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!

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