" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Frank Herbert #3, Destination Void (and Dune Series)

Destination Void 1966, cover by Richard Powers

Disclaimer I am having trouble will blogger displaying text odd text breakss, editing does not seem to help.

"Another student had said, "Hypothetical questions like this always bore the hell out of me." (157)(1978) Destination Void. They bore me as well, which is why I did have some trouble finishing Destination Void. Talk talk, talk, I had the same problem with Disch's Camp Concentration and as with the Disch book the ending redeemed an otherwise, for me, tedious read. I will now briefly discuss the Dune series and my Herbert Reread, skip ahead if you want to move onto Destination Void.


Before discussing Destination Void I first I want to mention how my amble through the works of Frank Herbert is going. I love Dune I will make no bones about it, But I never previously gotten past the beginning of God Emperor of Dune. So I decided to read all six Dune related books published by Herbert in his life time. I skipped Dune which I have read many time, skipped Dune Messiah which I had read previously, I am clear on the concept, we all have regrets, then reread Children of Dune. I hit God Emperor of Dune with a full head of steam, 3,500 years have passed, only Leto and a clone (ghola) of Duncan Idaho, (one of many it turns out) remain from the other books, even the sandworms except Leto are gone. Lots of talk, new characters, some character development?? got to the end lots of people die, kind of inconclusive for me because I know there are other books. Heretics of Dune 1,500 years pass everyone except another of the Duncan Idaho clones have died. The institutions/organizations remain, the Bene Gesserit, Ixians, Bene Tleilax and some of the ruling houses, Sandworms have returned to Arrakis. Things seem to be picking up plot wise, human populations who scattered to distant parts of the universe when Leto's empire collapsed have returned. This including a very powerful group lead by women called the Honored Matres bent on conquering known space and destroying the Bene Gesseritt. Herbert starts to build up some interesting ideas, explains some of the cultures, that were only names in the original books groups like the Bene Tleilax are fleshed out a bit more. There is more action, but still lots of talk. Chapterhouse Dune is a direct sequel so we have the same characters although Herbert kills them off at the drop of a hat which makes me feel some of the time spent on character development and philosophical digressions between them seems like unnecessary padding. By the end of Chapterhouse I don't care enough about the characters to be terribly engaged, (I get the impression Herbert doesn't either at the rate they start dropping) it becomes obvious that there will not be a resolution.

I am not sure how Herbert planned to end the books. Chapterhouse Dune was published in 1985 and Frank Herbert sadly passed away in 1986. I do not plan to read any of the subsequent Dune franchise books. I know that may SF writers begin series that are never completed for various reason's but even in the books he finished Herbert seems to be rambling, the interesting bits were abandoned for more discussion. I tired of the digressions, capsule histories, epigrams, philosophical discussions worthy of drunken undergrads, and Byzantine plot after Byzantine plot. I think at some point the writer needs to engage the reader and just tell the story. In creating his books Frank Herbert often played with ideas, Dune was by his own admission based on a desire to stand the Van Vogt Superman concept on it head. 
Damien Broderick in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (51) states “The deep irony of Dune’s popular triumph, and that of its many sequels, is Herbert’s own declared intention to undermine exactly that besotted identification with the van Vogtian superman-hero.” See my discussion of Hellstrom's Hive for another concept based plot. By the last of the Dune books I don't think Herbert's original idea or concept was strong enough to carry the six books and he did not introduce anything to take it's place.

Revised Edition, Cover by Paul Alexander 


"Would you trust an artificial intelligence to fly a combat jet?" …,

""Let us see proper scientific testing and evaluation of the idea before we embark on such a dangerous idea." says Sharkey." 

both quotes for "Computer plays wingman in US air force simulations". David Hambling,
New Scientist, Dec. 3-9, 2016. (23)

Destination Void first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, August 1965. The original title was "Do I Wake or Dream". ISFDB noted that this tile was also attributed to the original publication of The Eyes of Heisenberg, I looked at copy of the text of the Galaxy version online and scanned the beginning and the end. It matched the text of the 1966 Berkley Medallion paperback edition of Destination Void. I read the revised edition published by Berkley Medallion in 1978. It seems to have more framing material than the earlier edition but I only glanced at the first and last few pages of the 1966 edition so there might be other changes. I suspect I may have enjoyed the 1966 edition more, it was shorter. One thing I did realize was missing in the 1966 edition but present in the 1978 edition was the trademark Herbert epigrams preceding some of the chapters. I liked them in Dune but I feel his use of them in so many novels slows the story. In Destination Void a quick comparison of the two versions makes me feel that some of the epigrams as well as a prologue Herbert added to the Revised edition destroy some of the suspense and sense of ongoing revelation to be found in the earlier version. Herbert does discuss the revisions at the end of the 1978 edition should anyone wish to compare texts. 

In Destination Void a colony ship called Earthling is headed for the Tau Ceti star system
it has been launched from the moon on a journey expected to last 200 years. It carries a cargo of 3006 doppelgängers (clones) some as adult bodies in suspended animation, some as embryos. They also have plants, animals and the tools needed to found a new colony. This is the seventh ship tasked with this goal, the first six have failed. The crew consists of six clones, who will maintain the ship under the direction of a "Organic Mental Core" or "OMC" a disembodied human brain that maintains ship function, keeps the cargo alive and pilots the ship. As the story starts only three of the crew are still alive, the others have died in malfunctions or were killed by the OMC. At the start of the journey the ship carried three OMCs one active and two spares. Each has manifested signs of mental illness and had to be removed. Control over all ship functions has now devolved to the three remaining crew, chaplain-psychiatrist, Raja Flattery, (Tim) Gerrill Lon Timberlake life-systems engineer, and Bickel the ships engineer, who took responsibility for destroying the OMCs. Although Tim should be de facto captain Bickel as the most dominate personality takes over command. His first actions are to tell Moonbase what happened and order the revival of a replacement crew member, Prudence Weygand M.D. who is also an expert in computer math, from suspended animation. Only Flatterly and Timberlake are present when Weygand is awaked and it becomes obvious to Timberlake from a cryptic exchanges between the other two that there is a existing plan to manipulate Bickel into certain actions. The message from Moonrise provides three solutions, one, return to base for repairs and a new OMC, a process further complicated in that all the clones have, since their creation been excluded from all physical contact with actual humans. Two, treat the ship as a closed system and proceed to Tau Ceti at a much slower speed, which will involve using some of the clones for ship resources i.e. cannibalism. Or three "to build the necessary consciousness into your robo-pilot using the ship computer as a basis." (32) (1966) The entire concept of human brains in computers reminded me of Raymond F. Jones novel, The Cybernetic Brains,


but without Jones' killer frogs. But why not create what we would now call an Artificial Intelligence on earth or the moon. It seems they did try and the project on an island in Puget Sound resulted in a number of deaths and the eventual disappearance of the island. 

Bickel opts for option three despite some resistance of the rest of the crew. And therein lies a tale.

However it is a tale slowed by bull sessions about the nature of consciousness, how do we know we are alive etc. The various misgivings, insecurities, and moral qualms of the crew figure large and of course things happen to the ship. Since the managers of the project did incorporate some design flaws into the ship as deliberate frustrations to spur the crew to greater efforts and unusual solutions there is some ambiguity, are these changes part of the original plan or do they indicate changes to the computer's functioning  

The main flaw for me is why all the elaborate and expensive subterfuge. This is the seventh ship, were they all launched with most of the crew ignorant of their actual goal. Herbert loves this plot within a plot but it seems a poor way to run a space program or AI experiment to me. They also discuss synergy for awhile, which for anyone that has had to sit through meetings discussing synergy so HR staff and the managers can avoid actual work, this term acts like one of Herbert's key words and can potentially drive the reader into a homicidal rage. 

Another look at an attempt at testing an AI in a non-earth environment is James P. Hogan's novel  The Two Faces of Tomorrow, 1979. 

This is a Herbert novel with a number of his signature tropes, clones and the ability to create successive multiples of the same person to capture know qualities can be found in several of his works, the Duncan Idahos of Dune, Max Allgood the security chief in the The Eyes of Heisenberg. Another theme is the manipulation of people by a combination of training/indoctrination and stress, in the Dune books the Bene Jessit and Leto do it to entire populations. Leto in The God Emperor of Dune does this not only to the Duncan Idaho ghola but also to his servant Moneo and Moneo's daughter Sionado. The more I read Herbert the more I become convinced that one of the reasons for the shields in Dune that limit the use of projectile weapons, is because Herbert loves the hand to hand duel with all it's feints within feints, poisons darts, trigger words implanted under hypnois, plots and traps. In a story like Destination Void the duelling now verbal continues, plot within plot, betrayal nestled within betrayal. Herbert's love for questions of perception and identity also continue, what is human, what is machine what is real, how do we know. The Optimen, Folk, and Cyborgs of The Eyes of Heisenberg, the insect-humans of Helestrom's Hive, the disfranchised clones of Destination Void all raise these questions, I think the original title "Do I Wake or Dream" was probably a better if less commercial choice. And of course via chaplain-psychiatrist, Raja Flattery religion also raises it's head in a project one would expect to be purely secular.

I included my discussion of the Dune novels in the preamble because I think a number of the flaws I that I found in those novels are also present in Destination Void, they were all talky, unnecessarily convoluted, and without clear resolutions. Having said this, the more I thought about the novel the more I saw it as an integral piece of Herbert oeuvre. It really made me think about the themes that Herbert so often returns to in different novels. Herbert wrote several sequels with the poet Bill Ransom and I will read them at some point. I think Destination Void is worthwhile read, but maybe try the 1966 edition, I believe I already mentioned it's shorter.

As I continue my journey along this jagged orbit, serendipity does play a role. While pondering this post I picked up one of the novels my wife purchased,
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. It is a murder mystery involving six clones, the crew of a ship carrying colonists to the Tau Ceti star system in suspended animation. It was a good read. I appreciated Lafferty's introduction of (mindmaps) records of the cloned bodies previous lives so they ended up with the same personalities. A body alone does not contain the mind or personality of the individual, something cloning in SF sometimes seems to gloss over. And as one might expect there was more action in Six Wakes than in the Herbert. I was interested in whether Lafferty was inspired at all by Destination Void but in an interview at the back of the novel she attributes the idea to an iPad game called FTL. 

Wikipedia does have an interesting article on the reasons Tau Ceti is a favourite destination for SF writers and it does does mention Destination Void

Cover Design Kirk Benshoff Cover Image Arcanal Images

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