Posted by: Mish | March 15, 2009

Book of Frank Herbert

The possibilities and probabilities explored through the telescope of science-fiction are infinite. Sometimes, they’re a little too close for comfort. But that’s one of the great things about this particular literature of ideas, if not its reason to exist. In his essay-like afterword, “Listening to the Left Hand”, Frank Herbert discusses the law of relativity and change, absolutes, perception and false limits, consensus reality, group behavior, linear habits, successful patterns unexpectedly failing, and futurism. He quotes Sören Kierkegaard with, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Published in 1973, the Book of Frank Herbert is a collection of Herbert’s ten favorite short stories. Through them, he explores the common questions and speculations about mankind, technology, and the future. Listed more or less in the order of how much I liked them:

“Passage for Piano”: Moving can be difficult, more so when that means leaving behind bits and pieces of lives. The thought of leaving what he cherishes the most is fatal for a 12 year old prodigy. This piece shows how important music can be for an individual and a colony.

“Occupation Force”: A four-page short about aliens coming to earth for a colonial program.

“The Gone Dogs”: Scientists work to save man’s best friend from a lethal outbreak. “Each man kills the thing he loves most.”

“Operation Syndrome”: It’s a race against the clock as Dr. Ladde fights against the Scramble Syndrome epidemic, before he loses grasp on his own sanity. This is one of those stories about tools and technology falling into the wrong hands.

“Gambling Device”: Newlyweds find themselves in a predicament where the only way to leave is by beating a machine at its own game.

“Seed Stock”: With thinning food supplies, a colony’s only hope of survival lies in the hands of a fisherman.

“The Nothing”: Prescients are decreasing and with them a forecast of the future. Just how much control does one have over life?

“Looking for Something?”: Bureaucrats will go to great lengths to maintain control, or they may use something as simple as hypnotism.

“Encounter in a Lonely Place”: Extrasensory perception can be a neat parlor trick or a subject scientists wish to study, but the cost for the bearer can be heavy.

“Rat Race”: The tables are turned on scientists in this little whodunnit.

While digging through one of the many boxes of books a friend has stowed away, I came across the Book of Frank Herbert, along with several other sci-fi books that now reside on my bookshelf. Although I have a few Dune books and have seen the movies, up until this anthology I haven’t read any Frank Herbert. Since December (I think), I’ve been reading a story here and there as an in between. Overall, the anthology was good, even if it didn’t truly grab my interest, and it adds 10 stories to the 100 Shots of Short Challenge. It didn’t totally turn me off from Herbert’s writing and I might eventually get to Dune.

“We put out our own Warfarin (rat poison), unaware of lethal consequences and forgetful of where we’ve hidden it.” ~Frank Herbert


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