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Dune notes

Observations on Frank Herbert’s Dune series—the notes are probably overstated, the Butlerian Jihad was not a robot uprising seeking to exterminate humanity, and precognition/prescience in the Dune universe appears to work backwards allowing for retro-causality and stable time-loops as exemplified by Leto II’s Golden Path creating Paul Atreides and the events of Dune.

Notes For Dune 7

The Terrible Duo “Did Frank Herbert leave any notes or an outline that you’ve used to write the prequels?”

Brian Herbert: “Years after my father passed away we got a call from the attorney who handled his estate, saying that they’d found two safe-deposit keys. We were thinking maybe there were some jewels in there or something. But it turned out that there’s nothing of value in there… but the notes for Dune 7.” [laughs]

K.J. Anderson: “Then Brian was cleaning out his garage to make an office space and he found all these boxes that had ‘Dune Notes’ on the side. And we used a lot of them for our House books.”

Brian Herbert: “Dad always called my mother a ‘white witch’. Then, after Kevin and I met, I got the call about the safe-deposit boxes. Then I found the notes. I felt that my mom was making sure Kevin and I got along and was watching over me.”

…K.J. Anderson: “There was a lot of reaction. ‘How can you do this?’ There was a fan group on the Internet that decided we shouldn’t do this. There were 60 of them on Amazon and they put 60 one-star reviews up saying, ‘We don’t even have to read them.’ I was the Dummy of Dune and Brian was the Anti-Christ.”

… “Would Frank Herbert have enjoyed the prequels?”

Brian Herbert: “It’s not as good as Frank Herbert writing the story, but it’s as good as anyone can do right now. We’re not going to milk this. We’re not going to carry on too far. We still feel the great passion, the great energy for the story.”


Look here:

“The Leto/Jessica meeting scene in HOUSE HARKONNEN was actually written by Frank Herbert himself and found in his notes. The events shown in HOUSE HARKONNEN are consistent with the original notes.”

Dune began with a concept whose mostly unfleshed images took shape across about six years of research and one and a half years of writing. The story was all in my head until it appeared on paper as I typed it out.

So no notes? On the other hand, arguably the prototypes and drafts for Dune, as seen in things like The Road to Dune anthology, are ‘notes’.

John… we’ve argued about this before: just because Herbert did not keep notes when he was developing the first novel, Dune, does not mean that he didn’t keep notes for the later ones and after Ch:D. He was getting on in years at that point, and perhaps in his collaborations he picked up the habit of keeping notes.

John- I never said that there might exist notes for the prequels- if FH had left notes, the core ideas and plot for them would have been a hell of a lot better than they are. But i still think there is a good chance of notes for Dune 7, since that ending might not have satisfied Herbert. Besides, Dune 7 would finish out a second trilogy, and trilogies usually require notes.

further evidence against notes is the many apparent inconsistencies. Why on earth are the sequels Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune? Dune is toast! Charred to dust! Not even ashes! And our only familiar characters are uncounted universes away from what was Arrakis! Stinks of crass commercialism to me.

You’re assuming he did [intend Omnius in Dune 7]. Given that CH:D says that Daniel & Marty were super face dancers, but BH/KJA have instead made Daniel & Marty Omnius and Erasmus instead. This seems, to me, to cast some doubt on whether or not Omnius and co. were ever part of FH’s vision as it strikes me as a blatant & irreconcilable contradiction. If you drop your assumption, the answer is easy: the fanatical machine enemy is a hoary shopworn sci-fi cliche which comes naturally, in the same way rain comes from the sky. There’s a koan I read once in The Fall of Hyperion:

[Once Ummon asked
a lesser light//
Are you a gardener>//
//Yes// it replied\\
//Why have turnips no roots>\\
Ummon asked the gardener\
who could not reply\\
//Because\\ said Ummon//
rainwater is plentiful]

Butlerian Jihad

I had proposed to FH that he and I collaborate on a prequel to the Dune saga called “Prequel to Dune: the Butlerian Jehad” or some similar title. FH and I had discussed writing it together and he agreed with my general plot outline, completed first chapter, and so on but his untimely death prevented us from continuing. He had been living in the LA area at the time and we often discussed it by phone, but I have no written notes from him about it, unfortunately. The prequel would have followed in general terms the story as outlined in the DE - sketched in my notes - which I still have - and written in final published form by one of my colleagues at Cal State.

* Willis McNelly

What we have paused to discuss right now is probably the single most important barrier to the widespread useful development of individual computers. It involves a lot of people blathering about their “computer intelligence.” According to this scare story, “computer intelligence will win out someday over human intelligence and then we’re all going to be in deep trouble. That makes good science fiction drama, but it ain’t gonna happen.”

Frank Herbert - _Without Me You're Nothing_. P. 33

We definitely do not want to call them [computers] electronic brains That is the most misleading name to come along.

Frank Herbert - _Without Me You're Nothing_. P. 44

We are saying that it is not our tools that are at fault, it’s how we use those tools and the beliefs we invest in them.

Frank Herbert - _Without Me You're Nothing_. P. 73

We are questioning more than the philosophy behind our dependence upon limited and limiting systems. We question the power structures that have grown up around such systems.

Frank Herbert - _Without Me You're Nothing_. P. 73

“Scytale glanced at the old Reverend Mother, seeing the ancient hates which colored her responses. From the days of the Butlerian Jihad when”thinking machines” had been wiped from most of the universe, computers had inspired distrust. Old emotions colored the human computer as well.”

“This was a human computer, mind and nervous system fitted to the tasks relegated long ago to hated mechanical devices”

“His gods were Routine and Records. He was served by mentats and prodigious filing systems. Expediency was the first word in his catechism, although he gave proper lip-service to the precepts of the Butlerians. Machines could not be fashioned in the image of a man’s mind, he said, but he betrayed by every action that he preferred machines to men, statistics to individuals, the faraway general view to the intimate personal touch requiring imagination and initiative.”

The Reverend Mother closed her eyes to hide his face. Damnation! To cast the genetic dice in such a way! Loathing boiled in her breast. The teaching of the Bene Gesserit, the lessons of the Butlerian Jihad – all proscribed such an act. One did not demean the highest aspirations of humankind. No machine could function in the way of a human mind. No word or deed could imply that men might be bred on the level of animals.

(Note that the “act”, going against the “lessons of the Butlerian Jihad” is “demean[ing] the highest aspirations of humankind”. The lesson of the Jihad was that ‘man should not be demeaned’, not that ‘man should not get killed by a rogue AI’.)

The Butlerian Jihad tried to rid our universe of machines which simulate the mind of man.

Not machines which killed men, which would be the more relevant point if that was what they did.

One moment he felt himself setting forth on the Butlerian Jihad, eager to destroy any machine which simulated human awareness. That had to be the past – over and done with. Yet his senses hurtled through the experience, absorbing the most minute details. He heard a minister-companion speaking from a pulpit: “We must negate the machines-that-think. Humans must set their own guidelines. This is not something machines can do. Reasoning depends upon programming, not on hardware, and we are the ultimate program!” He heard the voice clearly, knew his surroundings – a vast wooden hall with dark windows. Light came from sputtering flames. And his minister-companion said: “Our Jihad is a ‘dump program.’ We dump the things which destroy us as humans!”

(Leto II remembering genetically. This is a funny kind of speech to be giving if the machines are trying to eradicate you - why talk about how they “negate us as humans”? That we must “set our own guidelines”? Did anyone in a zombie movie ever rally the survivors saying “zombies cannot set our guidelines for us”? Would you, acting in self-defence against an assailant shout for help because you are being “destroyed as human”?)

Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.

(“Turned their thinking over” - mankind was not coerced, put in slave pens or routinely eradicated. They turned their thinking over. Themselves.)

Then came the Butlerian Jihad – two generations of chaos. The god of machine-logic was overthrown among the masses and a new concept was raised: “Man may not be replaced.”

(“The god of machine logic”, not “the hegemony of the evil Darth Grievous, Skynet, Omnius”. Even the ban on “replacing mankind” would make no sense if the problem was a murderous AI - a ban on autonomous AIs would be more than sufficient to deal with that problem.)

JIHAD, BUTLERIAN: (see also Great Revolt) – the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

Its possession was the shibboleth of this age, but it carried also the taint of old immorality. Once, they’d been guided by an artificial intelligence, computer brains. The Butlerian Jihad had ended that, but it hadn’t ended the aura of aristocratic vice which enclosed such things.

(About a fencing machine - which is the closest thing to a robot in the Dune universe. Note that humanity was “guided”, not “led into slave-pens for extermination”. With the danger on “going Godwin” on this one, if this happened in the same universe as Omnius, it would be like a historian saying the Nazis “governed” the Jews during the Third Reich. A slight understatement, in other words)

The human-computer replaced the mechanical devices destroyed by the Butlerian Jihad. Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind! But Alia longed now for a compliant machine. They could not have suffered from Idaho’s limitations. You could never distrust a machine.

Trusting the machine was never the problem. Note that Alia has Other Memory and hence, rather specific knowledge of the Jihad. She desires a ‘compliant’ machine to give her advice and generally do the work of Duncan Idaho, a mentat. This would be an intelligent computer, and completely non-sensical if she remembers how one such machine enslaved and almost killed all of humanity.

  1. Alia has memories from the time of the Jihad and knows details regarding Omnius et al.

  2. She is wishing for a machine to give her advice on the level of a mentat’s capabilities.

  3. She characterises such a machine as ‘compliant’ and trustworthy.

  4. A machine with capabilities re. political advice on the level of, or beyond, a mentat is a powerful artificial intelligence.

  5. Omnius was a powerful artificial intelligence.

  6. Omnius enslaved and tried to kill mankind.

  7. Omnius was an AI which was not compliant or trustworthy, to a catastrophic degree (from 5 and 6).

  8. Alia knows that a powerful AI can be untrustworthy and non-‘compliant’ the level of genocide or human extinction (from 1 and 7).

  9. Alia believes a powerful AI would be trustworthy and ‘compliant’ (from 3 and 4).

  10. Alia both believes, and does not believe, that a powerful artificial intelligence is ‘compliant’ and trustworthy (from 8 and 9) - Quod Est Absurdum.

They [Ixians] made their devices in the image of the mind the very thing which had ignited the Jihad’s destruction and slaughter.

(There is no way this sentence makes sense if the beginning (“They made their devices in the image of the mind”) is not the cause for the later part, ie. the Jihad. So the Jihad was started because of this ‘image of the mind’, either its creation of the thing itself. The abhorrence of the thing, not its abhorrent actions.)

“The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

(Leto II again, telling us the reason behind the Jihad - our loss of self-determination. No mention of slaughtering innocent humans, one notes…)

Odrade was suddenly aware she had touched on the force that had powered the Butlerian Jihad - mob motivation.

People do not need motivation for survival, they need it to start a bloody, ideological revolt. The battle against Omnius was not “powered” by mob motivation, it was done out of a need for survival.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Then came the Butlerian Jihad – two generations of chaos. The god of machine-logic was overthrown among the masses and a new concept was raised: “Man may not be replaced.”

JIHAD, BUTLERIAN: (see also Great Revolt) – the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

(About a fencing machine - which is the closest thing to a robot in the Dune universe).

Its possession was the shibboleth of this age, but it carried also the taint of old immorality. Once, they’d been guided by an artificial intelligence, computer brains. The Butlerian Jihad had ended that, but it hadn’t ended the aura of aristocratic vice which enclosed such things.

The human-computer replaced the mechanical devices destroyed by the Butlerian Jihad. Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind! But Alia longed now for a compliant machine. They could not have suffered from Idaho’s limitations. You could never distrust a machine.

(So trusting the machine was never the problem).

One moment he felt himself setting forth on the Butlerian Jihad, eager to destroy any machine which simulated human awareness. That had to be the past – over and done with. Yet his senses hurtled through the experience, absorbing the most minute details. He heard a minister-companion speaking from a pulpit: “We must negate the machines-that-think. Humans must set their own guidelines. This is not something machines can do. Reasoning depends upon programming, not on hardware, and we are the ultimate program!”

“The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

(Leto II again).

Odrade was suddenly aware she had touched on the force that had powered the Butlerian Jihad - mob motivation.

(People do not need motivation for survival, they need it to start a bloody, ideological revolt).

The Golden Path

“Is there some frontier?” Idaho asked. “Is there some frontier where I could go and never again be a part of this?”

“If there is to be any frontier, you must help me create it,” Leto said. “There is now no place to go where others of us cannot follow and find you.”

“Then you won’t let me go.”

“Go if you wish. Others of you have tried it. I tell you there is no frontier, no place to hide. Right now, as it has been for a long, long time, humankind is like a single-celled creature, bound together by a dangerous glue.”

“No new planets? No strange…”

“Oh, we grow, but we do not separate.”

‘I cannot lie to you any more than I could lie to myself,” Paul said. ’I know this. Every man should have such an auditor. I will only ask one thing: is the Typhoon Struggle necessary?’

‘It’s that or humans will be extinguished.’

Paul heard the truth in Leto’s words, spoke in a low voice which acknowledged the greater breadth of his son’s vision. ‘I did not see that among the choices.’

If Siona’s vision was of the future, she wouldn’t have been able to see the people, they’re mostly descended from her and would be invisible from prescients.

Her vision was of a future, a future that would come to pass sooner or later without the Golden Path. As she is part of the Golden Path, then it makes sense that she wouldn’t see herself or any of her descendants in a non-Golden Path future.

“No ancestral presences would remain in her consciousness, but she would carry with her forever afterward the clear sights and sounds and smells. The seeking machines would be there, the smell of blood and entrails, the cowering humans in their burrows aware only that they could not escape… while all the time the mechanical movement approached, nearer and nearer and nearer… louder… louder! Everywhere she searched, it would be the same. No escape anywhere.”

Elsewhere in the book Leto thinks of the Ixians attempts to develop self-guided hunter-seekers which could adapt. It seems extremely clear that if it weren’t for the tools of Siona-invisibility, no-ness, and the Scattering, Arafel would have come to pass in the form of quasi-Berserkers (Berserkers in the Fred Saberhagen sense) hunting down and killing all of humanity. It is not ‘pure interpretation’.

Scattering over Multiple Universes

“No Ixian machine can do what we, the descendants of Duncan Idaho and Siona, have done. How many universes have we populated? None can guess. No one person will ever know.”

“Think of the uncounted genes out there! Think of the potential talents floating free in universes where they might be lost forever!”

Waff fought to conceal the turmoil these words created. “Infinite universes, infinite time – anything may happen,” he said.

He spoke sadly. The no-ships had, indeed, seeded those other universes with rot.

“There is time to complete our bargain. God alone in His infinite mercy has given us infinite universes where anything may happen.”

The Bene Gesserit’s Goals

“The Great Revolt took away a crutch,” she said. “It forced human minds to develop. Schools were started to train human talents.”

“Bene Gesserit schools?”

She nodded. “We have two chief survivors of those ancient schools: the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild. The Guild, so we think, emphasizes almost pure mathematics. Bene Gesserit performs another function.”

“Politics,” he said.

“Kull wahad!” the old woman said. She sent a hard glance at Jessica.

The BG are known from interior monologues as cynical fashioners and manipulators of religion, who respect the power of religion, but are as far as I can tell actually atheistic. Now, the problem is, if that is so, why do they follow the norms of the Butlerian Jihad, refusing to utilize sentient machines and notably Tleilaxu techniques like controlled mutation (their refusal is in DM), except at CH:D where circumstances forced Tleilaxu techniques on’em.

The BT are even more interesting. They are absent in D, presented as even more effective BG in DM (notice how Scytale runs rings around everyone, and the excerpts from Tleilaxu works are even more cynical and manipulative than the BG, who at least do all their projects in the name of getting humanity to ‘grow up’.). But come the later books, they suddenly appear to be militant fundamentals in the Shia tradition (for all Sunni is avowed). Very strange.

Yeah, but why? Both groups have no doubt long since noticed their taboos (I don’t think the BG could function if they didn’t realize what limits, external and most especially self-imposed they labor under.) and analyzed themselves. The Tleilaxu definitely shatter the restriction on doing all biological tinkering through ‘natural’ techniques, but they could do so much more with sentient machines, why don’t they?

Remember DM when Scytale causally dropped the hat?

“Oh by the way, that KH, which has been the nearly sole goal of your sisterhood for time immemorial for sixty or whatever generations, that KH which endlessly obsesses you and is arguably the most vital force in our universe, well, we whipped one up over the weekend with our unstoppable genetic techniques. Pretty interesting really.”

I ask you, why would the Sisterhood do things so inefficiently when as far as I can tell, there is no reason other than irrational reasons left over from the Butlerian Jihad?

Their origin sheds no light on their continued adherence millennia later.

And people shutter their minds. What good are reports? History in a news account? Preselected at an editorial conference, digested and excreted by prejudice? Accounts you need seldom come from those who make history. Diaries, memoirs and autobiographies are subjective forms of special pleading. Archives are crammed with such suspect stuff.

Are these accounts not so very human?

Scytale’s observations are another example of something who is, to quote the Duke, “truly educated”. The inferences and deductions proceed onwards, only slightly diverted by musings like

They reminded him of great carrion birds. There went an acolyte at last, carrying a child on her shoulders.

An echo interests me: Scytale muses that it is all

Very mysterious. If only I had a link to Shipsystems!

Shipsystems is repeated time an again in CH:D. How many of you have read the _Destination: Void_s? Are you not reminded of Ship?

The Real Story

Projections Of Dune 7



My Own Analysis

Why is Paul forced into the Jihad? Off-hand, I’m working with two theories. One, his early prescient visions on Caladan and the exact alignment of forces and social tensions forced him into it, and two, his son Leto reached backwards into time and forced him to engage in the Jihad, as that was the only way Paul would survive, his first son would die, and Leto II would rule universe and bring about the Golden Path. This latter theory is supported by the failure of Paul’s otherwise perfect prescient vision in DM, the codicil to Dune which says that users of power are always controlled by greater powers, and players/users are frequently manipulated or controlled for another purpose than the one they perceive, and that that is doubly so for prescient users. There are a few quotes that support this as well, but I don’t have them handy.

I seem to remember in Heretics of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, when Leto II is on the path to becoming the Worm, that he alludes to his Father Paul not having the strength to follow through with this path. I’ve always found this interesting as it forced me to re-evaluate everything that Paul did. Perhaps Paul chose the Jihad as he could not bear the thought of becoming the Worm / God Emperor.

One of the single most interesting bits of the 6 novels is Appendix III of Dune. On the surface, it seems simply to point out that the Bene Gesserit ignored obvious clues that a cataclysm was coming. But if you read it carefully, it seems to say that the Bene Gesserit were made to ignore them and cooperate with Paul’s rise:

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. … 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. … 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!

If you read this even more carefully, a thought may occur to you. If we say that the ‘even higher plan’ was merely that caused by Paul’s very earliest visions on Caladan, then there are still some mysteries here. How could Paul influence as a child his mother’s decision to bear a son and not a daughter? If the master plan was Paul’s, why was he forced into exile and death? Paul tells us all throughout Dune and Dune Messiah that he is as trapped as anyone else.

Whose master plan was it? Whose vision locked everyone into the Duneverse’s history?

Another quote for your perusal from Dune Messiah:

Without melange, Paul-Muad’dib could not prophesy.

We know this moment of supreme power contained failure. There can be only one answer, that completely accurate and total prediction is lethal.

Other histories say Muad’dib was defeated by obvious plotters – the Guild, the Sisterhood and the scientific amoralists of the Bene Tleilex with their Face-Dancer disguises. Other histories point out the spies in Muad’dib’s household. They make much of the Dune Tarot which clouded Muad’dib’s powers of prophecy. Some show how Muad’dib was made to accept the services of a ghola, the flesh brought back from the dead and trained to destroy him. But certainly they must know this ghola was Duncan Idaho, the Atreides lieutenant who perished saving the life of the young Paul.

Yet, they delineate the Qizarate cabal guided by Korba the Panegyrist. They take us step by step through Korba’s plan to make a martyr of Muad’dib and place the blame on Chani, the Fremen concubine.

How can any of this explain the facts as history has revealed them? They cannot. Only through the lethal nature of prophecy can we understand the failure of such enormous and far-seeing power.

Hopefully, other historians will learn something from this revelation.

-Analysis of History: Muad’dib by Bronso of Ix

There’s an interesting little sub-project I try to keep an eye on: I’m trying to figure out how far back is Paul trapped? Is he trapped by prescience even before the book starts? Was his vision of Chani asking Paul to tell her about the waters of his homeworld a full prescient vision, and in a twisted way directly responsible for the Atreides getting Arrakis with all that ensues?

That’s one of the possibilities, but by no means sure. Here are some quotes from Dune Messiah:

Ravenous hunger seized her [Chani] as she sat up. She fed on the food kept by the bedside – spicebread, a heavy cheese.

How much spice could be in a diet of spicebread & cheese? And even Paul doesn’t know why the twins were awake:

Paul sagged against the wall in a spasm of dizziness. He felt that he’d been upended and drained. His own life whipped past him. He saw his father. He was his father. And the grandfather, and the grandfathers before that. His awareness tumbled through a mind-shattering corridor of his whole male line.

“How?” he asked silently.

Faint word-shapings appeared, faded and were gone, as though the strain was too great. Paul wiped saliva from the corner of his mouth. He remembered the awakening of Alia in the Lady Jessica’s womb. But there had been no Water of Life, no overdose of melange this time . . . or had there? Had Chani’s hunger been for that? Or was this somehow the genetic product of his line, foreseen by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam?

On a side note, reading through DM, I find again hints of something that perplexes me: could prescience work backwards?

“There was no choice,” Paul said. “You understand that, Duncan?”

“I understand.”

“There are some things no one can bear. I meddled in all the possible futures I could create until, finally, they created me.”

But that remains a mystery to me.

I do not think there is any “ideal society”. R. A. Lafferty would be quick to point out that an ideal society is a “utopia”, and we all know the literal meaning of More’s coining. Consider- if there was a perfect society, then why was it mentioned baldly to us during the events of the Honored Matres that there were paradises settled during the Scattering, and that their inhabitants grew soft and mentally died?

Thus the “old empire” is a constant entity in terms of its populace, which brings in the oft-quoted phrase of the final two novels: “rot at the core spreads outward”.

Yes, it was quite deliberately that way; none of the power groups wanted it to changes- they had too much to lose and not apparently anything to gain. Why else did the Guild curtail exploration and colonization?

Stagnation was a tool that Leto II used to inspire the Scattering, which ultimately lead to the survival of the species beyond the ever-stagnant old empire. Thus we take as fact that the “ideal society” in Frank Herbert’s Dune is one that has within it the seeds of its own propagation, rather than, as Marx stated, the “seeks of its own destruction”.

Why not both? Aside from purely Herbert/General Semantic metaphysical assertions and bromides like “we all see only part of the truth”, we also have the consideration that both could well be true- haven’t we all seen flowers or mushrooms which sort of explode or shatter- destroying themselves but casting adrift their seeds?

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the BT and BG were supposed to be a dyad like the Atreides and Harkonnens; you could interpret the BG as “training” the mind to the point where the body follows its lead and becomes awesome, and the BT as “training” (in a very loose sense!) the body to the point where the mind follows its lead and becomes awesome. This is partially supported by the fact that the BT and BG do some similar things in different ways. Have you ever considered serial gholas to be a physical method of a Reverend Mother’s memories? Or the trained dwarf Bijaz to be marginally equivalent to Feyd-Rautha’s implanted conditioning? Re: HMs… the irony there is the corruption of the Reverend Mother i.e. “Revered Mother” ~ “Honored Matre/Mother”.

“…They were all caught up in the need of their race to renew its scattered inheritance, to cross and mingle and infuse their bloodlines in a great new pooling of genes. And the race knew only one sure way of this–the ancient way, the tried and certain way that rolled over everything in its path: jihad.” (Berkeley PB, movie cover edition)

More interesting is who unleashed the Dune Tarot to muddy the currents of time, and most prominently the Emperor’s vision?

I believe it should be ascribed to the BG. They would have preserved the Tarot from our time, could have made use of it throughout the millennia (I doubt the Spacing Guild would see any use for it; they would be more attracted to I Ching divinations, IMO), and are known to adapt old powerful religious myths for more modern consumption. So they have means, and they certainly have motive: they were part of the conspiracy, remember.

The Empire

Hebert said several times, (in something that is practically axiomatic to any infinite universe) that anything that could happen out ‘there’, where ‘there’ is the many Hubble-volumes/universes that the foldspace drive, and the no-ships vanish to, will happen.

The Golden Path does confuse it a little but it’s too negative to read machines as only harmful. Herbert certainly never believed that, and was a fan. The machines can be both harmful and useless. Prescient machines help create the Scattering by breaking the Guild Navigator monopoly, but of course, also pose the risk of Arafel. What Herbert opposes is stasis and poverty and lack of growth, because the universe is constantly changing. (‘Natural disasters are, everywhere, man-made.’)

‘In all of my universe I have seen no law of nature, unchanging and inexorable. This universe presents only changing relationships which are sometimes seen as laws by short-lived awareness. These fleshly sensoria which we call self are ephemera withering in the blaze of infinity, fleetingly aware of temporary conditions which confine our activities and change as our activities change. If you must label the absolute, use its proper name: “Temporary”.’

"The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in

a new way can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands. ‘I already know the important things!’ we say. Then Changer comes and throws our old ideas away.”

To the extent that the machines become a crutch and a replacement for thinking, they are indeed an existential threat to humanity, but not because of shooting laser eyes.

It is not surprising then that an Empire would rise there. Many things would; I have heard it said that the Guild restricted its explorations because it was afraid of what returnees from long forgotten Scatterings might do to it.

But one of the many Empires would have discovered new uses, new extensions to the Holtzman equations. Again, this is not surprising: we should expect at least one transcendent genius among the Scatterers. He would of course have access to the Holtzmann equations, since he and his forebears would have been transported to their homeworld by a Holtzmann drive. This, incidentally, is how those two Face Dancers could see and try to trap Duncan whilst he was in a cloaked no-ship.

With an ability to nullify the greatest advantage of a defending force, the invisibility of no-globes, this Empire would have waxed greatly, becoming extraordinarily powerful. And that is only if that is the only extension to the Holtzmann equations our lone genius managed to produce. There are two reasons to believe he greatly improved the efficiency of cloaking: First, in CH:D (I think) one of the sisters reveals that they had considered cloaking the entire planet- but the energy requirements made it infeasible. Stealthing works on volume not surface area, and we all know how volume varies with radius, no? It would require the output of a g-star to cloak a planet. Which leads to the second tidbit: Duncan recurrently dreams/prime-sums an invisible player, an entire planet cloaked and moving without being moved. It is reasonable to suppose that this protected that Empire was protected from the Honored Matres that way. It in fact seems a dual hallmark of the invisible empire and the HMs: The HMs are blind to what they cannot immediately see, and the invisible empire seems to work through exploiting that weakness. Also, we are repeatedly given to understand that they are composed at least partly of super-Face Dancers, whether through the internal thoughts of the couple at the end, or through Waff ominously mentioning that their ultimate goal was a Face Dancer who was better than even a t-probe, but couldn’t be defeated as easily as a T-probe with shere. This ties in perfectly with the couple, who are part of the Empire.

Some closing thoughts: we know that the HMs are not the final word from the Scattering. Someone developed the Futars, things one would expect of Bene Tleilaxu. One more piece of evidence in favor of the Empire being comprised a little of Face Dancers. Similarly the HMs are reluctant to use their secret death weapons (another use of Holtzmann? Warpspace manipulated matter and time, shields even more directly so. A subtle distortion of space could kill a human in many ways.), saying that they had been depleted in battles against their other foe.

On Gammu Prime, we are given a brief glimpse of interstellar finance and power, swirling through the common nexus of the old Empire. Not all bankers there were HMs. Indeed, it seems that they were in the minority. Besides the invisible empire, who else was maneuvering there? It is unclear.

Can you imagine a Face Dancer, with the skills of hundreds of BG, the knowledge of the BT, abilities of the HM, new and unimagined Holtzmann tools and weapons, Mentat abilities, a scattering of prescience etc? Wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of human evolution, of adaptability and survivability? Where beyond that in an infinite universe could FH go? What better pot of gold at the end of the Golden Path could Leto have caused? I certainly can’t think of a better.

What I found interesting in this chapter is not so much the Matres, although the cynicism is always interesting and I cannot help but be chilled by their methods of retaining power and their teachings to the ‘scum’ - I inevitably think of people like Noam Chomsky, especially given what went before: what’s really interested me is Teg’s analysis of the banking shows that much more than seems is going on. There are vast flows of capital, relations between mighty powers and interests greater even than CHOAM, which in the first trilogy was the sole object of interest of the Emperor and all the houses - CHOAM was not seen as an autonomous power in its own right, akin to the Guild, but as the prize; remember the Harkonnens sought primarily a permanent seat of CHOAM’s board, and it was CHOAM shares which determined the Emperor’s right to rule - so mighty even that they apparently ignore the conflict between BG and HM, seeking the Old Empire only as a mutually known and agreeable meeting spot.

A good point. …..

“You deliberately let them get away, Daniel!”

The old woman rubbed her hands down the stained front of her garden apron. It was a summer morning around her, flowers blooming, birds calling from nearby trees. There was a misty look to the sky, a yellow radiance near the horizon.

“Now, Marty, it was not deliberate,” Daniel said. He took off his porkpie hat and rubbed the bushy stubble of gray hair before replacing the hat. “He surprised me. I knew he saw us but I didn’t suspect he saw the net.”

“And I had such a nice planet picked out for them,” Marty said. “One of the best. A real test of their abilities.”


Actually, re-reading it, I see an interesting line I never noticed before:


“That Master is going to have trouble if he tries to mess with that big one,” Daniel said, snipping off a ground shoot from the root stock of his roses. “My, this is a pretty one.”

“Mentats, too!” Marty called. “I’d have told them. Dime a dozen, they are.”

“Dimes? I don’t think they’d have understood that, Marty. The Reverend Mothers, yes, but not that big Mentat. He didn’t thin out that far back.”


I don’t understand what the use of ‘thin’ here means. It seems to somehow refer to composite identities (one identity being thick, and thinning out being incorporating multiple identities into one, like BG Mothers do?).

“Zensunni. Very ancient technique. The Sisters use it to rid you of trauma connections. Words that ignite unconscious responses.”

Fear returned.

“Murbella, why are you trembling?”

“Honored Matre teachers warned us terrible things would happen if we fell into Zensunni hands.”

“Bullcrap! I went through the same thing as a Mentat.”

Realizing the flaws in one’s ideology can be a terrible thing. The Honored Matres often spoke the truth, from a certain point of view.

He revealed an odd mood when she took him into the observation room where they would monitor Sheeana and the child.

Worry about Murbella? Or about what they would presently see?

Odrade fails, in a sense. She has no sense of the unmoved piece, but only of the proximate player (the HMs).

“You only mentioned Futars. Who are these Handlers? And what is this about a secret weapon?”

“I reserved mention of them. They appear to be human within variables noted from the Scattering: three men and a woman. As to the weapon, they would not say more.”

“Appear to be human?”

“There you have it, Mother Superior. I had the odd first impression they were Face Dancers. None of the criteria applied. Pheromones negative. Gestures, expressions – everything negative.”

“Just that first impression?”

“I cannot explain it.”

  • paper idea: “True Visions and Other Dangers: the esoteric and exoteric tales of Frank Herbert”

summary: In Herbert’s Dune series, ‘forward prescience’ is often detected and discussed in critical analysis. But short shrift has been given to the subtle indications of ‘backwards prescience’, variants of the well-known device of self-fulfilling prophecy, except in this case, the prophecy causes the events before it to happen. Example: Muad’Dib apparently caused the prescience that led him to become emperor of the known universe, despite his attempts to avoid it. And his own prophecies apparently led to his fall. But! His vision in Dune Messiah should have determined everything, up to and definitely including the number and gender of his offspring by Chani. But he was wrong: Leto II was born, and he should not have been.

How could he have been born? His vision was more powerful than Paul’s, and he conquered him in Children of Dune. His overriding vision was the Golden Path, but the Golden Path could not have existed without Leto, and Leto without Paul’s victory. Paul foolishly dabbled in prescience, a power he did not understand. A BG writing at the end of Dune (“Appendix III: Report on Bene Gesserit Motives and Purposes”) notes that the BG school failed to understand its own role in events, or note that events had already started to spiral out of control even before Paul’s birth when Lady Jessica defied orders “for reasons she confesses have never been completely clear to her”, bearing a son whose visions “defied four-dimensional explanation”, while the BG persistently and for equally unclear reasons ignored subsequent events indicating BG involvement in the Arrakis Affair and the statements of the Spacing Guild’s Navigators that Arrakis was hidden behind furious prescient chaos due to the operation of an oracle - an oracle taking control of events and Arrakis: “…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!” In Dune Messiah, Paul recalls a BG axiom, while reflecting on how he was trapped in a vision: “To use power is to make oneself infinitely vulnerable to greater powers.” Paul used great power; to whom did he make himself vulnerable?

If Paul’s prescience can operate backwards and create a future in which he becomes emperor after a revolt, beginning even before his birth, yielding a stable time-loop (Paul’s vision create his unexpected & undesired birth and subsequent events on Arrakis, leading to his heavy spice use and birth as KH with full prescience), then it must also be possible for other greater oracles to reach further back still… Such as Leto II, creating the only stable time-loop in which humanity survives indefinitely and avoids extinction in an open universe in which anything which can happen will happen eventually, such as exterminating machines.

“There was no choice,” Paul said. “You understand that, Duncan?”

“I understand.”

“There are some things no one can bear. I meddled in all the possible futures I could create until, finally, they created me.” –Dune Messiah

Paul stroked her hair. Chani had peeled away the dross. Terrible purpose brushed him. It was a coriolis wind in his soul. It whistled through the framework of his being. His body knew things then never learned in consciousness. “Chani, beloved,” he whispered, “do you know what I’d spend to end the Jihad – to separate myself from the damnable godhead the Qizarate forces onto me?” She trembled. “You have but to command it,” she said. “Oh, no. Even if I died now, my name would still lead them. When I think of the Atreides name tied to this religious butchery . . .” “But you’re the Emperor! You’ve –” “I’m a figurehead. When godhead’s given, that’s the one thing the so-called god no longer controls.” A bitter laugh shook him. He sensed the future looking back at him out of dynasties not even dreamed. He felt his being cast out, crying, unchained from the rings of fate – only his name continued. “I was chosen,” he said. “Perhaps at birth . . . certainly before I had much say in it. I was chosen.”

…“The tribes expect Muad’dib to return to them,” she said. She lifted her head to look at him. “You belong to us.” “I belong to a vision,” he whispered. He thought then of the Jihad, of the gene mingling across parsecs and the vision which told him how he might end it. Should he pay the price? All the hatefulness would evaporate, dying as fires die – ember by ember. But . . . oh! The terrifying price! I never wanted to be a god, he thought. I wanted only to disappear like a jewel of trace dew caught by the morning. I wanted to escape the angels and the damned – alone . . . as though by an oversight. “Will we go back to the Sietch?” Chani pressed. “Yes,” he whispered. And he thought: I must pay the price. Chani heaved a deep sigh, settled back against him. I’ve loitered, he thought. And he saw how he’d been hemmed in by boundaries of love and the Jihad. And what was one life, no matter how beloved, against all the lives the Jihad was certain to take? Could single misery be weighed against the agony of multitudes?

I’ll yield up myself, he thought. I’ll rush out while I yet have the strength, fly through a space a bird might not find. It was a useless thought, and he knew it. The Jihad would follow his ghost. What could he answer? he wondered. How explain when people taxed him with brutal foolishness? Who might understand? I wanted only to look back and say: “There! There’s an existence which couldn’t hold me. See! I vanish! No restraint or net of human devising can trap me ever again. I renounce my religion! This glorious instant is mine! I’m free!”

…Paul, caught by wonder at the persistent Fremen mythos, felt a heart constriction, a thing inflicted upon his lifeline: adab, the demanding memory. He recalled his childhood room on Caladan then . . . dark night in the stone chamber . . . a vision! It’d been one of his earliest prescient moments. He felt his mind dive into the vision, saw through a veiled cloud-memory (vision-within-vision) a line of Fremen, their robes trimmed with dust. They paraded past a gap in tall rocks. They carried a long, cloth-wrapped burden. And Paul heard himself say in the vision: “It was mostly sweet . . . but you were the sweetest of all . . .” Adab released him. “You’re so quiet,” Chani whispered. “What is it?” Paul shuddered, sat up, face averted. “You’re angry because I’ve been to the desert’s edge,” Chani said. He shook his head without speaking. “I only went because I want a child,” Chani said. Paul was unable to speak. He felt himself consumed by the raw power of that early vision. Terrible purpose! In that moment, his whole life was a limb shaken by the departure of a bird . . . and the bird was chance. Free will. I succumbed to the lure of the oracle, he thought. And he sensed that succumbing to this lure might be to fix himself upon a single-track life. Could it be, he wondered, that the oracle didn’t tell the future? Could it be that the oracle made the future? Had he exposed his life to some web of underlying threads, trapped himself there in that long-ago awakening, victim of a spider-future which even now advanced upon him with terrifying jaws. A Bene Gesserit axiom slipped into his mind: ‘To use raw power is to make yourself infinitely vulnerable to greater powers.’

  • What makes Dune, Dune?

    • Polyphony

    • A texturing of sayings, teachings, and poetry

    • A constant undercutting of beliefs and ideas; see how everyone eves in the Great Men theory of history - except the Great Men

    • Evolution and change

    • Psychology

Paul Is a Coward

How is it possible that someone could have rooted for any character /other/ than Paul in the original Dune novel?

If I may, that you think that is an example of the problem. When you read The Iron Dream (I realize now I gave the wrong title, but I can’t edit my original comment, grr.), how can you not root for Feric Jaggar (Adolf Hitler)?

How can a German not root for Hitler, trying to restore Germany to greatness and hold back the tide of communism? (Let’s not forget how the body count of Stalin and Mao run into the dozens of millions, as opposed to ‘only’ the 6 million or so of the Holocaust. The Nazis were right about one thing - Communism was awfully evil.)

Or were we “supposed to” wash our hands of the book and leave saying “They were all scum”?

Maybe we should have! Sometimes no one is right. The Atreides are noble and everything, but their nobility consists pretty much of not murderously mistreating their slaves - I mean, serfs.

Was someone seriously supposed to root for Duncan Idaho or the Mentats?

You could make a good case for Idaho, given how central he is to the later books.

It’s nice that Paul was depicted as being flawed in Dune Messiah, but his being an evil character does not follow from the original Dune, unless you take extreme care to see certain changes in his character (such as the aside about him being worried about spice equipment and ornithopters).

Paul is not cackling evil like the Baron. He is evil, even in Dune, like the Nuremberg Trials, an evil that is more passive than active - he knows how hideous the Jihad will be, he has seen all the futures. He knows what he is later told:

“Very good, Stil.” Paul glanced at the reels in Korba’s hands. Korba stood with them as though he wished he could drop them and flee. “Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions which had existed since –”

Paul’s evil is one of cowardice and a refusal to do the right thing. He knows all he has to do is die or vanish into the desert, or even just go into exile on Tupile (paying with the family atomics). But he selfishly tries to stay alive and stay with Chani, and the only path prescience reveals that does that is the one that also unleashes the Jihad and makes him Emperor.

(Note how deep his cowardice or selfishness runs; we see it again in Children of Dune, where Paul refuses to do the sandworm transformation even to save all humanity because he would lose his own humanity. Some hero!)

Open question from Jawaad Mahmood:

The only section I can recall off-hand that indicated a method for Paul Atreides to avoid the galactic “Jihad” was for him to murder everyone in the cave, including his mother and unborn sister. Were there other ways for him to avoid such a conflict, within the confines of the first book, that I missed? I’m genuinely curious.

Difficulty for this interpretation: if Paul is such a selfish coward, why did he walk into the desert at the end of Dune Messiah? He might endure the stone burner to ensure the birth of his children, but they rob him of his sight. Answer: it ‘had ensured the loyalty of the Fremen to him and his house’. But the Fremen who watched him walk out says Paul’s last words were ‘Now I am free’. And how to explain this passage?

Zensunni insight dilated his awareness. He could sense that there was no vision in her – had been none since Chani’s death. “You practice an odd love,” he said.

“Love? Duncan, he had but to step off the track! What matter that the rest of the universe would have come shattering down behind him? He’d have been safe . . . and Chani with him!”

“Then . . . why didn’t he?”

“For the love of heaven,” she whispered. Then, more loudly, she said: “Paul’s entire life was a struggle to escape his Jihad and its deification. At least, he’s free of it. He chose this!”

Genetics and Eugenics in Frank Herbert’s Dune

Split out to a separate article.

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