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Destination: Void by Frank Herbert
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Destination: Void (original 1966; edition 1978)

by Frank Herbert

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8451110,659 (3.24)16
Member:melonbrawl
Title:Destination: Void
Authors:Frank Herbert
Info:Boston : Gregg Press, 1981, c1978.
Collections:Your library, Fiction
Rating:***
Tags:2012

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Destination: Void by Frank Herbert (1966)

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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
This book crushed my skull and made my brain meats ooze out of my nose hole. The plot hinges, ostensibly, on a project to create artificial consciousness, but what it really becomes is a discussion and deconstruction of what IS consciousness. Really enjoyable and thought provoking, both as a science fiction adventure and as a novel of ideas. ( )
  benjamin.duffy | Jul 28, 2013 |
At the age of fourteen, Destination: Void (the revised edition published in 1978) was mystifying to me -- at least that's the way I'd of probably described it then. I knew as much about computers or artificial intelligence as whatever I'd seen in either the "cutting-edge" computer flick of the time, War Games (1983), or in the older, but what still seems cutting-edge to me even today, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The second time I read Destination: Void, soon after The Matrix (1999) had come out, I thought Herbert was ahead of his time (especially considering the original version was published in 1966) as so much of what I saw on the screen in The Matrix seemed so familiar from the world Frank Herbert built in Destination: Void; namely, the physical connections and intertwining he envisioned between hi-tech, futuristic computer gadgetry and human flesh. Herbert's novel inhabited a cold detached world where expendable clones explored space in a rigged experiment, "Project Consciousness," aboard a spacecraft, the Earthling, automated by shutdown-prone, highly problematic OMCs ("organic mental cores"): Euphemism for "baby brains" that had been extracted, allegedly, from only "terminal cases." Potential bioethics snafus and the moral complications of cloning were being conceptualized in depth by Herbert and other science fictionists of his day a good thirty years before Dolly made cloned sheep international news.

Today, having recently encountered the book at a second hand shop, I grabbed it and read it with great interest again, curious to see how the dense novel of ideas had evolved in my perception the third time around, almost three decades since first reading it, and nearly a half-century since it's publication.

My appreciation for the book's title has never waned, steeped as it is in nihilism. At fourteen, I didn't have enough life experience, certainly not enough crushing disappointment, to feel the weight of that desperate word, "nihilism," but I knew it loomed mysterious, possibly romantic and definitely dark, in my imagination. Despite the book's title, Herbert was rarely a nihilist in his philosophy or writing (excepting his story, "The Nothing," and bitter novel, The White Plague) or eclectic life experiences, be it journalist, photographer, author, ecologist. Several of his book's titles, in fact, were suggestive of deeper, spiritual leanings, denoting as they did some vast Ineffable that might exist out there, somewhere, in the Cosmos, be it with his SF novels, The Godmakers and The Heaven Makers, or in his lone but no less speculative novel that wasn't sci-fi, the heart wrenching, Soul Catcher*.

The OMCs, those fragile organic mental cores, the literal brains of the Earthling, hardwired into the ship's computer, soon shorted out and died, as they were designed to die, poor babies. Could the Earthling's computer, then, first help its crew create an artificial OMC to monitor and maintain vital drives it wasn't plugged into, and do so in time before those deactivated drives made the Earthling go kaput? Maybe, but probably not. Because the mission's managers (none of whom were clones) who'd hatched their draconian, A.I. enterprise, as the suspect "Project Consciousness" for no doubt nefarious designs that exceeded the expressed for outcome of some supposed artificial consciousness, knew damn well that the crew lacked the skills, resources, and most importantly time necessary for success in such an impromptu, crash-course in creating an A.I. aboard a spaceship swiftly hurtling toward oblivion. Failure was their only option. Their destination? Destruction. And yet a fate hardly as bad as occupying some nebulous sounding locale known only as "Void".

But (and there's always a big "but" in what appears at first blush to be hopeless, sci-fi crisis-scenarios in hard sci-fi), what the scientists back on Earth couldn't have possibly foreseen, was the full extent and range of the Earthling's computer's intuitive capacity. Yes, the reader needs to suspend disbelief at this point, but this reader didn't mind. For no one could have hypothesized that the Earthling's computer, in the process of assisting the crew as they attempted to create an artificial intelligence, an OMC, to salvage their mission and save their lives, would so completely identify with the Earthling's chaplain/psychiatrist, Raja Flattery, it would create for itself instead an artificial faith -- and in so doing become a self-styled Roman Catholic hellbent on ultimately "converting" the crew (most of them in deep hibernation), who'd be awakened, theoretically, should the crew on deck discover a new planetary Eden (or maybe an unearthly Hell) to colonize.

Arthur C. Clarke's and Stanley Kubrick's computer, Hal, the iconic IBM 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey infamy (published two years after Destination: Void), was a pussycat-computer next to the megalomaniacal nut job the Earthling's computer became. A devout computer-of-the-cloth that founded its own hybrid cult based on Raja Flattery's Catholicism, and enmeshed its own strange circuitry with stranger icons it misunderstood, per its idiosyncratic, literal divining of Raja Flattery's prayers and expressive faith, so that by the end of the story it demanded of the unbelieving, apostate crew, that they do something preposterous, something dreadful, something insane ... or else!

Destination: Void was originally published in 1965 as "Do I Sleep or Wake" in Galaxy magazine. The novel would later serve as the prequel for Herbert's lesser known series, "The Pandora Trilogy," co-authored with Bill Ransom, in which they explored the long lasting consequences of a rogue computer that almost, but not quite, went Jim Jones on the crew of the ship it was supposed to protect and serve. Comprising the trilogy were The Jesus Incident (1979, in which Jesus Christ himself makes a cameo appearance on a planet not named Earth), The Lazarus Effect (1983), and The Ascension Factor (1988), the latter published posthumously, two years after Frank Herbert's death. I recommend them all, especially to those interested in science fiction that's fascinatingly infused with spiritual themes and religious imagery.

~~~~~

* Prior to Soul Catcher's publication, several of its readers pleaded with Frank Herbert to change its devastating ending. But Herbert refused. ( )
11 vote EnriqueFreeque | Jul 21, 2012 |
New comment about this novel added at www.facebook.com/FrankHerbertTheWorks

Comment begins:

The first time I read DESTINATION: VOID I was underwhelmed, for most of the same reasons I've just read in these panning reviews of the book at LibraryThing. However, the more I read and studied and contemplated Herbert's writing as a whole and the thinking that informed it, the more I came to appreciate this book. I now think DESTINATION: VOID ranks among his two or three best novels. I admit it's not the first Herbert book that anyone should read, but placed in its proper context it begins to make a great deal more sense, and even the characters who seemed so flat and lifeless on first reading become more interesting in retrospect . . . ( )
  BR_Bogle | May 5, 2012 |
It is very funny to read science fiction books written 50 years ago. All the futuristic stuff it is put there looks really vintage. It's an exciting displacement effect. For this one however, the futuristic stuff is made only of difficult words of which the author clearly ignores the meaning, who are use to embellish otherwise meaningless dialogues. A real shame. With a plot like this, there were much better ways to write the book, but Herbert managed to make it so useless and boring that the challenge is to keep reading and finishing it. I lost the challenge! ( )
  Peppuzzo | Oct 13, 2011 |
A 1966 novel about colonists on their way to the star Tau Ceti. For reasons that I'm still not remotely clear on (despite the fact that it's the main focus of the book), their ship needs to be controlled directly by a conscious mind, so it's equipped with disembodied human brains trained since birth to do the job. As the story begins, though, all three brains have apparently gone insane and died, and the crew realize that if their mission is to continue they must do the supposedly impossible and create a conscious computer.

Despite the hefty dose of suspension-of-disbelief all this requires, there is a lot of potential in this premise. If the mystery of what drove the brains crazy and the suspense of whether the mission will succeed or fail isn't enough, there's also the fact that some of the crewmembers are clearly keeping secrets from the others, not to mention the distinct possibility that the people behind the mission have some hidden agenda and that all is not as it seems. Unfortunately, rather than anything that takes advantage of those pretty good plot hooks, we mostly get lots of tedious technobabble and pretentious discussions about the nature of consciousness.... which, actually, I would have found interesting, if they weren't completely incoherent and nonsensical. In the end, the whole thing gives the distinct impression of having been inspired by a bunch of ill-informed dorm room stoners deep in the heart of the sixties sitting around talking about, like, really cosmic things, man!

I already have the sequels to this novel. I think I might just ditch them. ( )
1 vote bragan | May 24, 2011 |
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Frank Herbertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Craddock, AllanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was the fifth clone ship to go out from Moonbase on Project Consciousness and he leaned forward to watch it carefully as his duty demanded.
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