Direct Descent by Herbert, Frank, 1980

Direct Descent by Herbert, Frank

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Direct Discent is the only YA entry in Frank Herbert's entire catalog. Expanded into novella length from a 1954 story called Rat Pack Planet it tells the story of a 81st century Earth that has been hollowed out entirely and turned into a planet-sized library. The innards of the Earth were used to construct a fleet of ships that colonized the stars while the people who remained behind dedicated themselves to the pursuit of knowledge; they sent wave after wave of librarians out who collected knowledge, returned to Earth, created programming about thier discoveries, then broadcast those programs to everyone in the universe for free. If you decide to read this work, do not go into it expecting Herbert's usual standards. The book is divided into a short story (the original) and a novella, both of which are untitled. The short story is terrible and the novella is only marginally better. And when I say that this book is YA, know that there is a heavy emphasis on the "Y." Parts of this book read like an English primer, and though in one, maybe two places some of Herbert's brilliance showed, the book strangely lacks any cohesive or meaningful message.

Part I tells the story of a man named Coogan, the second-in-command of the library world of Earth, and one of his underlings, Toris Sil-Chan. The library administrator has been commanded by the universal governement - headed by the Gentle Ignorance Party - to stop the broadcasts forever. The new party chairman and leader, Adams, and his main general, Pchak are Luddites who are disturbed by knowledge and science. They want everyone in the universe to give up on scientific discovery and revert to simpler times. Pchak visits Earth to make sure that the librarians comply, and accidentally (or maybe purposefully) kills the administrator. Coogan takes over and in accord with the prior administrator's wishes shuts down the broadcast . The library has very few strict rules, but as a guarantee of survival, they have one unbreakable rule: The library must obey the government, no matter what they demand. Herbert never really explained how this policy came to be. The omission of an explanation presents a huge hole simply because the the library administration is rabidly dogmatic in defending the rule even though it amounts to laying down arms and giving up on self-preservation.

Once Pchak reached Earth Coogan distracted him with military history programs. Pchak became engrossed in them, and while he watched show after show Coogan sent Toris to Adams' homeworld to learn as much as he could about the new leader. Coogan suspected that his hatred of science and knowledge came from some negative childhood experience, and he wanted Toris to find out what it was. Toris went and came back with the goods, but before the plot to psychoanalyze the new leader could play out Adams was deposed and he and Pchak were both killed. The ending was very anti-climactic, because the enemy was deposed and rendered impotent before the heroes could do anything to stop him.

Part II takes place several hundered years later. Sooma Sil-Chan, a descendent of the Sil-Chan above, the Chief Accountant of the Library is called to the office of the director, an intelligent simian named Patterson Tchung. The government again has it out for the library, but his time they have sent accountant/soldiers to audit the library's books. Prior to the soldier's arrival Tchung discovered an account in the system called the Dornbaker account that had deposits in it from before the library was constructed. There was enough money there to buy the Earth several times over. Tchung feared what the soldiers would do when they discovered the account, so he and Sil-Chan researched it.

The account was owned by the inhabitants of an island on Earth called Dornbaker Island. Computer records noted that the funds in the account were the leftover from what it cost to control the weather and currents around Dornbaker Island. Nobody had ever heard of the island before, but when they checked they found that not only did the island have a cone of earth beneath it all the way to the former center of the Earth (the only such structure left in the entire hollow Earth), but nobody had overflown that part of the ocean for tens of thousands of years. His curiosity piqued, Sil-Chan borrowed a jet and flew to the island. There was no runway there, so he crashed his plane, but survived without injury. When he crawled out he met David and the beautiful Hepzebah, and was told that the "paternomer" was out hunting and would not return for two days. Sil-Chan was so struck by Hepzebah that he followed her around like a love-sick puppy, barely able to keep himself quiet when she mentioned that she was single. Within about an hour and a half of crash-landing Sil-Chan and Hepzebah have fell in love and agreed to marry; apparently Hepzebah had some psychic gift and could see what a "good man" Sil-Chan was.

Herbert goes with a variant on the star-crossed-lovers theme here. The Paternoster Dornbaker ("PN") is opposed to the marriage. He wants Hepzebah to marry a boy from a rival family and "seal the lines," whatever that means. A byzantine code of family laws dictate how much influence a father should have in the choosing of mates for his daughters, and althought he law does give the girl the right to choose her mate, much more is at stake here. The real problem with the story, in addition to the really awful starry-eyed lovers crud, is that the politics and the law of the choice here is completely blurred behind the recitation of one law and custom after another, most of which were at odds with each other. Herbert never set the laws straight; never bothered to tell the reader exactly what the kids were up against. He only gave both sides some precedent that helped their side. So we have a very confusing set of facts that surround the financial, the legal, and the traditional angles of the story. Simply put, this story is an absolute mess. The resolution just adds to the confusion, as characters pull one conspiracy theory after another out of their pockets. The end result is that Earth is granted to the PN as a free planet, no longer a government bureau. Really though, the way Herbert got there was mindnumbingly dull. I can't imagine how many edits this thing probably went through before its final form was delivered to the publisher. Enough, I'm sure, to remove almost every trace of its author. What a shame. Although, I am now a bit more certain that in at least one way, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson actually are emulating Frank Herbert's style. The early Ace editions of this direct-to-paperback novel are illustrated with heavy charcoal drawings.

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 1.5 star(s)


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