becoming and is impressed but saddened by his (heavily foreshadowed) future. At the same time, he is reserved–he loves his son and withholds knowledge from him in hopes that Paul will be comforted by not having to bear the full doom of their situation.

With his staff, he takes command and doesn’t stand for any nonsense while demonstrating that he is a fair leader. He cares less for ceremony and titles than doing what’s right when it needs to be done. This is demonstrated first with the Freman Stilgar and the second crysknife to pop up thus far in the story. I love scene’s like Stilgar’s (and later Kynes’) introduction to the Duke. The Freman clearly doesn’t care for ceremonial titles, and Leto is not the least bit insulted by their neglect. But everyone else is quickly enraged. It’s a classic moment showing the humanness of a leader, and it plays really well here.

Kynes’ introduction is similar in tone, but it feels more serious to me. He’s an important character, both in the situation at hand and in the book itself. He seems to balance himself between a cold matter-of-fact manner and a more mystically-minded, questioning thought process. There is certainly a lot going on with him (hints!!!).

The whole spice harvest set piece is pretty exhilarating. We finally get a hint of where the spice comes from and we get our first “glimpse” of a sandworm and the destruction and danger it represents. I love the concept, put forth thus far only lightly, of the sand as an ocean. That is, rather than hard, packed ground, it is a shifting medium containing both wealth and danger. The spice crawlers have the feel of whaling or fishing ships, especially in that scene, with the sandworm standing in for some mighty whale or kraken. Plus, Leto exhibits his fairness and concern for people over profits which is a great thing to see even if it feels a little cliché.

Oh! And stillsuits. What a fascinating, disgusting, brilliant concept. I realize that modern space suits aren’t entirely unlike this, but the idea of the stillsuit makes me think of the line, from a Venture Brothers episode, about Doc Venture “basting in [his] own juices.”

Herbert continues his heavy foreshadowing, with the Duke and even with Paul. I have some thoughts about his use of heavy near-spoiler levels of foreshadowing, but I’m going to address it in a later post where it can be tied better into the story.

[If you’re supplementing my commentary with Dustin Harbin’s we’re up to his week 2/2.5. We’ve read most of what he talks about in week 3, but not all of it (one of the major things he talks about is in this coming week). His week 3 commentary is also peppered with little spoilers, so maybe read half of next week’s reading before jumping over there.]

We’re reading to page 162ish this Christmas week. The final chapter starts with “Do you wrestle with dreams?”

Don’t worry too much if you’re behind or ahead. If you’re behind, curl up in a comfy chair some afternoon this week and catch up. If you’re ahead, try not to blaze too far ahead. I know the schedule is slow for this month, but weekly page count doubles starting January 1.

Dunecember: Week 2 Roundup

PALMLOCK

(by Paul Pope, for DHarbin’s Dune Book Club, which wrapped up this week)

This week was full of mostly quiet character moments and bookended by Paul’s father, the Duke Atreides. We saw him in a moment as a father with Paul,  in a hushed moment with Paul’s mother–who we learned is not his wife, though he is also unmarried–and in a moment of leadership with his lieutenants. Paul’s father is interesting, as he is doomed from the start but upholds his nobility and values while focusing on laying the groundwork for his son to ascend.

Through Jessica we learned more about the Bene Gesserit in the form of the Missionaria Protectiva. This is a really brilliant concept, this panoplia propheticus. The idea that there’s a group subtly spreading “prophecies” that will protect its people belies a number of Herbert’s themes pretty early on. The MP is incredibly cynical for something approaching the religious nature of the Bene Gesserit order, though not that different from the legends that pervade the universe in Asimov’s Foundation series concerning the Foundation itself. However, the Foundation is simply a society preserving useful knowledge, while the Bene Gesserit seems to have (at this point) some sort of mystical connections. Herbert tries to make them science-based, with his talk to body language and “hearing the truth,” but there is an almost Jedi-like ability in ladies like Jessica with regards to their bodies and the casually-dropped hints at mind control.

The Fremen were introduced in the form of the Shadout Mapes (future band name, to be sure). The Missionaria Protectiva’s panoplia propheticus definitely holds sway in her, and Jessica is able to feign her way through that interaction (which seems heavy in subtext but is mostly impenetrable) and comes out with a crysknife. How hardcore is it, by the way, that the knife must not be sheathed unbloodied. Eeeesh. (Also, for our D&D metaphor, Jessica HAS ACQUIRED crysknife [properties unknown])

Paul also used some of his Jedi sorry, Bene Gesserit training to dispatch a crazy flying knife, and Jessica discovered an extravagant luxury and grave warning (partially illustrated above by the great Paul Pope, drawn for DHarbin’s Dune Book Club).

This reading has still been pretty heavily forshadowing doom to come. Any thoughts?

This week, read to page 126-ish, to the chapter concerning Kynes, which ends with “Against his own will and all previous judgements…”

December 2009 Roundup

Hey Ryan, what have you been up to lately?

A bunch of stuff, actually:

Dunecember

I started a Dune Book Club for the months of December and January. There’s a blog, a twitter account and some other links. We’re only about 80 ages in at this point, so it is still very easy for you to join.

Mixtape

I did another combo mixtape with my good friend Fred. It’s called the Elephant Gambit. Go here to download it and read our commentary.

Top Ten 2009 albums to play for your parents

The first part of my year-end music roundup is up at Super Secret Space Base here. The second part will be a Favorite Albums of 2009 post here and maybe somethin’ crazy on Twitter.

As always, I’m a twitter addict, though I do keep mini.prestigeformat.com pretty well-supplied with links.

Dunecember: Week 1 Roundup: First 40 Pages

Lots of information in these first forty-odd pages. We meet our main character: Paul Atreides, the son of a Duke in some kind of future/past (”A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”–this won’t be the last Star Wars reference). We meet his mother, a mysterious witch-woman, and some of his friends who also happen to be adults in the employ of his father. We also meet his and his father’s rival, and some political machinations are introduced. Phrases pop up like crazy, so I assume there has been lots of flipping to the glossary.

There’s a fair amount of exposition in these opening chapters. We’re introduced to a number of systems, which are the real rulers in Dune. There’s the environmental systems on Arrakis, the fiefdoms of the Imperium, the Spacer Guild, the Bene Gesserit and all kinds of other certifications and classifications and bureaucratic powers. Even the members of the “main cast” that we’ve been introduced to are like members of a D&D (or WoW) raiding party, each with their own powers and allegiances. While there’s certainly some action (the gom jabbar is a great scene, and the carefully controlled shielded sword fighting [swords!–there’s your second Star Wars reference], plus there is already so much intrigue with Yueh’s CONSTANTLY MENTIONED betrayal), these opening chapters are clearly setting the stage for excitement to arrive in full force when the Atreides family arrives on THE DUNE PLANET.

There’s a lot to take in, in the beginning. The characters are not only the people, but the whole of the world that Frank Herbert’s built for this story.


So, for the discussion. Feel free to talk about the first part we’ve read in the comments. I’ve got threading turned on, so you can reply directly to someone’s comment and start your own mini-thread if you feel the need. Here’s the rules, in ALL CAPS because I am shouting them:

BE NICE
KEEP YOUR SWEARS TO YOURSELF (at least humorously self-censor, like we’re watching the TV edit of your comments)
NO SPOILERS (that means discuss nothing after the first week reading line)
SERIOUSLY, BE NICE

that’s it! For supplemental reading, check out the first post over at DHarbin’s Book Club.
If you are reading this and have not caught up–be aware that spoilers await. Also, don’t stress. The first month is easy reading because I figured some of you bums would take a while to jump in. Feel free to revisit these posts+comments once you get to this point.