June 3, 1963
Congratulations! You are now the father of a fifteen- year-old superman!
But I betcha aren’t gonna like it...
This is a grand yarn; I like it, and I’m going to buy it. But I have some comments that may make you want to make a slight change in the ending.
As the father—and/or stepfather!—of several literary supermen, I’ve learned something about their care and upbringing. They’re very recalcitrant. Also hard to live with.
You can’t think like a superman. You can’t imagine his motivations. He’s altruistic—and superman. Which means he will sacrifice the highest good you can imagine, for the sake of something you couldn’t understand even if he ex¬plained it to you. He is gentle—which, when properly de¬fined, means that he is kindly, but absolutely ruthless. Like the man who loves horses, and sorrowfully shoots the stallion with a broken leg. I doubt that the stallion would approve of that action.
No human being can write about the thoughts, philoso¬phy, motivations, or evaluations of a superman.
There are two ways that supermen have been handled successfully in science fiction; method 1 is that van Vogt used in Sian. . . and is what you’ve got here, so far. You don’t talk about the superman, don’t try to portray the superman, but show a superboy, who hasn’t yet developed his powers out and beyond your ability to conceive of them. Method 2 is that used by Norvel W. Page in “But Without Horns” in the old Unknown. The superman never appears on stage at all— you encounter only people who have met him, and the results of actions he’s taken. You never meet him, and never do un¬derstand what his motivations are.
If Dune is to be the first of three, and you’re planning on using Paul in the future ones... oh, man! You’ve set yourself one hell of a problem!
You might make the next one somewhat more plottable if you didn’t give Paul quite so much of the super-duper.
You’d have someone exceedingly hard to defeat, and yet having certain definite limitations, if you gave him just one talent, the ability of transtemporal clairvoyance.
Now that could work like this: a man remembers the past he has experienced, but nobody knows how that’s done. Suppose it’s done by a faculty that any remembering entity actually has, of being able to “see” across time, and perceive the actual original event. When you “remember” going to the beach for a swim last summer, you perceive-across-time the actual event.
Now this time-scanning would, inherently, allow you to perceive anything anywhen anywhere. Which would simply drive you completely nuts. Data is useless, unless you can organize and relate it. Unlimited access to unlimited data would require infinite time to scan it all! And until you’ve scanned nearly all of it, you wouldn’t know what data went with what.
So normal people use as an index-mark, as a guideline, the “I was there” factor in using their transtemporal clairvoy¬ance. You can remember what you heard, saw, felt, tasted, thought, and your mood.
Once in a while, somebody slips a bit. . . and gets some¬body else’s “I was there” guideline—if he can remember any¬one else’s memories—he would be very hard to defeat.
Notice: if I could remember what you remembered, I would, in effect, have telepathy! I would not know what you are now thinking, but I would be able to “remember” what you were thinking a millisecond ago . . . which amounts to the same thing.
If, before he can “remember” someone else’s memories, he must identify their “I-track”—if it is essential that he first have a take-off point of direct contact—then the only way an enemy could keep Paul from knowing his plans would be to make sure Paul never encountered him. To find the I-track of one individual among the n-billion people in the galaxy would be impossible without a contact point.
If you wind up this yarn with Paul acquiring that talent, all the present explanations can come out of it, i.e., he can remember back along Baron Harkonnen’s line, Yeuh’s, Kynes’s, the Fremen he encountered, etc., to get the whole present background.
BUT... he doesn’t have so much precognition that you can’t build a workable plot for the next yarn.
You know the trouble with time-travel stories; if the guy has a time-travel machine, and the villain kidnaps the her¬oine, there’s no sweat. The hero doesn’t chase the villain; he looks annoyed, steps into the time machine, goes back thirty seconds before the villain’s villainy, and tells the heroine, “Hey, honey—that stupid louse, Rudolph the Villain, is about to kidnap you. He’s making a nuisance of himself, isn’t he? Let’s go somewhere else.”
Give your hero precognition that works, and it’s sort of like old-fashioned Presbyterian Predestination. There’s no use trying, because he already knows what has to come. And everybody else is stuck with it, whether they like it or not.
However, with all the data-sources he gets with every¬body’s memories... he still doesn’t know the future. He knows what they think the future is, and what he thinks it’ll be. .. but not what it will be.
Incidentally, I find that the following is a useful analogy describing the process of Time. Imagine an immensely tall glass cylinder filled with water. The bottom of the thing is sitting in a tank of liquid air; naturally the water in the bot¬tom is frozen solid, and as heat drains out to the liquid air, the surface of crystallization advances steadily up the column of water. The interface between still-liquid water and solidi¬fied ice is the instant Now; the frozen ice is the Past, and the free liquid water is the Future.
Now, when a substance crystallizes, there are inter- molecular forces at work that reach out from the already- solid crystal to drag in and align free molecules of the liquid, forcing each new molecule added to the crystal to fall into a precise alignment with the already-crystallized mole¬cules. The interface, in other words, is not a no-thickness geometrical surface—it’s a volume. Liquid well away from the interface is really pretty free, but liquid molecules near the interface are already subjected to alignment forces, and are being dragged into place.
Moreover, some crystals manage to grow faster than others; there will be spikes of crystal reaching out well ahead of the slower-growing mass.
If you watch the way crystals grow—epsom salts crys¬tallizing when a solution is poured out on a pane of glass, for instance—it gives a remarkable mental picture of how align¬ment forces reach out from the past through the instant-Now, and into the Future. . . and yet do not completely determine the future, because there are liquid zones among the out- reaching crystal forces.
One other item that makes supermen such nasty people to live with, when they’re fifteen-year-old supermen: they are adolescent demi-gods—and personally, I can’t imagine any¬thing more horrible. An adolescent, no matter how intelli¬gent, is not wise; he’s only smart. Furthermore, adolescents have the most ghastly horrible tendency to be sure they have The Answers to all the world’s problems, and it is only the stupid conservatism of the old fogies that makes them reject it.
And having all the knowledge in the world means noth¬ing—because all knowledge is filtered through the individ¬ual’s attitudes and beliefs.
Can you imagine a sincere, dedicated, enormously intel¬ligent, practically omniscient teenager .. . with the typical teenage tendency to be Sure He’s Right about matters that only adult experience can make understandable?
Hitler was Sure He Was Right. So was Torquemada.
The ordinary, everyday adolescent is something of a problem to live with. A real genius-grade adolescent is much worse to live with, because he’s just as certain he has the proper, logical, and righteous answers figured out, and being extremely smart, is very difficult to unconvince.
Want to try it with Paul—when he’s decided, at age sixteen, How the Galaxy Should be Rearranged And Right Away Quick?
God preserve us! No one else would be able to!
John W. Campbell Editor
June 8, 1963
Sincere thanks for the two-edged congratulations.
As for liking the new parenthood ... let me put my reac¬tion this way: the blessing appears not only to be mixed, but more on the order of a parfait that tangled with Mr. Waring’s blender. Out of the resultant mass, however, I still can distin¬guish two ingredients—a sense of gratification that this long labor has been favored by someone whose judgment I admire. . . and a sort of small-mouse feeling in the face of the mountain of work I can see ahead.
Perhaps it’s naivete, but I’m flattered by the length of your letter. I have editing chores on my own in addition to writing, and I know what happens to your time. (On second thought, what does happen to your time?)
So—to the subject of Time. . .
Your analogy of an advancing surface of crystallization touched a particular chord of interest in me. With your per¬mission, I may adapt it (or part of it) to my needs.
First, though, here’s how I see the Time and plot prob¬lem for a sequel to Dune:
You will recall that Paul has a vision of Time as the surface of a gauze kerchief undulating in the wind. As far as it goes, this is accurate, but immature. It’s the child-vision. Clarification is yet to come and he isn’t going to like what he sees.
Think now of a coracle, a chip floating on a stormy sea. The man of vision is in the coracle. When it rises to a crest, he can see around him (provided he has his eyes open at the moment and it’s light enough to see—in other words, pro¬vided conditions are right). And what does he see? He sees the peaks of many waves. He sees troughs and flanks of his own wave complex. Troughs of subsequent waves are increasingly hidden from him.
Considered one way, your surface of crystallization is similar to this stormy-sea concept. If you could photograph that surface on movie film at one frame per minute and view it at 16 fps, the surface would heave and undulate in a similar manner as it advanced. (It’s the idea of an advancing surface that catches my interest.)
Now consider Time as a system with its own form of obedience to its own form of entropy. What disrupts it? What causes Time storms? Among other things, a man of vision with his eyes open in good light and on the crest of the wave can cause Time storms. If you see that-which-is-not, that’s hallucination. If you see that-which-is-not-yet, you give the not-yet a feedback circuit for which it is not-yet prepared. You set up a channel for convection currents across regions delicately susceptible to the slightest deflection.
(Think of the region beyond your surface of crystalliza¬tion. Within this region, there’s another barrier area within which the molecular tip-over toward one crystallizing system or another becomes extremely delicate.)
Prescience, then, shakes down to this:
Man of vision opens his inner eyes. He may find it dark all around him. He may find himself in the trough of the wave... in which case he sees only the flanks of adjoining waves towering over him and a limited curve of his own trough. He may find himself on a crest in good light... in which case he QUICK looks all around.
The Time he “saw” may maintain itself in similar mo¬tions for a period, but it is in motion, it is changing. And the very action of his looking has accelerated and twisted and dis¬torted the directions of change. (Do you think John the Bap¬tist could predict all the outcomes of his prophecies?) Add the further complication that there are many men of vision with varying degrees of aptitude.
Most philosophies of Time I’ve encountered contain an unwritten convention that this “thing” is something ponderous (read juggernaut) and requires monstrous, universe- swaying forces to deflect it to any recognizable degree. Once set in motion, they say, Time tends to be orderly in its direction.
Obviously, there is in mankind a profound desire for a universe which is orderly and logical. But the desire for a thing should be a clue to actualities. Local areas of order exist, but beyond is chaos. Time in the larger sense is a disor¬derly harridan. (I’ll digress on this a bit later.)
We can still see the thumb upraised in the Roman arena, yes. Its effects are all around us if we have the eyes for it, but we are looking backward here, not forward. While we’re looking backward, then, what of the Natufian herdsman who carved himself a whistle from a twig to while away his hours on a hillside? Is there a line between him and a Greek herds¬man playing the pan pipes near Athens. . . and between that herdsman and Bach? What of the sidelines, then, twisting away to. . . where?
And what of the Chellean nomad crossing the site of the future Gursu-Babylon? Does the stone he accidentally kicks aside influence the future location of a temple? If this isn’t
enough complication, consider the negative side—the down- turned thumb, the uncarved whistle, the unkicked stone. .. what if.. . what if.. . what if. . . what if. . .
What if a wandering cow had distracted the Natufian gentleman and he’d left the whistle-building to another herdsman in another culture? The line might still wind its way to Bach, but over other hills and dales, and a person gifted with both views would hear a difference—perhaps a profound difference.
We’ve narrowed our focus here down to a two-value sys¬tem (on-off, yes-no), however. What we have in actuality is a multivalued, extended-spectrum system—magnificent de¬grees and permutations of variability. The Time surface is in a constant state of flux. It’s only when we look backward and isolate a line out of context that we perceive any degree of order. And if we take this order and project it into the future, the distance during which it will continue to hold true is distinctly limited. (Couldn’t you visualize certain possible changes in conditions which would make some of our laws of physics inoperable?)
The Time surface is in a constant state of flux—one of your crystal extrusions may project for ten million years ahead of the surround-surface in one cross-section instant only to be lopped off in the next. (There’s a fascinating side consideration here if we continue viewing this as “crystal.” It exists one instant and is-not in the next instant. What happens to its components, if you give them substance? Do they enter the surrounding solution? If so, where?)
Let’s isolate that cross-section (see above) idea for a mo¬ment. This is the abstraction process, the taking-out-of-con- text, the stopping, the isolation. You limit your knowledge of a subject when you do this with any flowing process. To understand a flowing process, you have to get in with it, flow with it. This is the larger meaning within the gestalten concept.
I promised a certain digression earlier (one among many), and this appears to be the moment for it. Time, the disorderly harridan. .. We are, of course, considering chaos versus order. Within this, there is always the unspoken judg¬ment—one thing is “right” and the opposite is “wrong.” So let’s look at the logical projection of completely orderly Time and a universe of absolute logic. Aren’t we saying here that it’s possible to “know” everything? Then doesn’t this mean that the system of “knowing” will one day enclose itself? And isn’t that a sort of prison?
For my part, I can conceive of infinite systems. I find this reassuring—the chaos reassuring. It means there are no walls, no limits, no boundaries except those that man himself creates. Magnificent degrees and permutations of variability.
Now, of course, we build walls and erect barriers and enclosed systems and we isolate and cut cross-sections to study them. But if we ever forget that these are bubbles which we are blowing, we’re lost. If we ever lose sight of the possibility that a wall we’ve erected may someday have to be torn down, then we’ve bricked ourselves in with the amontil- lado and we can yell “For the love of God, Montressor!” all we like. There’ll be nobody listening outside who gives a fat damn.
We seem to have wandered somewhat off the Time track, but now you know some of the background which flows over into my stories and which I’m pouring right now into a sequel to Dune. You may understand now, also, why time-travel stories have always been somewhat disappointing to me. They may have excellent plotting, wonderful linear¬ity, tremendous sense of direction... but little or no elbow room.
Before winding this up, I’d like to take one more side trip in time through the concept of “how long.” The length of an operation, of course, depends on the viewpoint and the field of operations.
Through a combination of circumstances too tedious to detail here, I found myself one morning a split second from death (by impending accident). During a period of time that could not possibly have been more than l/25th of a second, I calmly considered at least eight distinct solutions, examining them in great detail, calling on memory aspects that wandered through a number of cross-references that could only be referred to as enormous. Out of this and still within this shutter-blink of Time, I decided upon a solution that had its main inspiration in a circus trick I had seen just once, and I altered that circus trick to suit my needs. The solution worked precisely as I had visualized it. I could cover at least ten of these single-space pages with elements that went into that solution and still not exhaust them.
Obviously, there are certain conditions under which our view of Time may be compressed to the point where, for all practical purposes, the process is instantaneous. (Consider the hours-long dream that occurs between the ringing of the alarm and the hand reaching out to shut the damn thing off.)
Another way of looking at this is to say that the Time it takes for a given event (a vision, for example) may be almost interminable for one person (the one with the vision) but practically instantaneous to an outside observer.
We can postulate, also, that External Time (in the larger sense) has different speeds and currents for different view¬points, that not only is the course within a given locale vari¬able but also the local-speed-effect varies.
These ideas, then, form some of the boundaries (man¬made) of Paul’s prescience. He’s in a situation where he must learn new ground rules. (There are rules, but he has to learn a shifting frame of reference to recognize them.) He’s within the coracle. While on that word, I might add that I’ve been using the title “Muad’Dib” for the first draft of the sequel. I think, though, that this would be a better title: C ORACLE.
If I tell you any more now, I’ll be giving away the se¬quel. It goes without saying, though, that your comments will be received with great interest and open mind. Tell me if what I’ve said here meets your plot objections. If not, I’m perfectly willing to find some common ground for ending the first story that will hold up in subsequent ones.
P.S.: I quite understand that what I’ve been discussing here is the subjective relationship between real time and time dila¬tion. But this strikes me as a subject which deserves much greater exploration—especially where it regards what we commonly refer to as “the speed of thought.”