Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dune: Part 9: Nexus

Okay, we're in the home stretch, gang! Four more chapters to go! Paul has cemented his leadership of the Fremen tribes and has publicly declared himself as rightful ruler of Arrakis. He's been re-united with his friend and one of his father's most trusted advisers. Off-stage, the situation in the Harkonnen-held cities are reaching a crisis as the Baron puts more pressure on his nephew Rabban and Rabban responds by further oppressing the people. Now the Emperor himself has decided to take a personal interest in Arrakis. And everything is about to collide with the great-great grandmother of all sandstorms.

Chani has been summoned from the camps in the south to the northern camp where Paul and his fighters have made their base. But Paul does not meet her; instead his mother, Jessica engages her in annoying chit-chat. It takes a bit of social pleasantries and exposition for Jessica to admit that Paul wasn't the one who summoned her. Paul has been in a coma for the past three weeks.

Jessica can sense that he is still alive, but the signs are so slight that only her Bene Gesserit training, (and perhaps her rapport with her son) can detect them. She fears that he has been poisoned by enemies, but despite her own heightened awareness, she cannot detect any trace of poison within him. She needs Chani's help.

Chani guesses the truth: that Paul has taken some of the raw, unconverted Water of Life; the concentrated essence of the spice-drug produced by a drowned sandworm used to give Reverend Mothers their enhanced perceptions. Why didn't Jessica realize this herself? Perhaps as his lover and companion, Chani was closer to Paul than his mother could be. I think Paul probably shared more about his concerns and apprehensions regarding his prescience with Chani than he did with his mother.

Paul awakens from his trance a transformed man. He is most definitely the Kwisatz Haderach, the one who can be many places at once which the B.G. has spent so many generations trying to produce. He enters a mental rapport with his mother and has her take him to that place within which the Reverend Mother Mohiam spoke of back when he underwent the Gom Jabbar, the place in human memory where women cannot go. And here, once again, we get a little of Herbert's ideas on the nature of and differences between Men and Women.

"There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place with himself where the taking force dwells, but it's almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed."

"And you, my son," Jessica asked, "are you one who gives or one who takes?"

"I'm at the fulcrum," he said. "I cannot give without taking and I cannot take without [taking]."

Paul has seen many things in his psychic journeys; not just the future, but the present. All of his enemies have converged on Arrakis: the Baron Harkonnen; the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV; the Emperor's Truthsayer, Reverend Mother Mohiam; Feyd-Rautha, the Baron's nephew and heir; and representatives of the Spacing Guild, which uses the spice to calculate courses through hyperspace. The Guild's spice use gives them enough prescience to know that something big is coming up and it scares the heck out of them.

There are two different ways of looking at the idea of Changing the Future. One is the idea that You Can't Fight Fate; that no matter how you try to alter a pre-destined future, events will force you to keep your Appointment in Samara. The other is the Butterfly Effect idea; that small changes will multiply as they propagate through time and the butterfly flapping it's wings in the Amazon indirectly causes a hurricane off the Carolinas, or the time travelling hunter treading on another butterfly in the Mesozoic Era results in a future where Sarah Palin is president.

For much of Dune, Herbert seems to lean towards the former theory, as we see Paul struggling to avoid the jihad his visions show him. But he also describes nexus points where lines of probability converge and anything might happen. One of these is coming up, and it's a big one. Paul has decided that there is a tide in the affairs of men -- even on planets with no oceans -- and that the time has come to seize it.

Paul gathers his forces to plan an attack on Arrakeen, where the Emperor has landed with several legions of Sardaukar. A humongous sandstorm is approaching, and Paul plans to use atomic weapons to blast a hole in the Shield Wall, a large geological feature that shelters Arrakeen and the other communities of the northern basin from the storms. Use of atomics is prohibited by the Great Convention that all the noble families adhere to, but Paul takes this step because (A) he is technically using them against a geological feature and not people, and (B) nobody is going to want to destroy Arrakis (the normal punishment for violating the Great Convention) because it is the source of spice. And so Paul nukes the Shield Wall and leads his army into the city, riding on giant worms! How's that for epic?

But even as Paul's forces strike, he receives a message from Sietch Tabr, where the women and children are being kept. An Imperial raiding party has attacked the sanctuary, carrying off Paul's sister Alia, and killing his infant son.

The Emperor has set up a huge pavilion to house himself, his five legions of Sardaukar, and his smaller legion of courtiers and hangers-on. He has come to Arrakis to see first-hand what a mess the Harkonnens have made of the planet, and to rub the Baron's nose in it. The Baron is here, cringing and grovelling for a change. He pleads that he knows nothing of any intrigue going on here, and that as far as he knows the Fremen are an insignificant rabble. The Emperor knows better; and as Exhibit A brings forth Alia.

"Unfortunately," the Emperor said, "I only sent in five troop carriers with a light attack force to pick up prisoners for questioning. We barely got away with three prisoners and one carrier. Mind you, Baron, my Sardaukar were almost overwhelmed by a force composed mostly of women, children, and old men. This child here was in command of one of the attacking groups... Mark that, my dear Baron: Sardaukar forced to retreat in confusion from women and children and old men!"

For once, the Baron has absolutely no control over the situation he's in. "Make him afraid some more, Shaddam," Alia giggles. It's kind of cute, in a twisted way, to see the Emperor browbeating the cowering Baron while dandling the precocious toddler Alia on his knee.

The Reverend Mother does not find Alia cute. "That child is an abomination! ...She's in my mind, She's like the ones before me, the ones who gave me my memories. She stands in my mind! She cannot be there, but she is!"

It is now that the attack occurs. Paul's forces quickly overwhelm the Emperor's defenses and the Imperial ships disabled. In the confusion, Alia runs to the Baron and stabs him with a poisoned needle. "I'm sorry, Grandfather," she says; "You've met the Atreides gom jabbar." The Emperor and his entourage retreat into the safety of his ship.

Once again, Paul occupies the palace in Arrakeen where his father had once taken residence. "This place is a symbol. Rabban lived here. By occupying this place I seal my victory for all to understand." But his victory is a bitter one. He has lost his son, and as he looks around him he see that he has lost more: Stilgar, who he once regarded as an ally and a friend, now looks on him with awe and reverence; and Paul feels even more keenly his isolation from the rest of his world.

The Emperor and his court are brought before him. Paul wishes to negotiate with his enemies. Among the entourage, Paul sees a familiar face: his old tutor Thufir Hawat. He has had a vision of the Emperor commanding Hawat to "kill this upstart duke." Paul acts boldly, with the bravura his father once spoke of, and offers the old mentat a choice that has nothing to do with logic and data. "...in payment for your years of service to my family you may now ask anything you wish of me. Anything at all. Do you need my life now, Thufir? It is yours." He offers himself to the old assassin.

This is Thufir's crowning moment of awesome. He is near death anyway, dying of the Baron's residual poison. He turns to face the Emperor in defiance: "See, Majesty? ... Did you think that I who've given my life to service of the Atreides woud give them less now?"

Paul next turns his attention to the Guildsmen who are present and informs them that they are to take orders from him. The Spacing Guild has long been used to being the ones who give orders, due to their monopoly on space travel; but to navigate through space, they need the spice, and Paul informs them that unless they submit to his authority, he will destroy all the spice on the planet. He can do it too; the Fremen knowledge of the Arrakis ecology has given him a method that will set off a chain reaction through the planet's ecosystem. "He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it." This is the possible future that terrifies the Guild. They submit.

The Reverend Mother Mohiam now sees that Paul is indeed the Kwisatz Haderach, and he rubs her nose in it too. All their labor to produce him and they will get no benefit for he will never serve their purposes. Even Jessica has turned her back on her old order.

Then comes the actual negotiation. "Majesty, we both now the way out of our difficulty," Paul says. The Emperor has no male heirs, but several marriageable daughters. This was how the Bene Gesserit intended it, but they didn't foresee this possibility. The Emperor does not like the idea of passing on his throne to desert upstart.

Chani also feels uncomfortable about the situation. After all, Paul has never actually married her. This sort of arranged political marriage is exactly what Jessica had been hoping for him. Paul reassures her. "Leave? You'll never again leave my side... That which binds us cannot be loosed. Now watch these matters closely for I wish to seen this room later through your wisdom." Paul regards her not only as a lover and a soul-mate, but also for her perception and her understanding.

But there's one last loose end to be accounted for before the marriage business: the matter of the Vendetta. Feyd is among the Emperor's group and he demands a duel. Paul has never seen Feyd in any of his prophetic visions; once again, he is entering a blind spot. He could easily leave Feyd for Gurney or one of his lieutenants to kill, but honor -- both Atreides and Fremen -- demands that he does it himself. He has ceased trying to fight his destiny; he throws himself into his fate with grim abandon.

The duel has echos of Feyd's earlier fight on his birthday; once again, there is a poisoned blade and dirty tricks; once again one of the combatants has been primed with a trigger phrase that can end the fight, although Paul refuses this advantage. Paul kills Feyd and ends the feud between their houses.

The Emperor tries one last gambit. He signals his friend, Count Fenring, to finish Paul off as he is tired from the fight. Paul recognizes Fenring as another of the B.G.'s genetic experiments, one who also might have been the Kwisatz Haderach. A moment of silent understanding at their strange, shared brotherhood passes between the two men. Fenring refuses his emperor's command.

By this time, the Emperor's daughter, Princess Irulan, (yes, that Princess Irulan), is getting antsy. She keeps tugging at his sleeve and saying Pleeeeze Daddy, won't you let me be a bargaining chip? In exchange for the Imperial throne, Paul will allow Shaddam to keep his throne on Salusus Secundus, promising to make the prison planet "a garden world, full of gentle things." The Emperor gets the point.

Jessica has come to regret her molding and shaping of her son and has overcome her hostility towards Chani. A bit earlier, (and now I can't find the spot), she told Paul to forget about marriageability to another noble house and to wed his desert girl if it made him happy. Now she once again warns him not to make the same mistake she and Leto made. Paul understands. He has decided his course and what must be done to accomplish it; but he also assures Chani again that she is the only one he will love:

"I swear to you now... that you'll need no title. That woman over there will be my wife and you but a concubine because this is a political thing and we must weld peace out of this moment, enlist the Great Houses of the Landsraad. We must obey the forms. Yet that princess shall have no more of me than my name. No child of mine nor touch nor softness of glance, nor instant of desire."

Jessica underscores the truth of this: "...that princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine... While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine -- history will call us wives."

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