Friday, July 25, 2008

Why The Spice Must Flow

The spice mélange.

A friend of mine recently asked for a description of the spice mélange as it is found in the Dune universe. The spice is considered to be a vital food/drug of the empire. Even though the original Dune was written in 1965, there is an obvious corollary to oil as the spice is only available on one planet and the production/harvesting of mélange holds a direct influence on the economy of the entire empire.

The spice is used by almost all of the populace in the empire for various things. As a food additive, it does add flavor and is actually a food source on its own. Habitants of Arrakis (Dune) have been known to survive on pure spice in times of need. However, its life-extending properties are what most other citizens of the universe use it for. In continual small doses, it extends a human’s life span to (I believe) just over 200 years.

However, this is not the main impact that the spice has on the economy. When taken in heavier doses, mélange will have a heightening effect on an individual’s awareness. Because of this effect, it has become integral to the dominant religious group called the Bene Gesserit. As the Bene Gesserit take the spice in heavier doses more regularly, the addictive nature of mélange grabs hold, and withdrawal is something all Bene Gesserit fear.

This heightened awareness is integral to another group's functioning, as well. And this is where the true economic influence comes into play. Guild Navigators pilot transports from star system to star system by “folding space”. Transports are massive ships large enough to contain and transport hundreds of space ships within its holds. They use an engine that is capable of folding the space-time continuum and touching two points thereby placing the transport in two locations at the same. This allows for near instantaneous movement across unlimited distances, and this is what is truly vital to the economy of the empire. Otherwise, it would take months/years to travel between even the closest of planets.

Guild Navigators literally immerse themselves in tanks filled with spice in a gaseous form to heighten their awareness to a point that will allow them to perform the calculations required to prevent the transports from reappearing in the middle of a planet or some other catastrophic misplacement.

The spice holds more relevance in the development of the epic that is the Dune series, but that is the general situation that a reader will encounter when starting the books.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Golden Path

10 days along and I am 325 pages into my Dune marathon.

I don’t believe that I’ve mentioned it in my (infrequent) blog entries, but I am something of a Dune freak. By that, I mean that I have read the original Dune books, multiple times. By multiple times, I mean the first three have been read five or six times, and the last three have been read three or four times. I have also read most of the newly written books.

I first read the first three Dune books (Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune) while in high school. I enjoyed them, but I must admit that I didn’t get everything out of them. I was just a bit too young to really see all of the layers. I read them again at around 20 years old and finished the whole set of six.

That was when I saw the power of these novels. Frank Herbert did an unprecedented job of weaving all aspects of human life into an epic that spans millennia. Not an easy task to do! His methods of playing government and military off of religion and superstition to form an empire that had risen in rebellion against robotic rule 12,000 years prior to the first Dune novel was so intricate and fascinating that I could not help but read them all again…and again…

And I have continued to do so for a good decade and a half since then. I will frequently cause my friends’ eyes to roll when I announce “I’m reading Dune again”. I actually read them repeatedly enough that I had to force myself into a hiatus. About two years ago, I established that I needed to expose myself to more than the sci-fi books that I was reading, and specifically avoid the Dune series for a good bit of time. It was good, and necessary.

But it is time again.

Now, I will never claim to be a fast reader. That has never been my goal in reading any book, never mind this particular series that I prefer to nibble on and savor. But the series has grown. Frank’s son Brian found a number of Frank’s notes, and he has taken up the mantel. He first wrote three books that immediately preceded the original series (I read those three). He then wrote three more books that outline the robotic oppression and human rebellion that took place over 12,000 years prior to the original Dune novels (I read the first, but not the second two). Then he wrote two more books that follow Franks outline for what was to be the conclusion of the original Dune novels (I have read the first of those two). In September, he has the final book coming out that actually takes place in the small span of time between his first three, and Frank’s original books.

You will notice that the writing of the books is very scattered in the chronological sense. But the book slated for September is supposed to be the last one written, and that inspired me to get back in to the fold.

This time, however, I want to be sure I read ALL of them. And will be following the timeline in order. That will be 15 books that span over 20,000 years.

Eight thousand one hundred sixty three pages.

Yes. 8,163 pages.

10 days along and I am 325 pages into my Dune marathon.

That comes out to 241 days left…