Time to bring another idea I’ve been tossing around into reality.
When I say “changed my life”, incidentally, I’m not talking about some personally transformative experience that put me in touch with the transcendant global consciousness, or whatever prattle people ramble on about after reading “Tuesdays with Morrie”. I’m not even going to claim that the book is particularly good, or at least important.
What I’m saying is that the book in question taught me something important. It might not do the same for others; perhaps they’re smarter than I was when I read the book, or they just won’t see in it what I saw in it. But for me, it altered the way that I think in some small way, and that can indeed change everything.
Bear in mind that I read the book when I was quite young. And while the universe as a whole, with the spice melange, the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, Navigators, Sardaukar and all the accompanying mythology were interesting (and indeed, on a lark I once put “administering the gom jabbar” on a desired career form in high school), they didn’t influence me in any real way.
Except maybe for the brief passage on the prana and bindu training, which may be why I learned how to move more of the muscles in my face than most people. Seriously. I can wiggle my scalp, eyebrows (individually), ears (individually and on two axes), and nose (only up and down, but I can also pull it inward and effectively pinch my nostrils shut at the bridge of my nose. Handy when diving.)
But I digress.
What I learned from Dune was less in something the book explicitly laid out for me (though to be fair it’s rather obvious, but again, I was young), but rather in a question I asked myself when I was reading the book.
“Why are the Fremen important?”
The easy answer is “because the Fremen control Arrakis, Arrakis is the source of the spice, and without the spice interstellar travel grinds to a halt”. Not to mention that whole “entire generations of very rich people dying of delayed old age” bit.
But that misses the question of why the Fremen control Arrakis.
The easy answer there is “because the Fremen have learned to survive in the harshest environment imaginable, and as such are incredibly disciplined and trained death machines”.
But that misses the fact that personal combat ability is of very limited impact in modern war. The entire concept of a “soldier” came about as an idea of substituting the years of individual training required of a “warrior” with the unit discipline and group tactics of a “soldier”. Training a warrior takes a lifetime; training a soldier takes a few months, tops.
The answer that Dune led me to was that the Fremen were important because of the dominant weaponry of the Empire.
Frank Herbert created a technology where the eternal battle between sword and shield ended in mutually assured destruction. The shield generator could only be penetrated by slowly moving objects, rendering the traditional killing weapons of bullet, blast, and shrapnel ineffective. He created a weapon (the lasgun) that could burn through every physical defense short of a shield with minimal effort, but if a lasgun beam ever contacted an active shield, the resulting explosion could be more powerful than a nuclear weapon.
And suddenly the Fremen matter.
Suddenly personal combat ability is enormously important. Herbert creates a universe where the only way to take and hold land is the really, really old-fashioned way; with steel and blood. Sure, you can destroy things fairly readily, but Paul Atreides winds up conquering the Empire because generations before, some scientists and engineers inadvertently created the conditions that made it possible.
Dune taught me to look for root causes.
And once you start doing that, it’s very difficult to stop.