Auteur Sujet: [The NewYorker] 2013/07/12 - Jon Michaud - Dune endures  (Lu 9545 fois)

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[The NewYorker] 2013/07/12 - Jon Michaud - Dune endures
« le: mars 03, 2014, 01:50:06 pm »
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Why Frank Herbert's 'Dune' still matters

As the temperature in California’s Death Valley climbed toward a hundred and thirty degrees recently, I had a vision of giant sandworms erupting from the desert floor and swallowing up the tourists and news media gathered around the thermometer at the National Park Service ranger station. The worms I had in mind sprang first from the imagination of Frank Herbert, and they have, over the past half century, burrowed their way into the heads of anyone who has read his science-fiction classic, “Dune.” Set on a desert planet named Arrakis that is the sole source of the universe’s most valued substance, “Dune” is an epic of political betrayal, ecological brinkmanship, and messianic deliverance. It won science fiction’s highest awards—the Hugo and the Nebula—and went on to sell more than twelve million copies during Herbert’s lifetime. As recently as last year, it was named the top science-fiction novel of all time in a Wired reader’s poll.

As David Itzkoff noted in 2006, what’s curious about “Dune” ’s stature is that it has not penetrated popular culture in the way that “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” have. There are no “Dune” conventions. Catchphrases from the book have not entered the language. Nevertheless, the novel has produced a cottage industry of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, the production of which only accelerated after Herbert’s death in 1986. There are now eighteen novels in the “Dune” chronicles, not to mention screen adaptations, comic books, and countless board, video, and role-play games. The conversion of “Dune” into a franchise, while pleasing readers and earning royalties for the Herbert estate, has gone a long way toward obscuring the power of the original novel. (I gave up after the fourth installment, “God Emperor of Dune.”) With daily reminders of the intensifying effects of global warming, the spectre of a worldwide water shortage, and continued political upheaval in the oil-rich Middle East, it is possible that “Dune” is even more relevant now than when it was first published. If you haven’t read it lately, it’s worth a return visit. If you’ve never read it, you should find time to.

Like the best science-fiction and fantasy novels, “Dune” creates for the reader a complex, fully-realized universe. Set more than twenty thousand years in the future, the book focusses on the battle to control Arrakis, the source of melange, or spice, an addictive substance that prolongs life and, in some cases, gives the user glimpses of the future. Melange is also essential for interstellar travel, allowing starship pilots to look across vast distances to plot their courses. Imagine a substance with the combined worldwide value of cocaine and petroleum and you will have some idea of the power of melange.

“Dune” takes place in a feudal society where noble families rule planets in an imperium presided over by Emperor Shaddam IV. At the beginning of the novel, Duke Leto Atreides has been installed by imperial order as the ruler of Arrakis, ousting the evil Harkonnens who tyrannized the planet for eight decades. Not long after their arrival, the Atreides are betrayed by one of their own, and get routed by the Harkonnens with the assistance of forces from the Emperor—all for control of the spice. Leto’s concubine, Jessica, and his teen-aged son, Paul, escape into the desert, where they live with the aboriginal people known as the Fremen. Long underestimated by the Harkonnens, the Fremen have learned how to thrive in the harsh climate of Arrakis. Paul evolves into a kind of T. E. Lawrence-like figure, using religious fanaticism to lead a Fremen insurgency that defeats the Harkonnens, corners the Emperor, and puts Paul on the imperial throne.

This is, as you can see, a universe of Machiavellian realpolitik, science fiction through the prism of the Cold War. There is little that is cute or cuddly: no furry-footed Hobbits, no teddy-bear-like Ewoks. (In fact, the cutest thing you’ll see in a copy of “Dune” is the author photo: bald, bearded, and smiling, Herbert could pass for one of Tolkien’s dwarves.) Even the hero, young Paul Atreides, stuns his mother with his unsentimental reaction to his father’s death. Instead of grieving, he immediately begins plotting the overthrow of his adversaries. This is terrain that is familiar to readers of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Herbert’s scheming, backstabbing villain, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, would be perfectly at home among the Lannisters of Westeros. Here is a scene in which the Baron discusses his goals for the reconquored Arrakis with his nephew, the aptly named Beast Rabban:

“Can one exterminate an entire planet?” Rabban asked.

 “Exterminate?” Surprise showed in the swift turning of the Baron’s head. “Who said anything about exterminating?”

 “Well, I presumed you were going to bring in new stock and—”

 “I said squeeze, Nephew, not exterminate. Don’t waste the population, merely drive them into utter submission. You must be the carnivore, my boy…. A carnivore never stops. Show no mercy. Never stop. Mercy is a chimera. It can be defeated by the stomach rumbling its hunger, by the throat crying its thirst. You must be always hungry and thirsty…. Like me.”

His Balinesque appearance aside, Herbert was neither a soft nor a sentimental man. Before becoming a novelist, he worked as a reporter in the Pacific Northwest. (He also served, briefly, in the Navy during the Second World War.) The idea for the novel came to him in 1957, while he was reporting a story on the U.S.D.A.’s efforts to stabilize the Oregon Dunes. By then, Herbert had started publishing stories in science-fiction magazines, and had published a début novel, “The Dragon in the Sea,” which garnered favorable reviews but modest sales. He spent six years working on “Dune.” (And it’s worth noting that, in the middle of that span, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was published.) Much of Herbert’s opus originally appeared in analog, edited by the legendary John W. Campbell. Despite Campbell’s seal of approval, “Dune”—longer and far more ambitious than most science fiction of the time—was turned down by some twenty publishers. “It is just possible that we may be making the mistake of the decade in declining Dune by Frank Herbert,” wrote Julian P. Muller, of Harcourt, Brace & World, in a typical response. In the end, an editor at Chilton, known for its line of car-repair manuals, offered to publish it after reading the serialized chapters. The book was not an immediate best-seller, but critical acclaim and steady word-of-mouth recommendations eventually boosted sales enough for Herbert to become a full-time writer and embark on a sequel.

Perhaps one explanation for “Dune” ’s lack of true fandom among science-fiction fans is the absence from its pages of two staples of the genre: robots and computers. This is not an oversight on Herbert’s part but, rather, a clever authorial decision. Centuries before the events described in the novel, humans revolted and destroyed all thinking machines. “The god of machine-logic was overthrown,” Herbert writes in an appendix, “and a new concept was raised: ‘Man may not be replaced.’ ” This watershed moment, known as the Butlerian Jihad, resulted in a spiritual awakening, which put into place the religious structures that ultimately produce the messiah, Paul Atreides. There is no Internet in Herbert’s universe, no WikiLeaks, no cyber war. This de-emphasis on technology throws the focus back on people. It also allows for the presence of a religious mysticism uncommon in science fiction. It’s a future that some readers may find preferable to our own gadget-obsessed present.

Herbert was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, and the text of Dune is full of koans. One of the most frequently quoted lines from the novel is that "Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife—chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here". If only Herbert had heeded this advice and allowed his singular novel to stand alone.
« Modifié: mars 03, 2014, 01:51:59 pm par Leto »
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