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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RIP Anne McCaffrey: 4/1/26 11/21/2011

Anne McCaffrey was a prolific and well able writer. She wrote books that allowed the mind of the reader to soar. And she will be missed.

(Book covers by artist Michael Whelan)

Bibliography (source NNDB)

Restoree (1967)
Dragonflight (1968)
Decision at Doona (1969)
The Ship Who Sang (1969)
Dragonquest (1971)
To Ride Pegasus (1973)
Dragonsong (1976)
Dragonsinger (1977)
Get Off the Unicorn (1977)
White Dragon (1978)
Dinosaur Planet (1979)
Dragondrums (1979)
Crystal Singer (1982)
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983)
Dinosaur Planet Survivors (1984)
Killashandra (1985)
Nerilka's Story (1986)
Dragonsdawn (1988)
Dragonlover's Guide to Pern (1989)
Renegades of Pern (1989)
The Death of Sleep (1990)
Pegasus in Flight (1990)
The Rowan (1990)
Sassinak (1990)
All the Weyrs of Pern (1991)
Generation Warriors (1991)
Crisis on Doona (1992)
Crystal Line (1992)
Damia (1992)
PartnerShip (1992)
The Ship Who Searched (1992)
The Chronicles of Pern: 1st Fall (1993)
The City Who Fought (1993)
Damia's Children (1993)
The Planet Pirates (1993)
Powers That Be (1993)
The Dolphins of Pern (1994)
The Dolphins' Bell (1994)
A Dragon-Lover's Treasury of the Fantastic (1994)
The Girl Who Heard Dragons (1994)
Lyon's Pride (1994)
Power Lines (1994)
The Ship Who Won (1994)
Treaty at Doona (1994)
An Exchange Of Gifts (1995)
Freedom's Landing (1995)
Power Play (1995)
Black Horses for the King (1996)
Dragonseye (1996)
No One Noticed the Cat (1996)
Space Opera (1996)
A Diversity of Dragons (1997)
Freedom's Choice (1997)
Queen of the Unicorns (1997)
The Unicorn Girl (1997)
Acorna's Quest (1998)
Freedom's Challenge (1998)
If Wishes Were Horses (1998)
Acorna's People (1999)
The Masterharper of Pern (1999)
Nimisha's Ship (1999)
The Tower and the Hive (1999)
Acorna's World (2000)
Pegasus in Space (2000)
The Skies of Pern (2001)
Acorna's Search (2002)
Freedom's Ransom (2002)
A Gift of Dragons (2002)
Acorna's Rebels (2003)
Brain Ships (2003)
Dragon's Kin (2003)
The Mystery of Ireta: Dinosaur Planet & Dinosaur Planet Survivors (2003)
On Dragonwings (2003)
The Ship Who Saved the Worlds (2003)
Acorna's Triumph (2004)
The City and The Ship (2004)
Doona (2004)
Changelings (2005)
First Warning (2005)
Maelstrom (2006)
Second Wave (2006)
Dragon Harper (2007)
Dragon's Fire (2007)
Third Watch (2007)
Deluge (2008)
Catalyst (2010)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dune: Part 6: Initiation Rituals

In our last reading, Paul and Jessica continued their flight into the desert as both their friends and foes regrouped after the catastrophe at Arrakeen.

Kynes is in a bad situation. He gave shelter to Paul and Jessica as they fled the Harkonnens and was captured. Since he is an Imperial Agent on the planet, the Harkonnens do not dare kill him outright; so they have left him out in the desert without a stillsuit to let the elements finish him off. But he has spent his entire life surviving in the desert and he is not dead yet.

As he struggles to hang onto life, grasping for hopes of rescue, he hears his father lecturing him on ecology. Re-reading the book this time around, something occurred to me that I had overlooked before. I had always assumed that his father's appearance was a hallucination; but perhaps it wasn't. The spice has awareness-enhancing properties, and later on in the book and the sequels we learn that Paul and his sister (whom we haven't met yet) and the Fremen's own Reverend Mothers have the ability to access ancestral lives. Kynes is lying directly on top of a pre-spice mass, the strange biological fermentation process that produces the spice melange. Perhaps this concentration of spice is enhancing his own latent abilities, whatever they might be, allowing him to hear his dead father's memories. Perhaps.

His father chides him for getting involved with the boy, and warns him that a Hero could be the worst thing that could happen to his people. This is an important theme in the book; the dark undercurrent to the surface adventure plot of the Special One seeking his Rightful Place. In then end, Kynes' efforts to stay alive come to nothing. The spice mass blows and he is engulfed by the desert, just as he has been sucked into the tragedy of the House Atreides.

Paul and Jessica have been searching for Fremen. Well, now the Fremen have found them; led by Stilgar, the Fremen leader of Stiech Tabr whom we met in an earlier chapter. Kynes has sent orders to the Fremen to look for the Atreides fugitives and aid them. Stilgar is willing to save Paul, who may be the Lisan Al-Gib, the Mahdi promised by prophecy, and who in any case is young enough to train in the Fremen ways. But what of his mother? Yes, she might be the Reverend Mother also mentioned in prophecy, but what if she isn't? What good is she?

She's good enough to kick butt, that's what she's good for. "I am the mother of the boy... In part, his strength which you admire is a product of my training." And she goes on to prove it by disarming Stilgar and grabbing him in a judo hold. This impresses him; the Fremen are unpracticed in what they call "the weirding way", the advance techniques of unarmed combat that the Bene Gesserit know. He agrees to let her and Paul live if she'll teach his fighters the weirding way.

During the confrontation, Paul encounters a familiar face: Chani, the daughter of Kynes, whom he has seen in his earliest prescient dreams; ("Tell me of your homeworld, Usul...")

Paul and Jessica are taken to Stiech Tabr, the refuge of Stilgar's tribe; but their new position in the tribe has not quite been established. Stilgar and Jessica feel each other out about this. The obvious thing to do would be for Stilgar to marry Jessica; but both reject this option, each for his and her own reasons. The Fremen suggests an alternative: that Jessica take over for their tribe's own "Reverend Mother" who is old and may die soon. The B.G.'s Missionaria Protectiva, the program of seeding planets with legends to make them more open to the Bene Gesserit, has succeeded on Arrakis so well that the Fremen have adopted B.G. titles and rituals for their own religion.

But there are still problems. Jamis, one of Stilgar's men, was embarrassed by Paul in the earlier confrontation and bears a grudge. He demands that they prove themselves by combat. Under Fremen custom, Jessica cannot fight for herself; she must be championed by another. Stilgar tries to put a stop to it, but Jamis accuses him of being bewitched by Jessica. The only way to resolve this to everyone's satisfaction will be to let Jamis fight Paul.

The fight is done in the open, without stillsuits, with crysknives, the sacred Fremen weapon carved from a sandworm's tooth. Although Paul is well-trained in fighting, he is accustomed to using personal force shields which block fast attacks. He is quick on the defense, but his habits make him slow in striking, which makes it look to the Fremen like he is toying with Jamis. Also, Paul does not immediately realize that this is a fight to the death; that quarter will be neither given, nor accepted. Adding to his uncertainty, his prescient visions have not shown him this fight; although he has seen a possible future in which he lies dead of a knife wound.

He defeats Jamis and kills him; thus cementing his and his mother's place in the Fremen community. Stilgar recognizes him as a man and gives him the name Usul, meaning the base of the pillar, as his private name to be used by the Stietch Tabr community. (Hm. It just occured to me: "the base" is also the translation of "Al-Qaeda". Interesting) Stilgar also tells Paul to choose a Fremen name of his own, to be his public name. Paul asks what the little desert mouse is called, which he had observed earlier. "We call that one muad'dib," Stilgar says.

Once again, Paul feels destiny tightening around him as he remembers his visions of fanatical legions waging war under the Atreides banner shouting the name "Muad'Dib". "Could I be known among you as Paul-Muad'Dib?" he asks. He hopes this will alter the future somewhat; but he suspects it won't help.

Afterwards, a funeral is held for Jamis. As part of the ritual, the man's fellow tribesmen step forward to claim friendship with Jamis and take one of his possessions. Paul realizes that he too, is expected to take part in the custom.

Slowly, Paul got to his feet.

A sigh passsed around the circle.

Paul felt the diminishement of his self as he advanced into the center of the circle. It was as though he lost a fragment of himself and sought it here. He bent over the mound of belongings, lifted out the baliset. A string twanged softly as it struck against something in the pile.

"I was a friend of Jamis," Paul whispered.

He felt tears burning his eyes, forced more volume into his voice. "Jamis taught me... that ... when you kill ... you pay for it. I wish I'd known Jamis better."

The Fremen are awed by this. "He gives moisture to the dead!" And they gather around to touch his face as if his tears were something sacred.

After the ceremony, Paul learns that as part of Fremen custom, he is entitled to the water recovered from Jamis' corpse. The actual water itself will be stored in the Stietch's reservoir, of course, but Paul is given water counters, tokens which represent his share of the communal wealth. This frankly creeps Paul out, but his mother impresses on him that it is better to abide by the custom than to refuse. Unsure what to do with the water counters, he asks Chani to hold them for him; and when Chani blushes and the Fremen around him chuckle, he realizes that under Fremen custom he's just proposed to her. Stilgar reminds Chani that Paul is still unfamiliar with their ways and advises her to hold his tokens without commitment for the time being.

But after the rituals are over, Paul and Chani sit together getting to know each other. Paul plays a song for her on the baliset he has acquired. A romantic ballad.

Jessica does not like where this is heading.

NEXT: Feyd celebrates his birthday in the Harkonnen fashion, by killing something. Paul inherits something else from Jamis. Jessica takes the Waters of Life and disregards the warning label about "do not take this while pregnant".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Author R. A. Salvatore Interviewed

Chatting with Fantasy Author R.A. SALVATORE

In 2006 I had the great fortune of interviewing author R.A. Salvatore, as a fantasy fan it was a dream to interview one of the big names in the field of writing fantasy stories. And now, 5 years later I am writing some myself... I present here for your enjoyment, an interview from 5 years ago...

How did you move from role playing great characters to writing them?

This is a common misconception. I didn’t.

Sure, I began playing D&D just before I started writing but mostly it was a creative outlet for me. DM’ing a game was writing for me at that time. Drizzt, Wulfgar, Bruenor, Cattie-brie and Regis didn’t start out as game characters; in fact, I’ve never played them once in any game. Well I tried playing Drizzt once (and this was back before there were many dark elves as PC’s). My DM killed him horribly in the first encounter and everyone around the table told me to play a real character!

The only novel character who started ina game was Oliver Deburrows, the highway halfling from the Crimson Shadow trilogy. Oliver is a combination of Inego Montoya from “The Princess Bride” and the little French guy on the wall in “Monty Python’s Holy Grail”. I wanted to see if I could make him annoying enough. After a few weeks he died horribly (a common theme) and at that moment I knew he had to go into the book, because everyone stood up and cheered.

Do you still play? If so what do you play?

I still play D&D (1st edition, mostly, sometimes 2nd or 3rd) on Sunday nights, with pretty much the same gang who have together for more than a decade. Now, though, my two sons join in every once in a while, when they manage to get home from college. Also, once a week, several friends and I get together online for Everquest, or World of Warcraft.

You have a BS in Communications and BA in English, how do the both of them intermingle in your writing success?

The most important part of the BS in Communications was that that particular program allowed me to take literature class for all my electives, and even a few for the majors course of study. The most important thing for a beginning writer to do is read. You don’t how to tell a story by having some frustrated-writer creative writing professor tell you. You learn by reading those who did it best.

It’s funny, but of my college courses, the ones that helped me the most in my career, other than the literature course are the math classes. I keep a spreadsheet of al my books, tracking trends and sales, and of course, keeping track of the publishers and their payment schedules.

What fantasy authors did you read prior to entering the field? Who do you read now?

Tolkien, of course. Fritz Lieber, Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson still rank among my favorites, and all for very different reasons. I love Lieber's characterizations, and the pace of his many Fafhred and Mouser novellas. Donaldson was the first to show me the wider boundaries of fantasy, as in the story of Thomas...

CRYSTAL SHARD was among the few books I have collected and widely shared with other fantasy fans. I wonder at what point did you realize the tremendous success you had with the books and what it felt like to know that.

Have I? Seriously, none of this has ever sunken in, and given my thick head, it never will. (I hope). I’m just telling stories, and thankfully, some people seem to be garnering enjoyment from them. That’s all I can hope for. I’m having fun, doing what I love to do, and, they pay me for it. Hard to complain, so I won’t.

I’m still surprised whenever someone shares a personal story about one of my books. I’m still thrilled every time that someone was turned on to reading through one of my books. I’m still stunned and giggle like a little kid when I see my books in other languages. It’s like watching it all happen as if it I was a reporter covering my own career. I don’t know how else to explain it.

In the cast of the series of Icewind Dale you manage to, rather quickly, create a sense of camaraderie and even love and friendship. How much of that came via knowing the characters through role playing, and how much was original creation?

Well, see above. It really had nothing to do with role-playing, unless, perhaps, my love of gaming clued me into the feelings of connectedness that makes a shared adventure thrilling. At one of those many conversations writer and editors share we sit down and try to unravel the truth of the world, (usually in a bar about the time the staff starts washing dishes and opening the broom closet), my editor commented that she thought the driving factor in the success of the Drizzt books was I had created a party of characters with whom the readers wanted to upon an adventure. People read Drizzt and the gang because they wanted to be part of that gang. They wanted to be in the Icingdeath’s lair with Drizzt and Wulfgar, or stand on the line besides Bruenor Battlehammer against the swarm of charging barbarians.

There’s probably some truth in that theory. I know that I wanted to go along with the nine to destroy the One Ring at Mount Doom in Mordor. I know that pulling a job in Lankhmar beside the Mouser ranks high on my list of things “to do”.

Creating this type of a group comes as naturally to me as putting together a softball team for the local league. I’ve always surrounded myself with people I know I can count upon, and, who know they can count on me. When I am writing, these characters become as real as living friends. These are characters I interact with whenever I join them on an adventure. I know, I’m crazy, but don’t tell the authorities to lock me away until I’ve paid for college for my three kids okay?

Drizzt is becoming a literary charter, worthy of entering the greater pantheon of Conan and the like. If there is one quality about him you think is vital to his popularity is it his morality in the face of evil, the appeal as that of an outsider, or his sword skills? Which specifically would you choose if you could pick just one?

People ask me if I’m Drizzt. No, I’m not. Drizzt is who I wish I had the courage to be. We live in a world where too many people think that the hero is the guy with the biggest sword, but in truth, the hero is the hero is the guy with the biggest heart. The hero is the guy who sticks to the path of his moral compass when easier roads present themselves to the side. The hero is the guy who always looks at the world in terms of common good, and community, and loyalty. Drizzt is a hero in the classic sense, before we got hijacked by villains disguised as heroes, who wield the biggest guns and kill with abandon. That’s not being a hero. Being a hero is living a life with purpose, and leaving the world around you a little bit better than when you discovered it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dune: Part 5: Into the Desert

In last week's reading, the Harkonnens struck; Yueh double-crossed the Baron; Duke Leto died in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the Baron and Paul and Jessica escaped into the desert. Part I of the novel ended with Paul experiencing cascading visions of the future, including the realization that he himself has Harkonnen blood.

Before we go any further in the plot, I wanted to touch a bit on the Baron Harkonnen's ... orientation. He Likes Little Boys. What's more, he has squick-inducing thoughts about Paul Atreides as well. And for that matter, his attitude towards his own nephew Feyd occasionally is not exactly avuncular either. Herbert seems to use the Baron's homosexuality; along with his corpulence, hedonism and dependence on anti-gravity units to even walk; as marks of the Baron's decadent depravity.

So, is Frank Herbert a homophobe? I don't like to think so. I like Dune, and I've enjoyed much of Herbert's writings. The Baron is the only gay character to appear in the novel (unless we count the Count Fenring, but his case is far from explicit); and I can't think of any gay characters in the other Dune novels off-hand; so I can't really say how Herbert portrays homosexuals in general.

He reminds me a little of a bit of conversation from a comic book. Wally West, the Flash, was chatting with a friend of his, the reformed villain Pied Piper. Wally asked him about the Joker: "You used to hang around with a lot of super-villains. Is it true that the Joker's gay?" The Piper explains that he didn't exactly hang around with the Joker -- nobody does -- but that as far as he could tell, the only person the Joker was in love with was himself. I think the Baron is like that too. He is intimate only with slave boys, those whom he has complete dominance and control over. And he hates and is terrified of the B.G.s who could have power over him if he let them. He did once, in his youth, when he unknowingly sired Jessica, and perhaps that frightened him.

Then again, perhaps Herbert is just borrowing the trope of the Decadent Roman, like the Emperor Nero or the Peter Ustinov character from Spartacus and doesn't mean him to be any deeper than that.

But back to the story.

Paul and Jessica are in the desert, waiting for the return of Duncan Idaho. They are still on the run, but Paul's deluge of insight in the previous chapter has changed him. Now he seems to be taking charge of the situation. As they pack up their tent and proceed on, they see signs of Harkonnen pursuit: aircraft strafing the desert with lasguns, bringing to mind the cryptic message Leto received: "A column of smoke by day, a pillar of fire by night."

Thufir Hawat has managed to escape the disaster at Arakeen with a handful of men and have joined up with some Fremen. At least they are trying to. Hawat discovers his logical mentat mind stymied by the fact that he doesn't understand the Fremen and their ways. He and the leader of the Fremen go around and around speaking at cross-purposes until finally he can find common ground where they can communicate. Hawat is startled to learn that the Fremen were able to not only hold their own, but actually kick butt against the Sardaukar, the Emperor's own elite shock troops currently on loan to the Harkonnens. But just as Hawat and the Fremen reach their understanding, the Saudakar make another attack and capture Thufir.

Paul and Jessica meet up with Duncan. Wait, I thought he was dead. I guess he wasn't. Then who was the unnamed Atreides who died under torture by the Harkonnens? I'm confused. The whole chronology of these chapters really could have been better organized.

But Duncan Idaho arrives with Kynes, who takes them to one of the Imperial Ecological Testing Stations that Leto had initially coveted. We discover that Kynes is actually Liet, the mysterious leader whom the Fremen defer to. This is fleshed out considerably in the Appendix: The Ecology of Dune, which describes how Kynes' father first came up with a visionary plan to terraform the planet into something more habitable; how he recruited the Fremen to make the plan work; and how Kynes' plan became a holy mission for the Fremen. Kynes realizes that by aiding the Atreides, he is putting this plan in jeapordy; but when pressed for a decision, he aids them anyway.

Also in this chapter Paul outlines his long-range plan. Immediately, of course, he wants to stay alive, but also to gain evidence of the Sardaukar involvement in his father's fall. If he can prove that the Emperor was personally invovled in destroying a Great House, then the other nobles will band against him. Paul plans to use the threat of this revelation as leverage against the Emperor.

But first he has to stay alive. The Harkonnens attack the station. Duncan is killed; (really, this time) and Jessica and Paul once more have to flee. They take an ornithopter and fly into the deep desert, right into the mother of all sandstorms.

"They are dead, Baron," one of his flunkies tells him. After all, No One Could Possibly Survive That. The Baron is not so sure, and is not happy about the entire situation. Paul is a troublesome loose end, and the death of Piter has forced him to alter his plans. The only good news he receives is the capture of Hawat. He sees that the Atreides mentat can be useful to him. Hawat still blames Jessica for the treason against Leto. The Baron thinks that by controlling the information Hawat has, he can persuade the mentat to work for him. And just to be safe, he orders that Hawat be secretly given a special poison which will kill him unless he takes a special antidote which will be administered in his food. That way, if Hawat becomes dangerous, the Baron can kill him at any time simply by withdrawing the antidote.

The Baron also has a chat with his other nephew, Rabban. Rabban was the former governor of Arrakis, before the Atreides briefly took over. Now the Baron is giving him the planet back. He only requires that Rabban squeeze. The plot against the Atreides has cost the Harkonnen an enormous amount; roughly equivalent to the planet's total spice production for fifty years. He demands that Rabban start paying it back and quickly. Of course, this is part of his greater plan to make the current governor so hated on Arrakis that when the Baron eventually replaces him with Feyd, the younger nephew will be worshipped as a hero.

Rabban is not portrayed as being particularly intelligent. "A muscle-minded tank-brain" is how his uncle describes him. But in his conversation, we do see some glimpses that he may not be as dense as the Baron thinks. He tries to warn his uncle that the Fremen might not be so inconsequential after all. But a glimpse is all we get. Rabban is just a pawn in this game, and a brutal one at that.

The Baron is right to worry about loose ends. Paul and Jessica have indeed survived their flight into he sandstorm; although their aircraft was damaged and they are forced to make an emergency landing in the desert. They continue on foot, taking advantage of rocky outcroppings whenever possible to avoid the sandworms.

While descending a cliff face, Jessica becomes buried in an avalanche of sand. Using B.G. techniques to slow her respiration, she is able to stay alive until Paul can rescue her; but now much of their gear is buried under tons of sand so fine that digging in it is like trying to shovel water. Here we get a very old-school SF touch. Paul uses a nearby patch of spice, combined with the acidic battery pack from a piece of equipment to create a stabilizing foam to hold the sand while he digs down to the gear. This MacGuyver-ish touch used to be common in the old "Hard SF" stories.

Gurney Halleck has also escaped the Harkonnen attack, and along with about seventy men has fallen in with a group of smugglers, led by Esmar Tuek, the son of the smuggler we met at the dinner party. Gurney is itching for vengeance against the Harkonnens, but Tuek is a practical man and counsels patience. Halleck ultimately agrees and throws in his lot with Tuek's smugglers.

In the final chapter of the reading, Paul and Jessica make a desperate trek for the safety of a region of cliffs. They have to cross the sands carefully, trying to avoid making the kinds of regular, artificial sounds that might attract a sandworm's curiousity. They accidentally hit a patch of drum sand, gravel that has been compacted and amplifies the sound of footsteps. Now they must run, and barely reach safety before a worm comes up from the sands after them. They find themselves in a rocky grotto used by the Fremen as a refuge; and soon discover that they are not alone...

NEXT: Paul and Jessica have found the Fremen! But will the Fremen help them, or kill them? Paul sees a knife wound in his future; but will it come to pass? Plus: Kynes goes out with a bang!

Monday, November 14, 2011


Dear NBA owners and players,

There are many forms of entertainment fans can enjoy. Your sport is one of many. If you choose not to have a season, many will watch and spend their money elsewhere. Feel free to come back, but don't expect a celebration or that fans will be waiting for you. You'll have to earn your way back. There is a recession, and many people don't have money for games anyway. So thank you for allowing people to make better and easier choices with their entertainment dollars.

Not entirely sincerely
Not really a fan

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dune: Part 4: Didn't See That One Coming

In our last reading, the Harkonnens successfully planted suspicion right where it would do the most damage; Duke Leto and Paul got to see their very first Spice Factory swallowed by a creature the size of Dubuque; and Lady Jessica threw a dinner party to get to know their enemies better.

Even though I've read this book I don't know how many times, and even though I know how things fall out, this next chapter always seems to sandbag me. While we're still reeling from Jessica's face-off with Hawat in the previous chapter, Leto walks down a hallway in his palace and discovers a dead man. The house's protective shields are down, and the servants who might have given warning are dead. Leto barely has time to realize his danger when he feels the drugged dart shot into his arm.

"What th--? It's happening already??? But they just got here! Leto never had a chance!" No he didn't. That's what everyone's been saying for the past dozen or so chapters.

Doctor Yueh, the Traitor, has finally made his move. "I'm sorry, my dear Duke, but there are things which will make greater demands than this," he says, indicating the tattoo on his forehead symbolizing his ethical conditioning. "I find it strange, myself -- an override on my pyretic conscience -- but I wish to kill a man.... Oh, not you, my dear Duke. The Baron Harkonnen. I wish to kill the Baron."

Yueh promises to save Jessica and Paul. He has persuaded the Baron to leave the two of them out in the desert to die, and has arranged for survival gear to be hidden for them and for Duncan Idaho to find them and take them to the Fremen. In return, he ask Leto to extract revenge on the Baron for both of them, by means of a poison gas capsule disguised as a false tooth.

Jessica awakens to find herself bound and gagged, along with Paul. The Harkonnens have arrived and the Baron is here to gloat over her. The gag is important, because the Baron fears her use of "The Voice", a Bene Gesserit technique of inducing others to instinctively obey commands by pitching the voice in just the right manner. It's a little bit like "Jedi Mind Tricks," and we saw a bit of it in her interview with Hawat in last week's section.

The Baron has promised promised Jessica to his mentat, Piter de Vries; but he now offers Piter a choice: either take the woman he's been lusting after and leave Arrakis, or remain as the Baron's governor. This is part of the Baron's larger plan; he expects Piter to make himself so hated as ruler of the planet that the people will welcome his eventual replacement, the Baron's nephew Feyd, with open arms. A mentat should know when he's being manipulated like that, but Piter jumps exactly the way the Baron wants him to.

Piter has a couple minions take Jessica and Paul in an ornithopter, the one Yueh prepared, out into the desert, "as the Traitor suggested." Both Piter and the Baron fear the possibility of being questioned by the Emperor's B.G. Truthsayer (whom we met in the first chapter), and so they want to be able to say truthfully that they did not actually kill either Jessica or her son. Paul has been left un-gagged, and although he is not yet fully trained in the Voice, he is able to induce one of the guards to remove his mother's gag as well. Big mistake, guys.

A little bit here about Duncan Idaho. In the sequel, we meet a clone of Duncan and are told how much Paul admired the original, but he never seemed to me to have done much in the original book. Re-reading it, I see that Duncan did a lot of cool stuff -- just that it was all off-stage. For example, we are told early on that Duncan was Paul's chief fencing instructor. His mission to the Fremen must have been exciting and dangerous, and here we are told that Duncan picks up Paul and Jessica. Then, apparently, Duncan goes to rendezvous with Kynes, and gets captured by the Harkonnens. He is tortured to death; all off-stage. We aren't even told for sure it's him. Duncan deserves better. Just sayin' is all.

Yueh meets the Baron and demands that Harkonnen keep his part of the bargain: to free Yueh's wife from her agony and permit him to join her. Yueh's no fool. He knows exactly what this means; but he has to be sure that his wife is truly dead and free from the Baron's tortures. And he wants to get his revenge.

His plan very nearly works; the poison gas in Leto's tooth kills Piter and some of the Baron's soldiers, but by chance the Baron himself is far enough away to cheat death.

Out in the desert, Paul and Jessica wait in a tent for Idaho to return. They've found the pack of survival gear Yueh hid away on their ornithopter, along with the Atriedes ducal signet ring and a letter confessing to his treachery. Paul finds himself unable to stop analyzing things. The mentat training Hawat has been giving him; his mother's B.G. training in observation; his genetic potential as the possible Kwisatz Haderach, the one who can be many places at once; all boosted by his recent exposure to the spice melange are coming together and making him hyper-aware. He experiences glimpses of the future -- of possible futures.

Paul's mind had gone on in its chilling precision. He saw the avenues ahead of them on this hostile planet. Without even the safety valve of dreaming, he focused his prescient awareness, seeing it as a computation of probable futures, but with something more, an edge of mystery -- as though his mind dipped into some timeless stratum and sampled the winds of the future.

The possibilities he sees in the future frighten and repulse him. And he sees the jihad; a galactic war carried on in his name. "I'm a monster!" he thinks; "A freak!" He also realizes that he himself carries Harkonnen blood; that his mother's unknown father was in fact the Baron himself. And he sees the huge vortex of destiny ahead of him ready to swallow him up.

NEXT: Paul and Jessica flee into the desert. Gurney and Thufir seek refuge. The Baron reviews his options. And: Walk this way!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I am a reader of many comic books. The past saw me spending money and time reading a lot of comics, many of them very good. As an adult, a much older one, I guess, I've attempted to buy TPBs of the collected forms of the great comics I have read. But some of the best comics cannot be reprinted.

Sometimes it is due to copyrights and trademark issues. Sometimes the license has expired and no one has a right to reprint. Sometimes the owner of the trademark/copyright product/property wasn't pleased with the stories. Sometimes they have a different plan in mind and want to start new and not remind the public of past versions of the product/property.

Some times, no matter how good a product is, and no matter how clear the path to publication, there is a petty reason to keep the product/property from happening. I think some comics DESERVE to be collected, not solely or because I liked them, but because they were so good they qualify as being worthy. I am not commenting specifically here, I think though that any of the pictured series deserve being reprinted. And it is a shame they remain without such treatment.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dune: Part 3: What A Swell Party This Is

(Cross-posted from Daily Kos)

As Last we saw, the Atreides began settling in on Arrakis and dealing with the various surprises and deathtraps the Harkonnens have left behind for them; and we got our first close-up looks at the Fremen, the wild desert folk whom the Harkonnens despised and dismissed and whom Duke Leto hopes will be valuable allies.

Hawat has been guarded and disturbed during the Duke's planning conference, and in private he gives the reason why. His agents have intercepted a Harkonnen message that suggests that their spy in the Atreides household is none other than the Lady Jessica. Leto does not believe this, and the reader knows this is indeed a Harkonnen ruse, but Leto decides to allow Hawat to pursue his investigation. "Perhaps if I appear to believe this, it will make another man careless," he thinks.

He discusses this with Paul in the following chapter. He does dare let Jessica into his confidence about Hawat's suspicions -- and there I think he errs; talking to her probably wouldn't have prevented his own tragedy, but it might have saved a lot of angst along the line -- but he wants Paul to know about it. "This way, if anything should happen to me, you can tell her the truth -- that I never doubted her, not for the smallest instant. I should want her to know this."

The conversation is a difficult one for Paul, not only because of the suspicions against his mother, but because his father speaks to him frankly about his own doubts and insecurities. With all the intrigues and counter-plots swimming about, Leto is running out of people he can confide in. "I have to have someone I can say these things to, Son." When Paul tries to encourage him, he can only reply with a weary cynicism.

The Imperial Planetologist arrives to take Leto and Paul on an inspection tour of one of the spice factories. The planetologist, Kynes is a man of contrasts. He is a civil servant, the official representative of the Imperial Government on Arrakis, and as such he is supposed to turn a blind eye to the Harkonnen vendetta against the Atreides. But he also identifies as a Fremen, as Leto quickly realizes and Paul guesses sooner. Although Kynes thinks of himself as a scientist, he has been raised among the Fremen and the Fremen religious beliefs are deeply ingrained in his psyche. When Paul impulsively greets Kynes with a quote from the O.C. Bible, and when Kynes notes that Paul seems instinctively familiar with the stillsuit he wears, these things remind Kynes of elements of prophecy.

The party flies out over the desert in an ornithopter, giving us an opportunity for a fairly painless infodump about the workings of the stillsuit, spice mining, the desert ecology, and survival. While approaching one of the mobile spice factories, the Duke notices a wake in the sand indicating the path of one of the giant sandworms. The support craft which are supposed to be watching for wormsign and ready to pick up the factory if a worm shows up are mysteriously missing -- the result of Harkonnen treachery.

Here we get a chance to see Leto as a heroic man of action as he takes charge of the situation and personally lands his ornithopter to rescue as many of the spice miners as his craft can carry -- jettisoning excess baggage to accommodate the last few. They take off in time to see the Sandworm, the great behemoth of the Arrakis desert, erupt from the sand and swallow the factory in a single gulp. "He passed off the loss of a spice crawler with a gesture. The threat to men's lives had him in a rage," Kynes notes.

This dramatic action scene is followed by a chapter in which all the drama takes place over a dinner table. Lady Jessica has arranged for a dinner party and has invited a number of important people in the city of Arrakeen, each representing a different power faction. I was disappointed that this scene was not included in the movie, because I've always found it one of the most memorable; but in a way I can understand why. Most of the real action in the scene takes place inside people's heads, and in the subtexts underneath what the characters say. Tensions run high, and almost break out into violence once or twice. Jessica wins over Kynes by declaring that the Atreides intend to work towards reclaiming the desert, the Fremen holy goal; (although she might have said that just to annoy the snarky water merchant). Paul proves himself adept at the cut-and-thrust of conversational fencing.

After the dinner, an ugly scene occurs in which Duncan comes back to the palace drunk. He has been pulled from his diplomatic mission to the Fremen in order to "guard" Lady Jessica; actually to watch her because of Hawat's suspicions. When Duncan drunkenly accuses her of being a Harkonnen spy, Jessica summons Hawat to have things out with him. They circle around each other warily, like a bull and a matador; but Jessica realizes bitterly that she cannot prove to him that she is not a spy; that anything she might say or do in her defense can be and will be taken by him as proof that she's manipulating him. The meeting ends as a stalemate.

Things are about to get worse.

NEXT WEEK: The Harkonnen Trap Is Sprung! The Baron Gloats! And we learn a Shocking Truth about Jessica! That and more, next time!