Sunday, September 04, 2011


Dune is my favorite science fiction novel. But I never finished any of the sequels, which I found tedious. I more or less stopped reading science fiction when I was a kid, so perhaps my opinion about the sequels is unreliable.

The appendix below hints at a larger framework (see last sentence) that is not revealed in the first book. (Nor in the Wikipedia entries on Dune, as far as I can tell.) What is this larger plan, in which the Bene Gesserit are only pawns? Is it revealed in later books or in interviews with Frank Herbert?

Appendix III: Report on Bene Gesserit Motives and Purposes

Here follows an excerpt from the Summa prepared by her own agents at the request of the Lady Jessica immediately after the Arrakis Affair. The candor of this report amplifies its value far beyond the ordinary. Because the Bene Gesserit operated for centuries behind the blind of a semimystic school while carrying on their selective breeding program among humans, we tend to award them with more status than they appear to deserve. Analysis of their "trial of fact" on the Arrakis Affair betrays the school's profound ignorance of its own role.

It may be argued that the Bene Gesserit could examine only such facts as were available to them and had no direct access to the person of the Prophet Muad'Dib. But the school had surmounted greater obstacles and its error here goes deeper. The Bene Gesserit program had as its target the breeding of a person they labeled "Kwisatz Haderach," a term signifying "one who can be many places at once." In simpler terms, what they sought was a human with mental powers permitting him to understand and use higher order dimensions.

They were breeding for a super-Mentat, a human computer with some of the prescient abilities found in Guild navigators. Now, attend these facts carefully:

Muad'Dib, born Paul Atreides, was the son of the Duke Leto, a man whose bloodline had been watched carefully for more than a thousand years. The Prophet's mother, Lady Jessica, was a natural daughter of the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and carried gene-markers whose supreme importance to the breeding program was known for almost two thousand years. She was a Bene Gesserit bred and trained, and should have been a willing tool of the project.

The Lady Jessica was ordered to produce an Atreides daughter. The plan was to inbreed this daughter with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, a nephew of the Baron Vladimir, with the high probability of a Kwisatz Haderach from that union. Instead, for reasons she confesses have never been completely clear to her, the concubine Lady Jessica defied her orders and bore a son. This alone should have alerted the Bene Gesserit to the possibility that a wild variable had entered their scheme. But there were other far more important indications that they virtually ignored:

1. As a youth, Paul Atreides showed ability to predict the future. He was known to have had prescient visions that were accurate, penetrating, and defied four-dimensional explanation.

2. The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Bene Gesserit Proctor who tested Paul's humanity when he was fifteen, deposes that he surmounted more agony in the test than any other human of record. Yet she failed to make special note of this in her report!

3. When Family Atreides moved to the planet Arrakis, the Fremen population there hailed the young Paul as a prophet, "the voice from the outer world." The Bene Gesserit were well aware that the rigors of such a planet as Arrakis with its totality of desert landscape, its absolute lack of open water, its emphasis on the most primitive necessities for survival, inevitably produces a high proportion of sensitives. Yet this Fremen reaction and the obvious element of the Arrakeen diet high in spice were glossed over by Bene Gesserit observers.

4. When the Harkonnens and the soldier-fanatics of the Padishah Emperor reoccupied Arrakis, killing Paul's father and most of the Atreides troops, Paul and his mother disappeared. But almost immediately there were reports of a new religious leader among the Fremen, a man called Muad'Dib, who again was hailed as "the voice from the outer world." The reports stated clearly that he was accompanied by a new Reverend Mother of the Sayyadina Rite "who is the woman who bore him." Records available to the Bene Gesserit stated in plain terms that the Fremen legends of the Prophet contained these words: "He shall be born of a Bene Gesserit witch."

(It may be argued here that the Bene Gesserit sent their Missionaria Protectiva onto Arrakis centuries earlier to implant something like this legend as safeguard should any members of the school be trapped there and require sanctuary, and that this legend of "the voice from the outer world" was properly to be ignored because it appeared to be the standard Bene Gesserit ruse. But this would be true only if you granted that the Bene Gesserit were correct in ignoring the other clues about Paul-Muad'Dib.)

5. When the Arrakis Affair boiled up, the Spacing Guild made overtures to the Bene Gesserit. The Guild hinted that its navigators, who use the spice drug of Arrakis to produce the limited prescience necessary for guiding spaceships through the void, were "bothered about the future" or saw "problems on the horizon." This could only mean they saw a nexus, a meeting place of countless delicate decisions, beyond which the path was hidden from the prescient eye. This was a clear indication that some agency was interfering with higher order dimensions!

(A few of the Bene Gesserit had long been aware that the Guild could not interfere directly with the vital spice source because Guild navigators already were dealing in their own inept way with higher order dimensions, at least to the point where they recognized that the slightest misstep they made on Arrakis could be catastrophic. It was a known fact that Guild navigators could predict no way to take control of the spice without producing just such a nexus. The obvious conclusion was that someone of higher order powers was taking control of the spice source, yet the Bene Gesserit missed this point entirely!)

In the face of these facts, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the inefficient Bene Gesserit behavior in this affair was a product of an even higher plan of which they were completely unaware!


gubbish said...

Arthur Frayn: You see, our death-wish was devious, and deep. As Zardoz, Zed, I was able to choose your forefathers! It was careful genetic breeding that produced this mutant - this slave who could free his masters! And Friend was my accomplice! Don't you remember the man in the library, Zed? [a chime is heard] Arthur Frayn: It was I who led you to the 'Wizard of Oz' book! Ha-hah, it was I who gave you access to the Stone! It was I! [a chime is heard] Arthur Frayn: I bred you! I led you! Zed: And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself. [He strides away, and Friend advances to join Arthur] Friend: Arthur! We've all been used! Arthur Frayn: And re-used. Friend: And abused! Arthur Frayn: And amused!

LondonYoung said...

I only read the original version in the Analog magazines in the Ruddock library.  It seems that these extra details are creations afterwards.  This is in contrast to Tolkien's works where the "larger plan" was created before the popular story.

steve hsu said...

I'm pretty sure these appendices were there in the 1970s edition that I read. The book appeared in 1965.

SamMurphy said...

I've only read the canonical six Frank Herbert Dune books (and none of the subsequent abortions by his son).

No, later books don't go into any higher plan, especially at the time of Dune. From the reign of Leto II onwards the BG were certainly manipulated by him, though.

Innominatus Subrosa said...

It depends on whose voice this is written in.  If the author's, maybe Herbert wanted to set up for a sequel but took it in another direction instead.  I prefer thinking that it's just be some third party marvelling at how the Bene Gesserit screwed up: some combination of the fact that the Bene Gesserit didn't realize exactly what they had created, and that they weren't as omniscient as they presented themselves to outsiders.  Paul wasn't just a super-Mentat, he could see (and therefore control) the future.  Once he began exercising his powers, there was no way for the BG to control him; the idea was that the Kwisatz Haderach would be under the control--at least through indoctrination--of the Reverend Mothers.  Since Jessica disobeyed orders, had a son who turned out to be The One, then ran off with him around the time Paul came of age, obviously this didn't happen.

I recall that Lady Jessica bore the Duke a son because she loved him, and that's what he wanted.  Jessica wouldn't admit this to her BG superiors because falling in love was a major breach of their code. 

1. His mother was supposed to spy on him for the BG, but didn't do a good job of it because her true loyalty was to her family.
2. It's been a while, but I think she was basically angry about Lady Jessica having disrupted BG plans by bearing a son.  She was trying to cover up the fact (possibly out of denial) that Paul might be special and that the whole project had been jeopardized.
3 & 4. The parenthetical statement pretty much explains these.  Otherwise the BG just made a mistake. 
5. Yes, the source of it was Paul's taking over Arrakis.  Any attempt to control the spice would do this, because it could put the spice, and therefore prescience itself, at risk.  The Guild clairvoyants wouldn't be able to see past an event that might destroy their ability to see the future. 

LondonYoung said...

The Analog version of the story appeared in 1963.  I think it is shorter than the book version, though it spans several issues of Analog.  Every now and then I have desired a complete set for my personal library though, like you, I have not had time for scifi in the last couple decades.  Maybe when we are almost senile 40 years from now ...

LondonYoung said...

Tolkien wrote the back story for LOTR in the 1910's, but  LOTR wasn't written until the 30's and 40's.  This is what sets Tolkien apart from so many other fiction writers.  Even Sherlock Holmes' backstory was subject to constant change ...  

steve hsu said...

As a kid I preferred LOTR to the Silmarillion, but I read the latter again as an adult and now find it a much deeper and more powerful work -- as if Tolkien had single handedly written the Bible or equivalent creation myth for his own universe. I read the Silmarillion again because I was staying at a university guest house in Tokyo for an entire summer and there was very little in their English library. Perhaps now I can stomach the Dune sequels.

Razib Khan said...

the sequels kept sucking more and more with each one.

5371 said...

Ever tried E. R. Eddison?

LaurentMelchiorTellier said...

Nice that you were moved by the Silmarillion, it's not to everyones taste. 

But for the sake of your own love of Dune, I suggest that you avoid the sequels. They approach making the original book less good with their sheer sucktitude, I regret having read some of them.*Hmmmm, you seem to have a taste for big stories. I'd recommend Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series; besides being writ-large, they're famously hard scifi, rich in especially physics.

Bogdan Butnaru said...

The books written by Frank’s son are indeed crappy (and I don’t think it’s just the contrast with the originals), but allegedly they are based on FH’s notes for future books.

I haven’t read them all, but their main revealings about the Dune world is that (1) some AIs escaped the Butlerian Jihad, ran far away, and then start interfering again later, and (2) an ancient human brain called the Oracle also exists since a long time, has some Guild-like abilities, and presumably interfered at least through advice during the whole history. 

(The old man and woman “seen” by Duncan at the end of Chapterhouse: Dune are avatars of a vast AI and its “side-kick/nagging wife”. The Oracle IIRC is the brain of Helmholtz’s assistant, an ultra-intelligent woman actually responsible for the inventions credited to her master, transcended somehow.) 

I don’t remember exactly what the AIs and the Oracle did in the final books (though at one point the AIs claim they “need” the Kwisatz Haderach for something nefarious), and exactly what if anything they were doing during the first books, but presumably Frank was setting things up to later reveal some hidden influence they had on the Arrakis affair.

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