23 March 2010

"Blawg Reviews. He's welcome to them."

Kevin Thompson, the reigning Blawg Review of the Year award winner, hosts this week's edition of the carnival of legal blogging at his Cyberlaw Central blog. The science fiction-minded Thompson honors his favorite science fiction novel, Frank Herbert's Dune in Blawg Review #256. He writes:
[T]he novel is an amazing piece of literature. Most sci fi novels before Dune had one or two major ideas per book, but Dune emerged fully formed with layers upon layer of complexity, with deep ideas of religion, politics, the messiah complex, revenge, prophecy, technology, and ecology, to name just a few. I hope the planned film remake that keeps getting postponed will do the book justice.

Dune is often credited with raising awareness of our planet as a living complex organism, and has also been credited with supporting the movement now known as Earth Day. March 22, 2010 is also World Water Day, which makes Dune particularly relevant. On Arrakis, water is the most precious resource. The culture of Arrakis is based around the lack of water, so much so that spitting is a sign of respect (a gift of the body’s water) and when the main character, Paul Atreides, cries at a funeral people are amazed that he is giving water to the dead.

It took Herbert six years of research and writing to create the complex plot and worlds of Dune. The story is set 20,000 years ahead of our time, after an anti-technology jihad and the diaspora of mankind across the galaxy. It’s set mainly on the planet Arrakis, the desert planet which is the only source in the universe of the spice Melange. Melange is the source of power in the universe, as the Spacing Guild’s navigators rely on the spice to navigate between worlds, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood require it for their rituals, and the rest of the universe is addicted to it for its life-extending powers.


Dune is an amazingly layered story that rewards a careful reader, or better yet a re-reading. Personally, I’ve re-read Dune once a year ever since I first had my mind blown upon first reading it.
I re-read the series myself from time-to-time and it's a considerable undertaking (to Herbert's original six Dune novels have been added a number of prequels and sequels written by his son and a co-author) but one which invariably rewards. At this point, I have difficulty recalling how I came across the books in the first place all those years ago; it's entirely possible that playing the old Avalon Hill Dune game was the first I knew of this engrossing saga. I recall being shocked at the difference in tone between the first novel, with its story of Paul Atreides' heroism, and the second, Dune Messiah, which jumps ahead several years from the first and tells how Paul's ideals have become corrupted by the power concentrated in his hands by his control of Arrakis and by the scale of the responsibility he has assumed.

Another recurring theme in the Dune stories may have some bearing on this week's Blawg Review and the processes of online life more generally. In a number of contexts, various characters and groups in the novels seek access to a supraconscious form of memory. The Bene Gesserit sisterhood is able to access "other memory" — the lifetimes of memories of all of their female ancestors (as well as those other women with whom they choose to share memories). Once accessed, these other memories are not static recollections but rather living consciousnesses within their own, to whom a Bene Gesserit may turn for counsel. By the time the events of Dune begin, the sisterhood has sought for centuries to create a "Kwisatz Haderach", a male Bene Gesserit who, unlike the sisters, will be able to access all other memories including those of male ancestors. The only character present in all of the (original) novels is Duncan Idaho, a soldier and trusted confidant of the Atreides family; dozens of times over centuries, Idaho is killed and reborn as a ghola — a living being copied from the cells of a dead one — and grows beyond himself through the awakening of the memories of his predecessors, essentially allowing him to live forever. At the end of the final novel, Chapterhouse: Dune, a pair of enignmatic enemies who represent the greatest threat to humanity recognize the ghola Idaho as a threat to them; the final lines of that book are spoken by one of the pair, dismissively but with an undercurrent of apprehension: "Gholas. He's welcome to them."

Where once we were isolated legal students, practitioners, and academics who could share our thoughts only with those in proximity, blogging and social media have turned us all into a kind of "other memory" for one another. The knowledge, experience, and insight we are able to access here, within our ever-expanding networks of colleagues and friends, colleagues-of-colleagues, friends-of-friends, is nothing short of amazing. By participating, we are able to give and receive and grow beyond ourselves while allowing others to grow as well. Thanks to our tools, these memories need not fade or become inaccessible, but we should always keep in mind that tools do not create — we do.

Thompson's Blawg Review #256 is, like the Dune novels which inspired it, amazingly-layered. If any doubted whether he would be the man to beat for Blawg Review of the Year honors this time around, this edition of the carnival of legal blogging will put those doubts to rest. Amongst the many highlights of this issue are considerations of the law of environmentalism, appreciations of "the strong women of the legal blogosphere", and thoughts on representing unpopular clients.

Lance Godard will host next week's Blawg Review #257 at his 22 Tweets blog. If this week's lengthy Blawg Review overwhelmed you, come back next Monday; twenty-two tweets comes to just 3,080 characters.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Thanks, Colin! The only reason I won Blawg Review of the Year is they made you ineligible for winning 4 years in a row. I appreciate your kind words, and I especially enjoy your weekly Round Tuits that certainly are more work than my Blawg Review.