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ConSentiency universe

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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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Title: Whipping Star
Author: Frank Herbert
Year: 1970

Frank Herbert is most certainly best known for his best-selling and award-winning novel Dune and it’s sequels, all of which I have enjoyed immensely. Published in 1970, Whipping Star comes after Dune Messiah, but predates Children of Dune by six years. Even though the novel is unrelated to the Dune series, I still think chronology is highly relevant, because it reveals that the author is perfectly capable of writing fantastic novels. Naturally, that increased my expectations when I first began reading my first non-Dune novel written by Frank Herbert.

Whipping Star has a somewhat bizarre basic plot. A species of extremely powerful beings, the Calebans,  appeared in the universe not long ago and introduced jumpdoors, which allowed for instant communication and transport across the universe. However, when these strange beings begin to withdraw from the scene, madness and death follows in their wake. Soon there is only one left, bound to stay and die by an arcane code of honour, doomed to be whipped to death by the psychotic human Mliss Abnethe. If the last Caleban dies, so will all sentients who have made use of the jumpdoors, which means total apocalypse because that includes almost everyone alive. In this mess, Jorj X. McKie tries to reverse the process and save the Caleban and thus the universe. The problem is that he has to cooperate with the only remaining Caleban, a being so alien and strange that it is dubious if true communication is even theoretically possible.

To begin with, I do not find this setup convincing. As soon as the novel gets going, I have no problem tagging along, but that is only assuming that I ignore the fundamental weirdness of the situation. Why has the Caleban entered into such a deal which will end in total discontinuity (death)? I find the story rather simple, straightforward and, to be honest, not very interesting. Neither are the main characters. However, giving this novel three snails is not a mistake, even though what I have said so far might give the impression that the grade ought to be abysmally low.

This novel is focused on communication in general, and communication with strange, alien beings in particular, a theme that has been explored many times before, but seldom to any great success (Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris being an exception). I feel, however, that in Whipping Star, Frank Herbert succeeds with this difficult feat. He manages to focus on this communication and makes it come alive. Although realism is of course not on the menu, the credibility rating is pretty high. When I read the dialogues taking place between McKie and the Caleban, I can feel the alieness. Very inspiring, very good. Another merit of this novel is the emotional impact of the Calebans; their existence is so unlike ours that their activities have big, sometimes even fatal, effect on the emotions of nearby sentient beings. Although not employed to any  great extent in this novel, I have already a few ideas of my own sprouting from the concept of the Calebans.

Whipping Star is somewhat difficult to sum up, because as I have described, the novel is mostly humdrum, but with some beautiful sparks of genuine creativity and imagination. I have decided to make some sort of compromise. I would give four, or possibly four and a half, snails for the presentation of the Caleban, but only one and a half or two for the rest. Combined, three snails will have to do.This is of course an enormous disappointement compared to the Dune novels, which I have given an average of 4.2 snails.

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