September 14th, 2015 by Mike Fulton
Posted in News & Announcements

Sci-Fi readers, I have a bit of a problem on my hands. I first read Frank Herbert‘s classic “Dune” way back in the late summer of 1979. I loved it and have read it again a couple of times. The last time, though, was probably 20 years ago.

Well, I started reading it again. I’m about 20% in and I’ve noticed some things I don’t think I did before. Or maybe it just seems to make a bigger difference this time around.

The story is showing its age. There are just too many places where the lack of some technology almost makes it seem like the story is taking place in the past instead of the far future.

Since I know how it turns out, I don’t think it’s going to be a fatal problem, but so far, quite a lot of the story seems to be dependent on some rather glaring failures to understand existing technology or predict future technology. I find myself tripping over this more this time around than before.

No Computers?

Dune is set in a distant future where artificial intelligence has been banned because of past problems. This ban apparently extends to just about any sort of computing device, although there are numerous examples of devices which almost certainly have to be using embedded processors.

Herbert offers up the concept of the “Mentat” as sort of a specially trained human computer but the emphasis is entirely on applied logic and observation. The more mundane tasks of a computer, like number crunching or database operations, are ignored and Herbert never explains or demonstrates how such a Mentat would perform such tasks. To be fair, there never is there any significant claim that they actually do, just the vague idea that a Mentat does what computers used to do.

Dune was written by Herbert in the early 60’s when computers were still magical and mysterious to most people. To a typical person of that era, banning a “machine that thinks like a man” would seem to be the same thing as banning any computer at all.

Fifty years later it’s much more clear that the gap between general computing and artificial intelligence, that is to say, true machine sentience, is still pretty darn big.

Furthermore, like most people in the early 60’s, Herbert clearly had no clue how much smaller computers would get to be, nor how they would pervade everyone’s daily lives today.

Imagine a society more advanced and even more dependent on computers and computing devices than we already are. Now imagine them giving them up completely, even though giving up on the idea of artificial intelligence doesn’t really require it. And on top of that, we’re expected to believe this society has interstellar travel and a civilization spread across the Galaxy all without computers of any kind?

The bottom line is, the complete lack of any obvious computing devices in Dune stands out as far more implausible than just about anything else in the entire story.

It’s such a glaring problem, in fact, that when Herbert’s son Brian took over the Dune series several years ago, he wrote a trilogy attempting to explain the whole thing.

No Satellites?

A related issue is how many of the problems they face on Arrakis would have all but disappeared if they had a weather satellite or two, and maybe some GPS. The lack is explained as a combination of extreme cost and politics. Problem is, it’s just hard to accept.

First of all, a GPS array would be one of the first things you put into place when colonizing a new planet. It’s just too darn useful. This is obvious now, of course, but not so much when Herbert wrote the book in the early 60’s.

And, given that these days you could probably build a decent weather satellite in your garage and get it launched with a modest Kickstarter campaign, it’s hard to imagine it was really so difficult or impossible. Especially since they made references to having their own spacecraft.

Ornithopters? Seriously?

And Ornithopters instead of helicopters or variable wing aircraft? Why? Just… why?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Dune, but it just hasn’t aged well.

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March 12th, 2011 by Mike Fulton
Posted in News & Announcements

It’s recently occurred to me that we should welcome submissions from guest bloggers. So if you think you’ve got something interesting to say, let us know! Ideally, you’re an author, or work for a publisher in some capacity, or maybe you’ve got a lot of experience working at a bookstore. But even if you’re just a long-time fan of reading, we welcome your input.

If you’re interested, please visit our contact page and send us a message telling us what you would like to talk about. We cannot guarantee that all submissions will be acceptable, but if your idea seems like it would be suitable, and you’re good at expressing yourself, we’ll work with you to get it going! In fact I already talked to someone, and they were telling me about all this information that they had researched and accumulated on natural medicine and its benefits over conventional medicine. It was very informative and there is a good chance we will see some of it here soon! In the meantime if you would like a good online source of information on the subject, you can review medicinal plants here.

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