Eye by Herbert, Frank, 1985

Eye by Herbert, Frank

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During his lifetime Frank Herbert published five volumes of short stories. Eye was the final volume. It contains stories from the earliest to the latest days of Herbert's publishing career. It is hard to say which of Herbert's collections is the best, but I feel that this one has the most to offer Dune enthusiasts, and is an excellent door into Herbert's non-Dune works.

Introduction, by Frank Herbert, 1985, original to this volume: Interesting essay by Herbert on the political, business and logistical barriers he encountered when adapting Dune to film with David Lynch. Herbert was involved in the project from start to finish. Non-Fiction, History; 3 Stars

Rat Race, by Frank Herbert, 1955, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: A local cop named Welby Lewis with a reputation for solving difficult crimes became interested in the goings on in a local funeral home after a mortician lied to him. Lewis had business at the Johnson funeral home one day; he had to pick up the contents of a deceased woman’s stomach so that the county medical examiner could rule out foul play. While there Lewis spied some unusual metal tanks. When he inquired about them Johnson told him that they contained embalming fluid. Lewis later realized that embalming fluid would disintegrate metal tanks and fir that reason was typically shipped in concentrated form in glass containers. Irritated at being lied to and concerned over what Johnson was really up to Lewis staked out the funeral home. When the stakeout went nowhere Lewis changed tactics. He entered the funeral home and confronted Johnson. Johnson got scared and took Lewis hostage. Johnson interrogated Lewis, and when he found that Lewis suspected foul play Johnson drew a gun and shot Lewis in the chest, then blew his own brains out.

Lewis survived the gunshot wounds, but Johnson did not survive his. Lewis had put a lot of thought into what was going on before he was captured, but he was injured so badly that he had to get others to do things for him so he could solve the crime from his hospital bed. At his urging the sheriff pulled up the floors behind and below the room that stored the tanks. Below them they found a laboratory. Behind them in the wall they found a bunch of unusually pure silver wires in a thick lattice. With just those facts Lewis made a pretty incredible logical leap (in the hard to believe sense, not the spectacular one) and deduced that Johnson was an alien and that the silver wires were part of a matter transporter network.

“From what I know of science fiction,” said Lewis, “that silver grid in the hall must be some kind of mater transmitter for sending the tanks to wherever they’re used.”

We’ve all seen this kind of pandering before. When this story was published in the 1950’s it was assumed that the bulk of science fiction readers were young boys with inadequate social skills. I’m sure that they were not too far off there, and for young 50’s misfits who had knowledge of how SF worked, it may have made them feel great to think that the unique observation skills that they had earned through diligent reading of SF may one day pay off. Deducing a matter transporter from some appearing and disappearing tanks surrounded by silver wires is the kind of thing that only happens in SF. But for those of us with a brain, this just seems stupid. Fortunately for us, this is as far as Herbert went with it. The rest of the story is a hard-SF mystery story: What is the lab for, and what does it mean for us? Lewis and his doctor friend, Dr. Bellarmine, figure that Johnson was either whipping up some kind of genetic WMD that he produced from blood extracted from the cadavers in the funeral home, or his race set a test for us – if we figured it out and got to their home with the matter transmitter, we may be welcomed with open arms. As the story ends Lewis woke up - after an emergency surgery because his wounds reopened - to find that the good doctor has used the transporter to go wherever the tanks had been sent. As he recuperates, Lewis wonders what is next for mankind. First Contact, Suicide, Mystery, Aliens, Teleportation; 3 Stars

Dragon in the Sea, by Frank Herbert, 1955, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: The Dragon In the Sea (alternatively The Dragon Under the Sea), aka Under Pressure, aka (unauthorized in novel form I believe, save for one printing by Avon) 21st Century Sub, is by my best reckoning Frank Herbert's first novel length work. As best I can tell this work was originally published in Astounding, and can be found, in addition to its own individual printings, in The Best of Frank Herbert and Eye. This little book gets 4 our of 5 from me.

Much has already been written about the development of Herbert's style and prose as exhibited by this novel. The novel is about a sub-tug called the Fenian Ram that is crewed by 4 persons. This particular tug is tasked with secreting into enemy territory to steal oil from a secret rig drilled by the American government without the knowledge of the Eastern Powers ("EP," which seems to be made up of Soviet Russia and a satellite of nations taking up all of Western Europe save for the UK which has been reduced to radioactive slag), who are our enemies in a long lasting and bitter war. The problem is that the EP has developed an extensive network of well placed spies that will stop at nothing to sink this sub, just as all of the last 20 sub-tugs that have attempted this same mission. Not only that, but one of the crew of four may be a sleeper spy. During the voyage Ramsey, who was placed on the sub as a last minute replacement by the BuPsych (Bureau of Psychology) has been charged with monitoring the emotional responses of the stoic captain of the sub-tug, Sparrow, with a variety of instruments and psychological tools. Ramsey's original mission is to figure out why this particular crew is so effective, but as soon as the sub is launched, Ramsey is equally diverted by trying to find out who, if anyone, the sleeper is. Herbert develops the story very well by putting the sub and its crew into a wide variety of deadly situations that are resolved only with quick and outside-of-the-box thinking and superior experience.

The most interesting aspect of this book to any fan of Herbert is how he used and refined some to the ideas and tools found in Dune. For example, Herbert not only uses water as a source of stress for the characters in each of the books, but he uses the quest for a vital resource as the basis for conflict. This isn't exactly a new idea, but Herbert's treatment in the two books of spice and oil is virtually identical, in that they are both highly valued prizes that serve to heat up what are essentially political wars over real estate and the power to govern, the only real difference being that financial considerations seem to drive the enemy in Dune much more than in Dragon. In the context of the meta-causes of and reasons for war, the need for this one resource drives combat in that without them, or after having lost them to the other, the ability to fight in any way other than as a guerrilla is removed, and the war will essentially be over.

Another tool that one can see Herbert developing in this novel includes the use of religion. In Dragon the crew of four have different religions, but Sparrow has developed a sort of hybrid religion for group prayer before battle that is a little bit more than a typical non-denominational service. The hybrid is based on Christianity, and in fact Sparrow turns out to be a bible-quoting semi-pastor who says a prayer every time he sinks an enemy. Sparrow uses his knowledge of the bible to bring his crew together to do a flawless job every time they go out, in a way reminiscent of Muad'dib's use of religion. In Dune, Muad'dib capitalized on religion beliefs put into the Fremen by the Missionaria Protectiva to convince the Fremen that he was their Madhi, but once he had them, he created his own religion to send them into battle, and onto Jihad. Other interesting similarities pop up too, such as Sparrow's hawk-like features, the use of plasteel, and the use of secret names for individual warriors once they have proven them selves in battle, but the most obvious ones seemed to me to end there.

The only real negative thing I saw in this work has to do with something I have noticed others love. Specifically, with how Herbert built stress and carried the reader along. It is true that Herbert put the crew through some harrowing experiences. And, the action is very well developed and described. But part of Ramsey's job was to monitor Sparrow through an EKG type devise that got a readout from an implant in Sparrow. Virtually every time things on the sub got hairy, Sparrow remained perfectly calm and in control. That did not take away from the individual excitement from each scene, but to me it robbed from the potential excitement and fear as the book as a whole progressed. The book would not have been the same had this aspect of it been different, especially since it causes Ramsey to strongly consider Sparrow as the sleeper, but some emotional reaction would have added to the sense of impending doom that Herbert was trying to build.

All in all the way I choose to look at Dragon is as a little work of Herbert's informing a much bigger and more important one, rather than providing direct influence or guiding principles. That, and the truly interesting story that this book tells make it worth reading it if you can get it.Military, Ecology, Psychology; 4 Stars

Cease Fire, by Frank Herbert, 1958, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: Hulser, a poorly disciplined marine, is stationed in a forward observation post along the front in a war zone. His job is to use his “life sensor” to search for enemy marines as they try to cross the lines, then radio their positions back to the artillery units who take them out. Hulser is a social misfit and has very few friends. Most of the other men in his unit hate him because he does his job so poorly. But Hulser dreams of making people respect and like him. He was a chemist before being drafted, and a bright one at that, and has figured out a way to detonate ordinance remotely. Hulser went to his C.O. with his idea, and was ignored. In fact, he was put into prison for abandoning his position at the front and doing such a bad job in the past. But the big brass got wind of his idea, pulled him out of jail and gave him a lab. There Hulser perfected his formula and gave it to the brass, who promptly blew up every explosive in enemy territory.

Hulser, feeling very proud of himself, pronounced himself the man who ended the war. The brass just laughed at him, and reminded him that mankind had come up with innumerable ways of killing others long before gunpowder and explosives came along.

“We have other alternatives, Hulser. We have the weapons King Arthur used. And we have some modern innovations: poison gases, curare-tipped crossbow bolts, bacterial-“

“But the Geneva Convention-“

“Geneva Convention be damned! And that’s just what will happen to it as soon as a big enough group of people decide to ignore it!” General Savage hammered a fist on his desk. “Get this! Violence is a part of human life. The lust for power is a part of human life. As long as people want power badly enough, they’ll use any means to get it – fair or foul! Peaceful or otherwise!”

It probably does not need to be stated, but Herbert’s point is about mankind’s competitive nature and the way that innovation spreads in ways that we don’t want or anticipate. The brass knew that as soon as they had shown the enemy the effects, they would reverse engineer the process and do exactly the same thing in retaliation. Hulser, for all his genius, has not really shifted the balance. Instead he’s only redefined the conflict. War, Hard SF, Chemistry, Innovation; 3 Stars

A Matter of Traces, by Frank Herbert, 1958, originally published in Fantastic Universe: This is ostensibly a Jorj McKie/ConSentiency story, as he appears briefly in it. Its really not though. It is the story of a 238 year old colonist to the planet Gomesia III, which was colonized from Mars long ago. The story is essentially the transcript from a hearing of the Subcommittee on Intergalactic Culture where a portion of an interview of Hilmot Gustin was read into the record. In the interview Gustin recounts his early days on Gomesia, and how his father invented a yoke for a beast called a rollit. The beast was a giant mass of boneless, armored flesh that just rolled around like a giant amoeba. They were slightly intelligent and very friendly, like a dog, and man’s domestication of them changed how they conquered the planet and made it into a viable home. The yoke that Gustin’s father invented was as famous to the galactic civilization as the western saddle is to us. Nothing really happens in this story, and it lacking an ending, but it is charming and heartwarming. Innovation, Colonization, Gerontology; 3.5 Stars

Try to Remember, by Frank Herbert, 1959, originally published by DAW: An interesting first contact story with a strong linguistics angle. One day an enormous spacecraft descended and landed in the Colombia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington states. As the ship came down, the alien occupants wiped the skies clean of our satellites. Once on the ground a frog-like alien creature came out and announced in English that they would set up five rooms and invite five teams whose purpose would be to learn to communicate in the alien manner. The aliens threatened to destroy us all if we could not eventually learn to do so.

Every nation on the planet became involved. For the most part they formed large groups of linguistic scientists based on their language family. Each of these big groups fed information to and analyzed data from the individual teams, which were made up of single members from the five most powerful nations. Francine Millar, a recent widow who was a linguist and a psychologist, was the delegate from the United States and a member of the Indo-European, Germanic team. Francine worked the problem of communication with the aliens for months before she and her counterpart from Japan, Hikonojo Ohashi (a member of the Japanese-Korean and Sino-Tibetan team), stumbled across a similarity in the way that the aliens moved while speaking and various forms of Earth culture’s traditional dance.

Now, the hands came out, palms up, in a gesture curiously suggestive of giving. The galactic said “Pluainumiuri!” in a single burst of sound that fell on their ears like an explosion.

“It’s like a distorted version of the ritual dances we’ve been watching,” said Ohashi.

“I’ve a hunch,” said Francine. “Feminine intuition. The repeated vowels: They could be an adverbial emphasis, like our word very. Where it says “a-a-a,” note the more intense gestures.

She followed another passage, nodding her head to the gestures. “Hiko, could this be a constructed language? Artificial?”

A note to those of you who have read Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. There are a lot of similarities here. This story really feels like that one’s spiritual grandfather - more then other stories such as Piper’s Omnilingual, or Vance’s The Languages of Pao. Both Story of Your Life and this one have female protagonists. Both involve special tents set up for interaction, which is carefully regulated by both sides. Both authors delve into linguistic theory, as well as the ways that psychology, physiology and other factors affect communicative theory, and both involve some sort of massive transformation that is achieved through the successful communication of an alien world-view which is then integrated into the human experience. Chiang’s is the better – by far actually – but in the grand scheme of linguistics stories, this one is probably second best. It takes second position because Herbert’s story missed much of the alien/human interaction that Chiang’s had, and because in the end Herbert’s devolves into a new age inspired group-grope. But it is worth seeking out, especially if linguistics-themed SF is your cup of tea. First Contact, Linguistics, Aliens, Communication; 4 Stars

The Tactful Saboteur, by Frank Herbert, 1964, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction: This story is one of the rare short stories in Herbert’s McKie/Consientency sequence, about a government-employed saboteur named Jorj McKie. Surprisingly McKie was not employed to sabotage the enemies of the state. His purpose was to sabotage the state itself and its many institutions. The social philosophy of that day, which takes place at the end of the sixty-ninth century (according to another story called A Matter of Traces (soon to be posted here), in which McKie appears briefly, holds that obstructive processes in government are the chief vehicle by which human rights are protected. Otherwise the government would grow strong and efficient, and then turn tyrannical.

Herbert’s non-Dune novels are generally regarded as B-level efforts not only because some of them are inherently flawed, but probably more because they are incredibly complex and difficult to read. The McKie stories are no exception (they include this short story and the one mentioned above, and the novels The Dosadi Experiment and Whipping Star). Most evaluators consider them to be critically opaque, and I tend to agree that from a plot standpoint, they are. One day I will do a legal review of the entire sequence, as I think that Herbert has a lot to say about justice and civil rights in them. The Tactful Saboteur falls in the middle of the opacity spectrum, however. It’s the story of the salvation of the BuSab, or Bureau of Sabotage, which is the government arm that makes sure that the rest of government does not get too big for its britches.

In The Tactful Saboteur the BuSab is revealed to pick its leaders only from those who sabotage their predecessor. McKie, as a master saboteur, has become concerned over the disappearance of a co-worker named Bildoon. While McKie met with Watt, his supervisor and the administrator of BuSab, Watt was struck with a device called a jicuzzi stim, which altered his appearance in a horrifying way. Everyone, including Watt, thought that McKie was the attacker, but it turns out it was actually Bildoon who attacked from a distance. Bildoon, it turns out, was a Pan-Spechi: a member of a race that were “pentarchical,” which meant that individuals in that society of aliens each had five independent humanoid bodies, all of which were conscious at the same time, but only one of which carried the individual’s ego. They were a form of hive creature, and each hive was made up of five beings. Bildoon, when he attacked Watt, carried the ego. But after the attack the ego was transferred to another of the pentarchical creatures named Bolin. The first part of the story tells of the attack on Watt, McKie’s search for Bildoon and his eventual confrontation of Bolin. The second part of the story details a civil trial of Bolin for the assault on Watt, at the behest of a shadowy group of BuSab's foes called the Tax Watchers. The BuSab made the decision to open the courtroom up to the press for that trial, so everyone learned the BuSab’s process for picking a new leader. The court ruled that Bildoon’s attack on Watt was attributable to Bolin, because it was essentially the same being, and Bolin took Watt’s position as the head of BuSab. As a result of the openness of the proceedings the citizens were reassured that the BuSab was in capable hands and would continue to work to preserve their interests.

There’s an anecdote in this story that I think perfectly sums up Herbert’s approach to character interaction. If you’ve ever read Herbert, I’m betting you will get it right away.

Two practitioners of the art of mental healing, so the story goes, passed each other every morning on their way to their respective offices. They knew each other, but weren’t on intimate terms. One morning as they approached each other, one of them turned to the other and said, ‘Good morning.’ The one greeted failed to respond, but continued toward his office. Presently, though, he stopped, turned and stared at the retreating back of man who’d spoken, musing to himself: ‘Now what did he really mean by that?’

Part of the difficulty in understanding Herbert lies in the dichotomy that he likes to bestow upon his characters in their speech and thought. Characters have been known to go for entire novels without once saying anything honest or repeating what was in their minds. Coupled with his penchant for unusual twists of plot and dense philosophical musings, Herbert at his best, as he is here, can be a rough read.

I started reading Herbert’s other works mostly so that I could better understand Dune, and while this work has some bits of his masterwork in it (chairdogs and trials-by-fire for potential leaders), The Tactful Saboteur has its own legs and deserves to be read for its own merits. Civil Rights Law, Mystery, Hive Intelligence; 4 Stars

The Road to Dune, by Frank Herbert & Jim Burns, 1985, original to this volume: This is the only Dune story by Frank Herbert other than the six novels he wrote before his death. It’s literally a walking tour of the Atreides palace in Arrakeen, the chief Atreides city on Arrakis. It provides some new information on Fremen culture, and it is lavishly illustrated by Jim Burns. According to a blurb at the back of the book, the concepts for the paintings came from Burn’s reading of the Dune books and conversations with others, including Herbert, and Herbert afterward wrote some text to go along with them. It does not appear to me that any of the factual claims by Herbert were influenced by Burns, so I think it’s fair to assume that this is Dune canon, even if some of the time-lines seem screwed up. For example, the tour seems to be in an era far removed from the time of Paul, Jessica and Alia, but I note in one passage Sister Gaius Helen Mohiam is seen walking around the palace, despite the fact that she would have been long dead (or at least she would have remained imprisoned) during the time which Arrakeen grew to the size depicted here. Science Fiction; 3 Stars

By the Book, by Frank Herbert, 1966, originally published in Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact: Ivar Norris Gump ("Ing") is a semi-retired engineer/trouble-shooter for an enormous company that runs a project on the Moon called "the Beam." Ing's former bosses have had serious trouble with the Beam recently, so they asked him to travel to the Moon to take a look. The Beam is a 900 foot tunnel caved vertically into the Moon. The tunnel is used to squirt data to remote colony probes that were launched from Earth hundreds of years ago: The technology will allow a normal light-speed transmission to communicate instantaneously with the probes. Euphemistically the scientists and engineers on the Moon say that the beam they shoot through the tunnel "turns the corner," presumably past Einsteinian space. The Colony probes are loaded with rabbits that carry zygotes of a whole host of Earthly creatures, from bees to cattle to men. Once the colony ship lands on its target world robots and artificially intelligent computers will build the infrastructure needed to birth the colonists and their animals, and set up farming for when food ultimately is needed to feed them all. The problem is that the Beam is not working, and the first colony ship is approaching a planet called Theta Apus IV. The story could adequately be called hard SF, though I note that it’s full of so much techno-babble that it appears as if Herbert may be merely trying to dress an ordinary tale up with hard-SF accouterments. The tale is also told in a very traditional manner. Ing is presented with a unique problem which he resolves by applying a very rigid set of tools, mainly aphorisms that the company teaches all of its trouble-shooters. Personally I found the story to be formulaic and a bit boring, but by examination of the aphorisms I think I learned something about Herbert himself. Herbert is famous for his aphorisms. Lots of them sound deeply philosophical, and even when given in a fleshed-out context can be somewhat confusing. Here's something Herbert put into this story:

"Program going in," Washington said. "I wish I knew what you hope to find by this."

"I quote," Ing said, "The objective worker makes as large a collection of data as possible and analyzes these in their entirety in relation to selected factors whose relationship to a questioned phenomenon is to be investigated."

"What the devil's that supposed to mean?" Washington demanded.

"Damned if I know," Ing said, "but it's right out of the Haigh Handbook.

I’m pretty sure I've said the same thing about Herbert's philosophy a few hundred times myself. FTL, Colonization, Scientists, Accidents; 2 Stars

Seed Stock, by Frank Herbert, 1970, originally published in Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact: Three years before the era of this story a colony ship of humans arrived at a still unnamed planet and disgorged its cargo and passengers. The planet was harsh and unforgiving; very little of the flora or fauna that the colonists brought with them survived the three years to the time of the story. The only species that seemed to be doing well were the falcons, and they got their food from islands out at sea. Because so many crops failed and animals died, the colonists made their living on a kind of shrimp called trodi that were discovered, first harvested and preserved by a colonial laborer named Kroudar. Kroudar is hideous. He started off ugly, and of all the colonists there the planet has been the harshest to him.

A short man, Kroudar gave the impression of heaviness, but under all his shipcloth motley he was as scrawny as any of the others, all bone and stringy muscle. It was the sickness of this planet, the doctors told him. They called it “body burdens,” a subtle thing of differences in chemistry, gravity, diurnal periods and even the lack of a tidal moon.

Kroudar is one of the only laborers in the whole colony. Everyone else is some sort of scientist. There are class distinctions on the planet, and Kroudar is definitely low-class. He is treated as such at the hands of the colonial masters, even though his efforts have twice saved the them from the slow death of starvation. But Kroudar is also married; to Hanida, a botanist who surprised everyone by choosing Kroudar as a mate. One night Hanida shows Kroudar a project she has been working on. Hanida has spliced together a new strain of maize from the DNA of other maize plants that have managed to survive in the colony’s poor soil. It’s a food source that will likely thrive in this environment. Once Kroudar sees the corn he realizes why Hanida married him; because Hanida has realized that the creatures that are going to survive on this colony are the ones that adapt – the ones that the planet remake into its own. All of the others – most of whom were busy trying hopelessly to duplicate Earth – were doomed. Kroudar, on the other hand, had been busy making himself into a creature of this new planet, just as the falcons already had. At the end of the story Kroudar and Hanida agree that when he returns from his upcoming fishing trip they will put some thought into naming their new home. Colonization, Survival, Biology; 4 Stars

Murder Will In, by Frank Herbert, 1970, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction:Murder Will In, by Frank Herbert can be found in a book called Five Fates, also containing stories by Keith Laumer, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson and Harlan Ellison. Each story in this book is a different take on what happens when a guy named William Bailey goes to the Euthanasia Center to do himself in. Herbert's story starts as Bailey's body is starting to get cold. According to other sources I have, this story is also in the May, 1970 issue of Astounding, and the collections The Priests of Psi, and Eye, by Herbert.

At the point that Bailey expires in the center a pair of symbiotic parasites living inside of Bailey, called the Tegas and the Bacit, begin to wake up. Actually, I think that the Tegas was awake all the time, but the Bacit may have been sleeping inside Bailey. The relationship between these parasites is difficult to comprehend. At one point the Bacit seems to want to keep the Tegas locked inside the dying flesh of Bailey, which would spell the ultimate destruction of both parasites. At other times the Bacit taunts the Tegas. In the end the Bacit urges the Tegas forward to do whatever is needed to save them both.

The pair of symbiotes are near immortal, in that they have lived for an extremely long time, and cannot expire naturally, as they bounce from host to host. They are not actually immortal, in that if they stay inside dying flesh until all activity stops, they die too. Further, Its not clear if this story takes place on another world colonized by humans, or if it is actually Earth, but it is clear that the Tegas and the Bacit are of extraterrestrial origin, and came to whatever planet this is a long time ago. Whichever the case, one of the former hosts dies in a place called "Canton," so I assume that this is Earth, and the parasites are extraterrestrial visitors here.

In order to jump from host to host the Tegas, occupying and controlling the body and mind of the host while the Bacit sits in the background, drives others into an emotional frenzy. Once the new host is all wound up, the jump from host to host can be done. Usually the Tegas gets the new host into a murderous rage, so that s/he will kill the current host. The purpose of the murder is that once the Tegas/Bacit jump, the original "owner," if you will, of the body will come back into possession of his body and brain, and it just wouldn't do to have a former host blabbing about this parasite combo. And that is what brings us to the euthanasia center; the Tegas realizes that the host will be killed, but fails to realize that it will be done in an impersonal manner with virtually no emotion. Once Bailey is dead, the Tegas realizes its mistake, and begins flailing around inside Bailey, desperately seeking some emotional upset in a human within range.

Well, it finds it, in the body of a criminal who is about to be put to death in the same center. The pair jump into Vicentelli, just before he is to be put to death. They realize that there is another human hunting the Tegas/Bacit in the same center when they overhear him giving orders to underlings. The pair is caught, and Vicentelli is tortured, with the idea of getting the Tegas/Bacit to admit who or what they are. Unusually, this time the Vicentelli consciousness is aware and awake inside his own body, and has no problem with being an observer as the Tegas runs the show from now on. However the Bacit talks the Tegas into letting the Vicentelli consciousness take control during the torture, so that the correct answers are given. You see the problem is that the Tegas has full memories of all persons he has inhabited in the past, but is afraid that in the moment of pain, he will give an answer that gives them away, and the Tegas and Bacit will be caputred. Vicentelli passes the test, but unfortunately is ordered to death by the torturer. The torturer, being a sadistic screwball, orders the android guards out of the chamber, giving the Tegas and Bacit an opportunity to jump into him at the moment he snuffs out Vicentelli's flame. Voila! The Tegas and Bacit just walk out of the Center, while the torturer's consciousness is pushed down into the little toe of his former body.

This story was pretty interesting, even though it was commissioned by the editor. It was a little unusual that each author published their own story, but I still think that they were commissioned, due largely to the common theme. I have noticed in the past that commissioned stories just don't have the fire that stories dreamed up by the author have, but this is an exception. I find this story interesting because it recycles two (or more) ideas FH used in Dune (it was written in 1970); specifically, memory of others inside one body (the spice trance when one reverend mother puts the OM of all her RM predecessors into a new RM), and long life (the Spice Melange's geriatic effect), as occupation by the Tegas/Bacit causes the host to live up to 300 years (which itself is apparently the average lifespan of a spice addict). This is accomplished after the Tegas tweaks and fixes problems inside the host body, in a very prana/bindu manner. There is also the bit about another personality occupying and controlling the body of a host, but the similarity is quite extreme. The similarities, however, never get closer than that. It is no more than similar ideas expressed in a different way, in a different context.

The story also was interesting in that it was the only one that did not take the moral high-ground when discussing the Euthanasia Center. In the Herbert story, it was just something to be accepted, just as the government sponsored torturer was to be accepted. And I suppose that this may be a theme that runs through the Dune series as well, in that a government is established and in control, but individual rights are sacrificed for the good of society. But even if that was what FH was trying to do in this story, the short format definately limited his ability to do so well.

All in all, this was a pretty good story. When I bought the book, I was hoping for something of novella length, but despite the fact that it was not, the story was probably the strongest one in the book. I wonder if the book, Eye, has any additional commentary from FH? If so, I would like to see what he has to say about this story. I give it a 3 out of 5, with reductions for complexity and unexplained elements of the story, which does not work as well in the short story format as it does in the novel length Dune books.

Passage for Piano, by Frank Herbert, 1973, originally published by Daw in The Priests of Psi: Marguerite’s family has been selected to colonize “Planet C.” Her son, David, is a depressed music prodigy who was blinded by a very rare virus that space explorers brought back inadvertently from another planet. David’s grandfather was a virtuoso musician. When he died he willed his piano to David, who now treasures it as much as he treasures the memory of his grandfather. Due to weight restrictions the piano cannot be taken to Planet C. As the date of departure approaches David grew more and more depressed. His psychologist told Marguerite that David identifies his inherited gifts with his inherited piano, and cannot bear the thought of leaving it behind. David’s depression grows so great that Marguerite considers staying at home with David while her daughter and husband leave to colonize Planet C, but before she decides on so radical a course of action, a better idea occurred to her. Marguerite and a friend called all the other colonists and convinced them to donate pounds from their personal allocation so that the piano could be smuggled aboard. She was about a third of the way through when command heard of the scheme and stopped her. But Marguerite and David made an impassioned plea to the commander, and David came up with the great idea of taking the keyboard and harp only, and making a new case from wood indigenous to Planet C. “That way the piano will be part of Earth, and part of our new home,” David tells the commander. The commander was so moved that he donated from his own personal allocation the seven pounds that were needed to get it done. This is a charming story of a community coming together to help one of its own. It’s also about the need for certain comforts when in an unknown and potentially dangerous situation. Music, Colonization, Community; 3.5 Stars

Death of a City, by Frank Herbert, 1973, originally published by Trident Future City: Of all the Frank Herbert stories that I have read thus far, this one of them all, I think, goes the greatest distance towards showing Herbert’s outlook on life. In it a “City Doctor,” Bjska, and his assistant, the beautiful Mieri, stand looking upon the most beautiful city in creation. City Doctors have the ultimate power over life, death and memory. If they see fit a City Doctor can order a city razed, and the inhabitants killed, dispersed, or their memories of the city wiped clean. Their purpose is to maintain the continued viability of the race. Mieri and Bjska stand on a precipice overlooking the city. Both of them find it breathtaking, especially Mieri, who was born and raised in it. Bjska finds the city to be too beautiful; that it causes too many problems and must be put down.

”Humans have always been restless animals,” Bjska said. “A good thing, too. We both know what’s wrong here. There’s such a thing as too much comfort, too much beauty. Life requires the continuing struggle. That may be the only basic law in the living universe.

Bjska knows that outsiders who see the city will be moved by its beauty. He also knows that those so moved are likely to become resentful of the beauty that others have, and will eventually come to feel hate.

I have often said that if you want to truly understand Dune, then you have to read and understand what Herbert was trying to do with his short fiction, because all the ideas that he used in his masterwork and its sequels were proven there. This story is about the benefits and burdens of beauty and contentment upon the human psyche. The Dune novels have lots to say about those concepts, especially in the way that Herbert uses the concept of monstrosity, environmental challenges and governmental tropes. What Herbert was really talking about when he dealt with those issues are the methods and institutions by which we ensure the survival of our race. Herbert’s stories are full of examples of physically ugly people who do things that guarantee survival of humanity. McKie is a prime example of this. So is Leto II, but many, many other examples can be found in his shorter works. What he said, he said in the form of a truism: No matter how far along you advance yourselves, you will never be able to overcome your animal instincts. Those out there who find comfort in certain things are just setting themselves up for attack, and the more comfortable they are, the less likely they are to survive, or even see the attack coming. It’s only those who are unable shun beauty and comfort, who allow themselves to continue striving, even when tired, that will survive. Medicine, Death, Beauty, Cities; 4.5 Stars

Frogs and Scientists, by Frank Herbert, 1979, originally published in Destinies: Anecdotal vignette about two frogs who observe a bathing human female and a voyeuristic human male who watches her from afar. The point of the vignette is that you learn much more about that which you are pursuing if you observe it without being noticed. Sex, Scientists, Smart Animals; 2 Stars

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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