Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Frank Herbert Beyond Dune: The Eyes of Heisenberg and The Godmakers


I still intend to write more about Dune Part Two (beyond my initial non-spoilery thoughts here). I've seen it a few times, and I've loved it more each time. I hope to see it at least once more in full-size IMAX before trying to wrangle some of my many thoughts into something resembling a comprehensible blog post. Please accept the following post for now!

It's easy to forget for those of us who love Dune and its various screen adaptations, but Frank Herbert wrote a lot of novels that are neither Dune nor its sequels. I've read a few of them over the years, including The White Plague a few months ago.

The good thing about Herbert's non-Dune work is that it's fun to explore a favorite author's other work. The bad thing about exploring Herbert's non-Dune work is that none of it is Dune. 

It's difficult advice for Dune-obsessed nerds like me to take, but every time I read non-Dune Frank Herbert, I tell myself not to expect Dune. Because it never measures up. But failing to be one of the most influential and mind-expanding science fiction series of the 20th century shouldn't stop you from reading a novel, even if it is written by the author of that series.

So, here are my reviews of two non-Dune Frank Herbert novels I've read recently: The Eyes of Heisenberg and The Godmakers!

The Eyes of Heisenberg

Yes, it is written by Frank Herbert, but this is not Dune. As long as you keep that in mind, it's an interesting book that does touch on some of Herbert's deeper ideas in the Dune series about the dangers of stagnation, different ways of being human, mortality, boredom, violence, and so on. 

The "Optimen" are near immortal genetically-engineered humans who rule over non-genetically engineered humans. But can even such beings really control the flow of politics or know all of reality? If you're a fan of Frank Herbert and/or have a sense of what would make an interesting story and what "Heisenberg" was famous for (at least before Breaking Bad), the answer may not surprise you. But it makes for an interesting ride with plenty of Herbert-style Big Thoughts. But again, don't expect the depth of Dune.

See my Goodreads review.

The Godmakers

I was excited for The Godmakers because it seemed closer to Dune than other non-Dune Frank Herbert books. It even has epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter and deals heavily with religion and politics. 

Alas, The Godmakers is not Dune. But it's kind of interesting. And plenty weird.

The protagonist, Orne, gets drafted into a galactic organization (Investigative Adjustment) that seeks out civilizations in order to neutralize their tendencies toward war, all for the greater purpose of preventing another interstellar war (along with plenty of interesting thoughts on the deeper psychological causes of war). Unbeknownst to Orne (but knownst to us), he is actually the creation of the eponymous "godmakers" on the planet Amel, who created him to become, well, a god, using psychic powers called psi.

There's more to it than all that, but a lot of the first part of the novel feels a bit episodic, detailing several of Orne's missions on different planets (my odd thought in these parts is that it almost felt to me like Frank Herbert trying to write Ursula Le Guin-style anthropological SF while still being Frank Herbert). The somewhat fractured structure makes sense when you realize this novel is pieced together from several of Herbert's earlier, pre-Dune short stories. 

You see some hints of Herbert's later ideas about politics and religion (and even a secret cabal of women steering politics from behind the scenes!), but overall this feels like an earlier, less dense and less elegant work than what Herbert would later produce.

Without getting too much into spoilers, things get really interesting toward the end, especially if you find Advaita Vedanta philosophy interesting (i.e., a "Hindu" or Brahmanical philosophy with roots back to ancient India) and especially the idea of nondualist metaphysics and Maya (illusion). If you realized that the universe is everything is you is divinity ... well, then what might that do to your understanding of space and time? Your identity? Your relationship to reality itself?

There are also some almost (and I stress "almost") Dune-like nuggets of wisdom. Here are a few of my favorites: 

"The universe is one thing! We cannot cut it into pieces with our puny expediencies! The universe exists beyond the labels!" (p. 180).

"Before men first ventured into space, some were looking at the universe in the right way and learning to answer such questions. They called it Maya. The tongue was called Sanskrit. 'Maya,' the Abbod whispered. 'I project my consciousness upon the universe.'" (p. 216)

"... humankind has an open-ended account in the Bank of Time." (p. 221)

See also my Goodreads review.

See you for more Dune soon!

1 comment:

  1. It seems that Villeneuve will helm a third "Dune" movie named "Dune Messiah". You can download movies on laptop and watch Dune movies on Max or Hulu offline (p.s. Part 2 will premier on Max soon).