Now what did he really mean by that? Frank Herbert and The Tactful Saboteur

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Strange story to pick. Strange story full stop. I was intrigued by it as a kid, obviously because I couldn't remotely figure out what was going on, so it had an air of mystery. Then I grew up, and even though re-reading did elucidate somewhat, it still seemed to have a core of inexplicability, and I got the feeling it was all smoke and mirrors, signifying nothing. Also the bureau of sabotage seemed to have an uncomfortable quasi-libertarian feel; and finally I realised it was by the guy responsible for Dune, and anyone who has delved any distance into that universe must realise that there is a certain air of nutjobbery to his writing.

Still I thought you did a great job of explaining some of the mysteries of the story - I liked Ken's notion of a spreadsheet or flowchart for it - and my sympathies towards the story, and indeed to Frank Herbert himself, are somewhat re-warmed.

ledge, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 22:17 (thirteen years ago) link

reading some plot summaries for some of herbert's other novels really reinforces the nutjob feeling.

ledge, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 22:45 (thirteen years ago) link

Where can I find this story? I've read no Herbert yet, but I do have Dune and the Jesus Incident floating around one of the teetering piles somewhere.

James Morrison, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 00:47 (thirteen years ago) link

Anthologies it's in:

I have it in the rather enjoyable Seven Trips through Time and Space edited by the rather enjoyably named Groff Conklin.

ledge, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 08:14 (thirteen years ago) link

after having read it about 5 times in two weeks i'm only just NOW realizing some things about it, like how incredibly sexual the meeting between mckie and bolin is

the exact mechanics of bolin's calculations as saboteur - i.e. what he expected mckie to do in the courtroom vs what he actually does - remain a bit opaque to me

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 10:24 (thirteen years ago) link is a good (uk-based) place to source these things

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 11:04 (thirteen years ago) link

still copies of 'the worlds of frank herbert' for 0.01p plus postage on amazon last i checked

tracer have you read whipping star yet it is fantastic

thomp, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 13:00 (thirteen years ago) link

although the sequel, 'the dosadi experiment', is godawful

thomp, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 13:01 (thirteen years ago) link

not yet, but yeah i can't wait to get mentally defeated by the gowachin criminal code

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 13:47 (thirteen years ago) link

i think the busab stuff is the opposite of libertarian -- "in lieu of red tape"!

the dosadi experiment has an even MORE wtf court-drama section -- i totally hearted it as a kid, it has a clustervck of interesting ideas, and it only now occurs to me is kind of an answer-record to delany's "[trouble on] triton: an ambiguous heterotopia" (which is much MORE libertarian in aspect)... plus d00d the GOWACHIN! and their LEGAL SYSTEM! (doesn't feature in whipping star)

re the sexual tension, haha, yeah, panthor bolin TOTALLY sez to mckie, "so, d00d, wanna do it?"

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 15:14 (thirteen years ago) link

bildoon-bolin's calculation

i: mckie would turn up and confront bolin
ii: mckie would attempt sabotage (can't help himself) but if not, any small argument in favour of the BuSab Remit = attempt to sabotage the Tax Watchers, which kickstarts the hearing
iii: hearing = big enough to count as a grade A sabotage, bolin becomes head of BuSab

BUT on arrival it turns out mckie has sabbed clifton webb (<-- call him by his name) so is obv the coming head of BuSab

iiia: better and better, since mckie will probbly try and sab the courtroom, amping up the injunction and punishment of BuSab by Dooley, and making Bildoon-Bolin's sabotage grade A double-plus

what mckie instead does is sabotage the BuSab defence strategy, opening up the hearing into an exchange of confidentialities -- which (by dint of sabotage) increase public trust (if not exactly involvement) in the wheels of government

(as i think i noted on the prog, the weirdest element in this whole story -- th root of "what's at stake" -- is it turns out NO ONE ostage thinks that it's a bad idea for the pan spechi to be the next head of BuSab, so the effect of the sabotage is to enact the full public inquiry ANYWAY, viz "slow the wheels of government" even when no one in govt doubts the wisdom of the development)

given the crappiness of NEL publications, i do sometimes wonder if there's like a bunch of lines actually missing from this edition of the story -- i love the way you can see into everyone's thoughts and STILL not actuall follow what's going on; i think herbert does this by deliberate elision of big-ass explanatory material -- and you really do feel something big's at stake, even tho you can't work out what... maybe the public inquiry will clear it up!

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 15:26 (thirteen years ago) link

It's idea of untrammeled government getting out of control, passing laws and creating departments without due concern for the consequences, that seems like a very libertarian fear. Agreed that libertarians would opt for reduced rather than restrained government though.

"McKie wet his lips with his tongue." As opposed to...?

ledge, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 15:30 (thirteen years ago) link

the bit i don't follow -- which really feels like a line got omitted -- is when dooley sez "but if i'm not mistaken, mckie is saying there are TWO sabotages here not one" <--- i honestly can't work out where mckie says this clearly

(some of the difficulty is that it's NOT made very clear who knows what at any given stage about the two confidential items -- viz BuSab boss-swapping protocols and Pan Spechi sex-lives -- the reveals on both these are quite murky, and i think some of the leaps the quicker characters are making are based on them getting something we actually already know, but NOT saying "oh, i get it", just jumping straight to the leap)

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 15:34 (thirteen years ago) link

jesus christ not until this very moment did i realise the glaring parallel in this story, viz:

both BuSab and the Pan Spechi pass leadership from one person to the next via a mechanism whose inner workings remain murky to the world at large

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:10 (thirteen years ago) link

chosen btw partly bcz i wanted to big up whipping star and partly bcz i thought it might draw interesting ideas from ken, which indeed it did

one of the things that i think distinguished herbert from standard-issue SF libertarians (heinlein, niven) is that he was obsessed with the hidden social function of certain aspects of culture, ostensibly there for one reason, actually fulfilling another; he doesn't have the pea-brained rational-choice-theory monomania of some (most?) libertarians, and is interested in unintended consequences (good) as well as unintended consequences (bad) -- viz if you remove bureaucracy (as per anti-big-government propaganda) you'll get the following unintended bad consequences; what if you ritualised the disruption of bureaucracy? what might be the good consequences?

x-post yes! i thought i said that last night? possibly it was the B of an A and B where i only got to the A --- the exchange of confidentialities is formally symmetric, that's why it's (allegedly) a good move that blin is to be the next boss

(but this is stated by mckie in utterly opaque politesse, presumably so he doesn't get blasted by bolin)

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:16 (thirteen years ago) link

haha herbert's like henry james if HJ couldn't write a well-formed sentence to save his life

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:18 (thirteen years ago) link

mark you did say it, but not quite so explicitly - i think there's something about this story that addles my brane so much that i can't think properly

Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:30 (thirteen years ago) link

i'm still chuckling over ledge's "wet his lips" pick-up

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:35 (thirteen years ago) link


Tracer Hand, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 17:15 (thirteen years ago) link

he pulled up a chairdog, sat down at the tabledog and lifted a tankard-dog to his thirsty lips

mark s, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 17:54 (thirteen years ago) link


thomp, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 19:46 (thirteen years ago) link

WAIT I have Whipping Star and Dosadi but not this one! Must find must find must...

I love The Dosadi Experiment.

Laurel, Friday, 16 May 2008 14:35 (thirteen years ago) link

heh i think that's the one mark was talking about, whith the "double ngative" theory of prosecutorial proof, where you not only have to prove that the defendant is guilty, but that his lawyer is innocent??? or something

Tracer Hand, Friday, 16 May 2008 14:45 (thirteen years ago) link

btw i apologize for the length of the reading this time around... it was hard to know where/how to cut

Tracer Hand, Friday, 16 May 2008 14:48 (thirteen years ago) link

whipping star amazes me bcz of how quickly herbert throws out all the unexplained alien conceits in it - "do you swear by your trunk sir" "why yes pesky human i do" "but do you swear by the EGG of your trunk sir?" "GODDAMN YOU PESKY HUMAN I CANNOT"

plus it has a great SF macguffin

dosadi i think suffers in that 'courtarenas' or whatever are a fun thing to read about in a couple pages offhand total in whipping star but far less so in whole scenes - or just in total lack of new ideas by comparison.

thomp, Saturday, 17 May 2008 19:35 (thirteen years ago) link

i think it has three really strong ideas that it essentially sets out then runs away from -- certainly it doesn't let them run into one another, just gestures at the idea of they're being explored (if he had explored them in full implication he'd have another dune-style trilogy-of-trilogies on his hands, of course)

1: the idea of the dosadi hyper-competitive sensibilities being secretly unleashed into a soft consentiency
2: the idea of the gender-swap -- (un)naturally this was the bit i wz most excitied by as a teenager
3: the court-arena stuff (a highly civilised and subtle judicial procedure built on a radically darwinian biology)

1&2 are what i'm calling the "answer-record" to triton (with the dosadi as the expansion of delany's "unlicensed zone")

mark s, Sunday, 18 May 2008 14:36 (thirteen years ago) link

1: the idea of the dosadi hyper-competitive sensibilities being secretly unleashed into a soft consentiency

I was v excited about this idea when I started Dosadi b/c of one moment in a Dune book where the old nurse is telling something to one of the Atreides (maybe Alia?) and her listener says, "My eyes are as blue as yours" and it seems like a non sequitur but really is a bunch of hyper-capable, you-dare-explain-my-heritage-to-me stuff packed together. Which had a strong appeal when I was 15.

Laurel, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 13:41 (thirteen years ago) link

i'm rereading dosadi (and loving it all over again): what slightly o-0s me is how much of its contrarian "see what happens" playfulness i have absorbed into my own politics (personal rather than who i vote for but even so)

mark s, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 21:39 (thirteen years ago) link

two months pass...

i think my problem was that "becoming Dosadi" completely failed to become convincing — there seemed to be nothing impossibly unique about the environment of it, it seemed so tame in its evocation of this supposed ultimate — a bit like 'the road' really ...

i am actually reviving this because it is the first slugs thread i could find and wanted to ask if tracer hand was still around

thomp, Thursday, 31 July 2008 16:12 (thirteen years ago) link

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