In Frank Herbert’s great classic Dune series the known universe is vast, with millions (billions?) of inhabited planets, but they are all inhabited by humans, descendants of and variations on the original Terrans – the prototype: us. The same author’s Dosadi universe is totally different. Here various sentient species have encountered each other and reached an accord. the Con Sentiency, a kind of United Sentients, by which they manage to live, if not together, then side by side, in peace. (Unlike the all-human – all-too-human! – Dune universe, which is continually riven by wars in which whole planets are destroyed.)
What makes this peaceful co-existence possible – and essential – is the existence of “jumpdoors”, instant teleportation from any part of the universe to any other part. These jumpdoors are operated by “Calebans”, who introduced them to the universe and are the only ones who know how they work. But the Calebans – there were never more than a few of them – are disappearing. Or “being disappeared”. Either way, there is only one left, and she … What is a Caleban, you may be wondering.
Frank Herbert had an imagination quite out of this world, and this is perhaps his weirdest whim. The one Caleban left is called Fanny Mae – seriously – and she is the manifestation of a star – a sun. And what she manifests as is an enormous beach ball.
There, I’ve said it.
But that is not all. This Caleban is under contract to the richest woman in the universe, a real bitch called Mliss Abnethe, a contract it – I mean she – will not, cannot, break, although Mliss Abnethe is having her gradually flogged – yes, flogged – to death.
Enter Jorj X. McKie, of BuSab, the interstellar Bureau of Sabotage. The normal function of this bureau (as I understand it) is to sabotage any attempts to hog power and upset the balance of power between sentient species.
He has a problem even communicating with the intangible (but floggable?) Fanny Mae, whose weird English betrays utterly alien thought forms. And when she dies – and she can take perhaps ten more floggings before what she calls “discontinuity” sets in – not only will there be no more jumpdoors, but all who have ever used one will die on the spot. Most of the population of the universe.
Needless to say, Jorj manages to save the day, because in the sequel, The Dosadi Experiment, Fanny Mae “owes him” and she pays off the debt.
Whipping Star is a like long short story or novella in that it has no chapter divisions, no sub-plots. The Dosadi Experiment is, on the contrary, a full-length novel and at the head of each chapter is a thought-provoking “quotation” just as there is throughout the Dune series. Can I pause a moment here to quote a couple of them? (Remember this novel was published in 1977.)
Does a populace have informed consent when a ruling minority acts in secret to ignite a war, doing this to justify the existence of the minority’s military forces?
Does a population have informed consent when that population is not taught the inner workings of its monetary system, and then is drawn, all unknowing, into economic adventurism?
Communal/managed economies have always been more destructive of their societies than those driven by greed. This is what Dosadi says: Greed sets its own limits, is self-regulating.
In The Dosadi Experiment, the Gowachin, a highly secretive frog-like people, have set up a prison planet which has been rendered inaccessible to the rest of the universe by a Caleban. On this planet – which has now been in existence for many generations – 850 million beings are imprisoned in an area of only 40 square kilometres. An enormous concentration camp. Outside this area, the rest of the planet is empty apart from a few escapees surviving as best they can.
And the purpose of this planet, this experiment? You will see when you read it, because I’m in a hury and this post has gone on long enough. Suffice it to say that when word of the atrocity comes to BuSab it is Jorj X. McKie who travels to Dosadi (teleported there by Fanny Mae); that he meets the love of his life; and that the experiments involve, among other things, the exchange of bodies, bestowing virtual immortality on the Gowachin movers and shakers.
I first read these two books some years ago and have just re-read them. I enjoyed them even more the second time, and that is saying something.