Friday, June 17, 2011

SCI-FI FRI ~ DUNE ~ Frank Herbert ~ A Wee Astro Blooper?

Dune, often referred to as the sci-fi equivalent of Lord of the Rings, inspired George Lucas's Star Wars and numerous later sci-fi books and films. Dune is set on a desert planet far, far away in a time futher into the future than I can comfortably get my head around. After watching DVDs of a TV mini-series based on Frank Herbert's 1965 novel, as well as other DVDs featuring it's sequel Children of Dune, I'm about to become a bit of a Dune junkie, am waiting eagerly for a copy of the original novel to arrive. Since drafting this post I've also watched a DVD of the critically trashed 1984 movie Dune, directed by David Lynch. Didn't enjoy it at all, and am glad I saw the TV miniseries first.

To place the events of Dune in some kind of time context, which my curiosity annoyingly demanded, I gleaned the following, from a variety of sources. At some point (possibly several hundred years from now?) the Earth had became a burnt out shell, due to either nuclear war or environmental devastation. By that time, however, humans had de-camped, conquered space and colonised many planets. Gradually, over tens of thousands of years they built up a huge interstellar empire. At some point artificial intelligence had begun to take over from humans. Wars were fought against intelligent computers and robots. Eventually many technological achievements were outlawed or destroyed. The interstellar empire is, at the time of Dune, ruled by an emperor and series of "Houses" of ruling families, something akin to the old Royal Houses of Europe. These Houses constantly conspire one against another, in eternal feud.

As Dune (TV min-series version) opens, stewardship of planet Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from one noble House to another: from House Harkonnen to House Atreides. On Arrakis a tribe known as Fremen inhabit the harsh desert environment. Over time they (originally an exiled religious sect) have adapted their culture and way of life in order to survive. They are known for their fighting skills and ability to survive in the waterless desert. Fremen culture revolves around water conservation. Water distilled from their dead is carefully saved, they consider spitting to be an honorable greeting, and value tears as the greatest gift one can give to the dead.

When travelling outside of their base they wear "stillsuits" (left): body-enclosing suits designed to collect and recycle all the moisture the body releases, from urine, feces and sweat, to the exhalation of water vapor in the breath. The water re-cycled is held in catchpockets, available to drink through a tube.

Arrakis is of great importance to the empire being the only known source of a precious "spice" called Melange. This "spice" is a by-product of giant sandworms, and the most valuable material in the known universe. It is used for "folding time" to enable ease of space travel, and, when ingested endows prescience and longevity.

I spotted one possible astrological "blooper" in the mini-series. In the background of some indoor palace scenes (can't find a suitable photograph), in an area where a Bene Gesserit sorceress has her trappings, there's a big round window behind which you can see part of the circle of an astrological chart showing zodiac signs - OUR zodiac signs. Surely the Bene Gesserit sisterhood of magical mental-conditioning and superhuman powers would have devised a zodiac appropriate for their part of the universe? The familiar version shown wouldn't be of use on any planet other than Earth. I won't know whether this backdrop came from the TV set-designers' imaginations or from Frank Herbert's own descriptions until I've read the book. One could say, I guess, that what was displayed was a keepsake, an antique from "the Old Planet". But that old planet, original birthplace of all humans, lay so far in the distant past at the time of Dune that anything belonging to Earth or its memory, would be quite unlikely to have survived.

Backdrops and costumes blend styles borrowed from ancient Egypt, Peru, ancient Greece, medieval Europe and the Middle East. Whether these accurately reflect what Frank Herbert had in mind I wont know until I've read the book(s).... which could take some time!

As in many sci-fi/fantasy works there's an allegorical thread in Dune. Arrakis "spice" could easily be translated as oil. Arrakis, when pronounced, sounds spookily like Iraq, and the emperor's name, Shaddam Corrino IV - sounds like....well you know. Bear in mind though that the novel was published in 1965 - well before recent unpleasantnesses. A shrewd and very well-informed novelist like Frank Herbert could, perhaps, sense future developments.
“The function of science fiction is not always to predict the future but sometimes to prevent it.” ~Frank Herbert

If David Lynch couldn't fit Dune into a 2-hour movie, what chance do I have fitting the storyline into a tiny blog post? Enough to say that the epic tale develops via a mega-House feud and the emergence of a young prophet.

This is no "fluff" science fiction, it goes as deep as the reader/viewer is able to dive. It's clear that the attempts to adapt the book to either the big or small screen have only scratched the surface. Philosophical elements set around religion and its exploitation for political ends, manipulation of the gene pool, cloning, use and abuse of power and prophecy are examined. We are asked to consider, for instance whether, if we knew too much about the future that we would lose the power to make a difference. Should we ever place so much reliance on certain commodities ("spice", water..... oil) that we eventually find ourselves at the mercy of others who might wish to destroy us? Heavy stuff indeed!

There's new terminology to get to grips with - evidence of how dense is the detail in Dune.


Frank Herbert, creator of Dune and its five sequels, as well as sundry other novels, was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington at 7:30 AM (Astrodatabank).

Frank Herbert decided by the time he was 8 years old what he wanted to do with his life: become an author. He became a journalist first, after service in the navy, then began writing short stories, then novels, leading up to the epic Dune, with a series of sequels coming much later.

Herbert was an avid researcher. The depth, richness and scope of his imagination and creativity grew out of his reading, his curiosity and tireless questioning on many different fronts. His idea for Dune arose out of research he did for a magazine article (never published) about shifting sand dunes in the US.

.... he hung on to all his notes and ecological data, and eventually he began to play with the idea of an entire planet of sand dunes..... The end result, six years later, was a magnum opus that combined elements of religion, philosophy, politics, environmentalism, drug addiction, and evolutionary extrapolation -- all into a groundbreaking work that far surpassed anything produced in science fiction before. Dune was acknowledged as being at once a work of great literature, richly detailed, convincingly unfolded, and a work of fascinating ideas and predictions. Most significant within the latter category: his representation of the politics of trade cartels (a stunning parallel of OPEC's later significance in the late 70s), his allegorical message on the consequences of environmental shortsightedness, and his examination of the psychology of messianic movements..... (SEE HERE)

Herbert's attention to detail is easy to find in his natal chart - three planets in detail-oriented Virgo: Moon/Jupiter/Saturn. Virgo is one of two signs ruled by Mercury the writer's planet (the other being Gemini).

Mercury itself lay in Scorpio and forms part of a Grand Trine (harmonious linked circuit) in Water signs linking Mercury, Pluto and Uranus. The fact that Mercury (writing/communication)links to Uranus (futuristic) and Pluto (darkness and the unknowable) reflects well his chosen genre: science fiction.

Sun and ascendant in Airy, mentally oriented Libra link by helpful sextile to Neptune, planet of creativity, imagination and dreams. Sci-fi/fantasy ingredients are all there, and all nicely linked-in!


Gian Paul said...

Bad joke, I hope not: is it that people with "uranian signatures" in their maps are especially subjet to quirks in the internet and from electronics? (It's my case with Mars in Aquarius, opposed by Lua...)

Hope you can enter a more tranquil period from now onwards.

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~ Maybe so - I do seem to get more than my fair share!

I think that the second techie I found, at Computer Geeks today, after a disastrous day yesterday with 3 really careless ones from another site, might have found the culprit hidden away where nobody had noticed. Don't know how long it had been there and he had a heck of a job getting rid of it - modifying binary codes and all sorts - amazing to watch.

Gawd bless 'im - he did a wonderful job for me. This morning I was ready to throw the lot into the garbage, after a bad experience with another set of techs yesterday - from noon until midnight would you believe?!

Thanks GP - yes I'll hope for smoother surfing and sailing from now on. PHEW!!!

RT said...

Very interesting. I've never watched or read the Dune series. But it recalls to mind aspects of the fantasy series 'Game of thrones' starring Sean Bean that's currently showing on HBO. It's the best thing on TV right now and I'm addicted to the show! Have you been watching it at all?

Wisewebwoman said...

sorry to hear you had become infested with webbie bugs, T.What a trial the tech age can be but what a gift also!
I knew Dune (book) fans but didn't go there myself though I do enjoy the odd piece of sci-fi.
Let us have a book review when you complete the homework for us!

Twilight said...

RT ~~ Hi there!
No, we haven't watched Game of Thrones, didn't fancy it from the trailers - but that was before we'd seen Dune. Maybe we'll try it, after all, when the DVDs hit the shelves.

Sounds as though Dune might have been the inspiration for Game of Thrones - as it appears to have been for many styles and storylines since 1965.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~Yes, what we go through for love (of the internet!!!) ;-)

The book arrived yesterday from Alibris - I was expecting a rather ragged paperback copy but instead have an unread hardback, which seems to have reached me via Borders and the Salvation Army.
Will let you know how it goes.