Friday, April 04, 2008

Ecology of Dune

SciFi Weekly reports that Frank Herbert's novel Dune is slated to be made into a movie once again, this time by Peter Berg, director of The Kingdom. According to SciFi, the move is still in the early planning stages:
The Berg Dune is now seeking writers, with the producers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning book.

New Amsterdam's Richard Rubenstein, who produced SCI FI's Dune and its sequel, Children of Dune, is also producing alongside Sarah Aubrey of Film 44, Berg's production banner. John Harrison and Mike Messina executive-produce.
It will be interesting to see what approach Berg will take to the movie. I think it's pretty safe to assume that it will have a very different feel from the 1984 version directed by David Lynch.

In this YouTube video of an interview that Herbert gave about the time the Lynch movie was released, he talks about charismatic leaders, and how the desert planet Arrakis (aka Dune) with it's highly desirable "spice" reflects some of the limitations of Earth's environment: valuable oil, and limited clean air and water, and problems with overpopulation.

One of the things I find fascinating about the Dune series is that the planet itself plays such an important role in the story. The Fremen have learned to live in the harsh landscape of Arrakis, yet dream of a future in which careful weather control will turn the desert green. There is a catch, of course. Arrakis is the only source of the drug melange, or "spice", which is both essential for intersteller navigation and is used by the wealthy to extend their lifespans. Melange is a byproduct of the life cycle of the great sandworms, which both created the desert and require the arid climate for their survival. A green Arrakis is one without sandworms - and without the spice.

Herbert based Arrakis on real desert ecology, having been inspired by the sand dunes along the Oregon coast. In a 1969 interview with Cal State Fullerton English professor Willis McNelly, he talked about his research that lead to the novel:

FH: [. . .] Sand dunes are like waves in a large body of water; they just are slower. And the people treating them as fluid learn to control them.

WM: Fluid mechanics, in other words.

FH: That’s it. Fluid mechanics, with sand. And the whole idea fascinated me, so I started researching sand dunes and of course from sand dunes it’s a logical idea to go into a desert. The way I accumulated data is I start building file folders and before long I saw that I had far to much for an article and far too much for a story, for a short story. So, I didn’t know really what I had but I had an enormous amount of data and avenues shooting off at all angles to gather more. And I was following them … I can’t read the dictionary, you know; I can’t go look up a word…

WM: (Laughter)

FH: I get stopped by everything else on the opposite page. But … so, I started accumulating these file folders, which I’ll show you later, and as a result, I finally saw that I had something enormously interesting going for me about the ecology of deserts, and it was, for a science fiction writer anyway, it was an easy step from that to think: What if I had an entire planet that was a desert? During my studies of deserts, of course, and previous studies of religions, we all know that many religions began in a desert atmosphere, so I decided to put the two together because I don’t think that any one story should have any one thread. I build on a layer technique, and of course putting in religion and religious ideas you can play one against the other. [. . . ]

Read the whole interview for more about Herbert's thoughts on ecology and the effect of humans on the environment, feudalism, religion, his writing process and more.

I think that wars fought over the control of rare commodities and changes in the environment are themes that are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. However, I suspect the new movie version is more likely to be an action thriller with lots of explosions than a thoughtful allegory of our dependence on oil and Earth's changing climate. Actually, in my ideal version it would be both!

(Herbert video via The World in a Satin Bag; Image is a photo of Oregon Dunes by Artbandito on flickr)

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1 comment:

  1. Say what?

    Q - “fluid mechanics?”

    A - “That’s it. Fluid mechanics, with sand.”


    Here I thought I was watching a facsimile of a great smokey dragon (Wheeler)!

    Only to find out that the whole dad-gummed movie can be reduced to the some sick-slick surface chemistry difference between drag and velocity changes from a Newtonian quadratic, to a viscous linear flow.

    That ruins if for me. I’m done with Dune. Spice or no spice.

    I’m sure that Peter Jackson wouldn’t have directed it that way!



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