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Frank Herbert "Destination: Void"


Frank Herbert
"Destination: Void" (nv)

(also as "Do I Wake Or Dream?")
(Voidship Earthling series)
© Galaxy, Aug 1965
book: Berkley /Putnam, 1966
--/ third place sf novel
--/ style award
--/ idea award

This is one of these Frank Herbert novels, where a simple summary of the plot won't do. It's a layered cake of ideas and a scientific extrapolation on a genius level.

This Wikipedia article does a pretty good job in filling us in on the plot:
"In the future, humankind has tried to develop artificial intelligence, succeeding only once, and then disastrously. The project has been moved to the moon, where the scientists have cloned themselves. These clones are kept isolated and raised to believe that they are the crew of a spaceship that will colonize another planet. The spaceship will be multi-generational, needing only a crew of six, and carrying thousands of other clones in hibernation.

The clone crew is really just a caretaker: the ship is controlled by disembodied human brains (known by the euphemism "Organic Mental Cores") that run the complex operations of the vessel and keep it moving in space. But the brain dies, and when the backup is awakened, it dies as well. After the second backup fails, the crew is faced with a choice: turn around, or build the computer systems that will enable the ship to continue. Their orders from the moon base are to continue at all costs; if they turn back, they will be destroyed. As the crew deals with their situation, they come to understand the dilemma they’re in: build an artificial intelligence to carry on the mission, or die"

Deeply psychological and strangely fragile environment, in which scientists operate in this book, makes this book endlessly fascinating to read. Brilliance is forced to appear out of necessity, and scientific breakthroughs emerge out of sheer fear and intimidation. You could've called this novel "Under Pressure", if Herbert would've not used such title already. As it happens, this writer is best in psychological power games, and revels in "geniuses in distress" situations.

The novel will tax you and strain you (some discussions may get too prolonged and obtuse), but it will also entertain. Mind-blowing dialog discusses the nature of consciousness while the action unfolds at a lively pace. Keeping in mind the year of publication, the discussion about computers is still fresh and compelling.
There is also the notion of faked journey and staged conspiracy, which sheds a pall over the whole narrative, like a haunted deep note, sounding in a solemn halls of doomed intelligence.
review: 10-Jul-07 (read in 1998)

(artwork copyright John Berkey)


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Blogger CrowKing said...

I am a huge Frank Herbert fan, and was thrilled to find a book by him that I had never read before. This novel does have an awesome concept and a classic science fiction ending that will blow your mind a little. The problem with this book is that it is obviously one of his earliest novels and is really clumsily written. I think that this was written before Herbert was able to really edit himself. The dialogue is alternatively awesome and repetitive. The equation in the novel for the scientists mathematical expression of consciousness is also practically a slap in the face. This is far from his best work and you should only read this if you are a truly hardcore fan. Your time would be better spent reading the the Lazurus effect or just about anything else by this author.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Good point, CrowKing, thanks

4:46 PM  
Blogger Johnny Appleseed said...

Reading The Lazarus Effect may lead you to wonder about the first book in the series that you missed due to CrowKing telling you that this book sucks.

It doesnt.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Lily said...

As much as I love the Dune books, Herbert wrote many, many more that are just as fascinating. Destination:Void and the 3 novels that followed, written with Bill Ransom are my personal favourites, though. Yes, Lazarus Effect is great, but The Jesus Incident is the 1 I really love, and is definately worth reading. I just wish it were easier to find it amd the other non-Dune novels. My Lazarus Effect is in about six pieces, and I haven't had any luck finding Jesus Incident.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the bad comments. I read only the french translation a long time ago so I cannot say about the style. But I still remember very well the story and the subject. For me this book is highly philosophical about the notion of consciousness: would a clone or a computer have a consciousness ? This question is still very valid when you want to think about the human condition.

2:24 AM  

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