Monday, February 20, 2006

10. The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert

The Dosadi Experiment pictureThis is the second book taking place in Herbert's Con-Sentiency world and a sequel of sorts to Whipping Star. It's a universe where planets and races have been united by jumpdoors. The BuSab (Bureau of Sabotage) exists to ensure that governments never get so powerful that they can ruin society. Whipping Star dealt with the Calebans, the mysterious creatures who provide the jumpdoors for humans.

This one has the same hero, Frank X. McKie, BuSab Agent Extraordinaire. This time, through the convoluted laws of the Gowatchin, these frog-like creatures, he is sent to investigate the hidden planet Dosadi. It is surrounded by a forcefield and unknown to the rest of the universe. Dosadi is inhabited by two species, the humans and the Gowatchin and none of them know that they are actually part of some experiment. They are the descendants of people who chose to escape whatever problems they had, have their memories erased and had themselves marooned on Dosadi. The planet is deliberately brutal and the descendants are in a constant state of war and survival, making them brutal and tough. McKie's job is to go to Dosadi, figure out what the point of the experiment was and whether the Gowatchin who are behind it should just destroy the planet rather than let the violent Dosadi people loose in the rest of the universe.

It's a very interesting idea and the first few chapters of McKie on the planet are really cool, especially when he quickly realizes that all his experience, skills and equipment are useless against this supremely aggressive and adaptable society. Unfortunately, the book is pretty slow going, for several reasons. Though McKie's character is fleshed out much more than Whipping Star (and Herbert himself admits that that book was more of a history than a story in the preface to Dosadi), it still spends a lot of time on abstract, large-scale political theory. There is a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. I really wanted to see Dosadi, to understand how the planet worked, to interact with these tough people. But we got precious little of the streets and a lot of people in power strategizing in a complex game, whose ends and beginnings the reader has very little notion. By the end, the competition and conflicts are so complicated and abstract, and connected to races and worlds and histories with which I really had no connection, that I just didn't care. I felt only a minor elation at the protagonist's victory at the end and had no conceptual idea of why his victory was so important to the universe Herbert has created.

There is a lot of political philosophy here, ideas about power and the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. Some of it is kind of interesting, but its not enough. It all left me feeling kind of tired and annoyed. Too bad, because it was part of a pretty good paperback care pacakge for my birthday. Well, I was wise to save Wizard for the end.


WeSailFurther said...

Would you recommend this as a book for a HS political science class? I am teaching AP Politics & Govt this semester and was thinking of a novel.

And absolutely do NOT waste your time on Fatherland. That book was the most/biggest/grandest bust I have ever read. I felt robbed when I got done.

OlmanFeelyus said...

I definitely wouldn't. It never gets deep enough and it's boring. There are plenty of other good novels that touch on these issues.

I just finished Fatherland and I quite liked it. I'll post that blog next, so hold off!

Unknown said...

I have never fully dug Frank Herbert's oeuvre. There is just something about the style of his writing that I don't feel. Also, like your comment on this book reflects, I've always felt that he has amazing ideas but never fully realizes their potential.

Are there more books in this series?