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Frank Herbert – The Dosadi Experiment

Title: The Dosadi Experiment
Author: Frank Herbert
Year: 1977

Even though I have read a couple of science fiction novels I think surpass Frank Herbert’s Dune, and despite the fact that I was only nineteen when I read that book, I still consider that book and its sequels to be the epitome of epic science fiction. Such a stroke of genius cannot be random, I argued, so I set out to read some of Frank Herbert’s other books, starting with Whipping Star, which had some interesting ideas, but none of the splendour of previous works. The Dosadi Experiment is the sequel to Whipping Star, even though they could perfectly well be read separately.

The story focuses on an ethically highly secretive and questionable experiment in which citizens of the universe were unwillingly transfered to the planet of Dosadi, which was shielded from the rest of the universe by something that came to be known as the God Wall. The people of Dosadi lived and developed, the planet’s only major city become horribly over crowded and the experiment derailed completely. However, as the investigators try to destroy Dosadi and the experiment, it becomes apparent that under the planet’s harsh conditions, a race has developed which cannot be removed that easily, a race which, if released from its prison, could wreak havoc on the galaxy. Jorj X. McKie, Saboteur Extraordinary (known from Whipping Star) is sent to the planet, to survive in an environment that has evolved beyond the dreams of its creators, and, ultimately, to investigate the illicit experiment.

The problem with The Dosadi Experiment is that the potential for greatness greatly exceeds the actual novel. The overall story is interesting, the setting and characters are good, but still Herbert fails to tie them together in a convincing fashion. I simply feel nothing for the characters, never become fully immersed in the story and the setting. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I don’t particularly like his novel, but probably that’s because it fails a little bit in almost every regard (except for the basic plot and some good ideas). No part is very bad, but on the other hand, there is nothing extraordinarily good that can balance more mundane aspects. Perhaps I’ll give Herbert another chance later, but it won’t be any time soon.

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  1. Val’s avatar

    The trick to reading Herbert’s other works is not to expect another Dune. He didn’t write one, I don’t think anyone could. You’ll recognize themes he used in Dune in his other works (The Dosadi Experiment uses the same idea of extreme environmental pressure to harden a people for instance) but never on such an epic scale. Personally I think The Dosadi Experiment is one of the best novels he wrote, if you didn’t like it I doubt any of his other works are going to convince you.

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    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      Apart from the Dune series, I’ve only read this one and Whipping Star, but I think you’re right in saying that comparing with Dune all the time isn’t that helpful. However, it’s very easy (perhaps inevitable) to do so, especially because some of the themes reappear in other works. Well, I’m grateful for Dune, few authors will give such reading pleasure, and that fact isn’t changed by Herbert’s other novels not being as good.

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