Pontifical Science Fiction: Katherine Kurtz, Andrew Greeley, and more

“When a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles,
based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed.”

–Pope Francis, Address at Independence Mall, Philadelphia

We’re still not tired of Papal selfies here at Sacred Earthlings, no sir.

The Pope’s visit to the northeastern United States is over, and things in the Northeast are getting back to normal. Of all the things that the Pope said while he was here, some of the most striking for those of us in the “cheap seats” were said during the inspiring off-book speech where he encouraged Catholics and listeners to realize that “love is in the little things” and “that it’s worth being a family.”

One of the things you may not have known about Pope Francis is that he reads widely, and that he’s a fan of Catholic science fiction, specifically 1907’s bombastic Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, as well as the more familiar-to-readers C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.

In honor of the successful completion of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, here is an extremely short (and by no means exhaustive) list of other clerical/Pontifical SFF novels to enjoy while we’re still thinking about our revered pontiff:

The God Game by Andrew Greeley — I remember reading this eighties novel when I first really got into computer games. A small Catholic priest playtests a computer game for a relative, and finds the premise real: he’s actually become God for a very real world of real people. The priest finds that it’s “hell being God,” in hilarious, touching and affecting ways.

The Deryni trilogies by Katherine Kurtz — Set in the medieval-fantasy world of Gwynedd, where human and Deryni live next to one another, much of the politics and story in this long-standing and respected series of novels surrounds the Catholic-cognate Holy Church.

Pavane by Keith Roberts — This fascinating 1968 alternate-history novel details what might have happened if the Protestant Reformation had not occurred and a less innovative, more medieval form of Catholicism had stayed prevalent across Europe.

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. — These two novels are on the list because they should really be first for any reader new to religious science fiction. After a nuclear apocalypse and a descent into a Dark Age, the acolyte monks of Liebowitz preserve scientific information for a world that is not yet ready for it.

For the record, Dan Brown does not belong on this list at all. Sorry, Dan.

Just as a housekeeping measure, we’re trying to keep a monthly post count of new stories at Third Order, but to do that we need more submissions! Got something in your stable of shorts that might apply? Give the guidelines a look and send it over, because we might just have room for it!

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Pope Francis Waves To Everybody (And He Means Everybody)

“In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life;
if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” — Pope Francis, to Congress, 9/24/15

Selfie pope takes selfies.

If you’ve been reading Sacred Earthlings for a while, you may have guessed that, personally, I’m a Catholic. As such, I’ve been glued to coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in-between blogging, editing video and working on various other projects.

This is the first Pope I haven’t seen in person. Twenty years ago, I sat with the teeming masses huddled in a chilly Central Park for a Mass with Pope John Paul II, and in 2009 I covered Pope Benedict’s visit to New York for the wonderful Florida Catholic (while singing in the Mass choir at Yankee Stadium, which was an incredible musical experience).

This time, I wasn’t able to go, so the front lawn of my church here in Baltimore will have to do. They’ll be showing the Papal Mass in Philadephia outdoor-theater style (and, quite possibly, a Ravens game, too, but, hey, this is Baltimore. This is how we roll.)

Like many Catholics, I’m never going to get tired of the Pope selfie.

One of the things I wish non-Catholics could sometimes understand about Mass is the unifying effect it has on congregations — especially when you’re in a mass-Mass situation, when you’re freezing or baking or waiting in a line to get in for what seems like a hundred years. The force of a thousand people saying the same responses, of thousands of voices lifted in song… it’s wildly cool, especially when you take your eyes off the guy in white for a little while and look around you. Yes, around you are thousands of other Catholics, and you realize that they don’t all look like you. Some are different colors, different races, different ages. Some are conservative, some are liberal, some are proud to be Catholic, some would rather be Pastafarian. Everyone’s in it for the same exact purpose: to glorify God.

Going to a normal Monday Mass at your average homogenous Catholic parish is one thing. Experiencing that kind of massive, positive, Kingdom-of-God-like diversity is yet another. I remember being fourteen and having traveled with my mother to Guapi, a small jungle town on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. Guapi, accessible only by boat and plane, is as different from suburban upstate New York as you can get — yet, sitting at Sunday Mass in the tiny blue plaster church in the center of town, I didn’t need to be a fluent Spanish-speaker. I knew what was going on. I could participate. I was Catholic. I knew these people, and they knew me.

It helps during this time of upheaval and anger, when everyone is so frightened of the “other,” of the different, of the alien and the migrant and the stranger, that we have Pope Francis, a man who has embraced inclusivity and care for the poor as the essential Christian value which it is. It makes me proud to be Catholic. It makes me happy to see friends who have consistently rejected Christianity because of some factions’ intolerance and greed finally take a peek behind the curtain of Vatican gold, papal infalliblity and its unfortunate political history to see that the foundational struts of the Commandments and the Beatitudes are still right where they belong.

If you don’t believe me, go talk to some nuns. Now, nuns have it going on.

0435039609_14539167_8colNever. Ever. Getting tired. Of pope selfies.

I’m wondering if, thousands of years from now, someone Catholic will be able to get off their ship at, say, Europa Station or an Alpha Centauri spaceport, find the local Catholic church and feel right at home, even if they’re surrounded by amoeba-aliens, wierdo-brains from Craxus Prime and that one telepathic species from Planet X that only speaks through bananaphones, because that’s Catholicism.

As James Joyce wrote in Finnegans Wake, Catholicism can be described as “here comes everybody.” Right now, it means black and white, Hispanic and African, Thai and Japanese, Russian and French, English and Argentinian. Everybody.

Everybody has a different ring to it once you think of the future, and what our world has the potential to become — positive, as well as negative.

I wonder who the Pope of the future will be waving to.

(I’ll get my bananaphone).

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FICTION ALERT: “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Philip Pullman

A simple roadway, or the very maw of Hell?

Hello, earthlings! Every so often, I take the six-hour trip from Baltimore to New York to visit my awesome parents. As anyone who has traversed I-95 and the Northeast’s main arteries knows, it’s a supremely boring trip, all trees and asphalt and hollering at other cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. At this point, I have it down to a science: coffee in Delaware, coffee in New Jersey, food at Menlo Park Mall, rubberneck to gawk at the New York skyline, get gas on Route 17, and listen to Escape Pod.

Ever since discovering Jei Marcade’s “Sounding The Fall” there last month, I’ve been pretty obsessed with listening to everything in their archives, and I was able to make a significant dent during last week’s trip up North. Nothing makes the sound of rubber on asphalt (and, in New Jersey, the sound of your voice screaming at other drivers) more interesting than turning your car into an audio theater and hearing a tale of a man whose prosthetic arm thinks it is a road, or the story of a soldier whose greatest weapons against the alien invasion are the lies he tells. (That story is spectacular, by the way.) Plus, there’s a lot there if you’re a follower of this blog and all of the thorny questions we love, so my advice to you today would be to get over there and begin experiencing the literary jackpot that is Escape Pod for yourself.

There are a lot of winners on Escape Pod, but this week, Sacred Earthlings is going to recommend you start with “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford. This story takes place on a comet hurtling towards the sun at a hundred thousand miles an hour, but the issues it brings up can be found right here on Earth today: questions of human destiny, religious martyrdom, faith versus science, the nature of the apocalypse and what it’s like to have faith in another person — and then have that faith betrayed. This is all set up against a Gravity-esque, very visual environmental thriller that pits the main character against time and incredible odds, and if the historical story of the Heaven’s Gate cult chilled you here, so will Sanford.

Witch trial by ordeal, courtesy Wikipedia.

What is destiny, after all? The Seekers’ religious tests here remind me a little of the unwinnable witchcraft examinations of old England and the early American colonies — if you drown in the lake, drawn down by stone tied to your ankles, you were innocent; if you live, you had the Devil’s favor and would be executed (but, of course, you wouldn’t live). Is destiny tied to the beliefs you had when you were young? Do our choices make us who we are, or our our lives already circumscribed by the family we’re born into, the place we grow up, and the science of the time? Is destiny in our own hands, and is making our own destiny even consonant with faith at all? If these questions interest you, you will get a lot out of this story.

You can find “Heaven’s Touch” by Jason Sanford here.

SUNDAY HOMILY: Faith and “The Martian”

“Mars will come to fear… my botany powers!”
— Mark Watney, The Martian

the-martianFaithful superhero (!!!) Mark Watney

Mark Watney is a man of faith.

Faith is something that can exist even if religion is completely absent. The basic processes are the same. You can have faith in a person’s actions, or faith in a belief — especially if you don’t have proof for that belief. In The Martian, faith is central: faith in science, faith in competency, and faith in humanity.

Watney’s faith is in science; it is the faith of farmers from the dawn of time, to place something in the ground and make it grow. It is the same faith that pioneers must have had when they set out across the oceans and plains. It is the faith of people that know God, and that know the rules God has placed for the universe… except, this time, those rules are rocket science, and a little more crucial and complicated than the basics of Genesis.

Even on his darkest day on Mars — when an accident destroys his farm and his ability to grow Martian potatoes — Mark relies on his faith in science to provide another solution. Mark relies on what he knows, and has faith in the processes that nature has established, to nourish himself.

INTRO-2_20thCenturyFox_TheMartianBeautiful and deadly.

While originally skeptical about Watney’s ability to survive, NASA leader Teddy Sanders commits to a deep faith in his cohorts’ ability to get things done. He has faith in their knowledge, in their commitment, in their desire; he knows that if he asks them to tackle the impossible task of repurposing a probe in thirty days, that they’ll succeed. His faith never wavers — because he knows he can trust their knowledge, just as God’s people know they can trust God’s grace.

Finally, Watney’s crewmates have faith enough in their own abilities to feel comfortable adding hundreds of days — and hundreds of ways to die — to their own journey in order to save them.

The result of this faith in science? Mark Watney came home.

martian-gallery3-gallery-imageI bet the Vasquez Rocks are in here somewhere.

This is Mark’s central statement of faith, said to a group of astronaut cadets at the end of the movie. Both religious and areligious people alike can take this and apply it to their own lives:

“When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you. This is space. It does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”

Even if you doubt God, have faith.

Have faith, and then begin.

New Fan Films: August 2015

“You see that I was right, now, don’t you? The truth is written in blood!”
— Revan

revan1From Steven Shulgach’s “Revan”

One of the coolest things about modern technology is that it’s fairly easy to put on a Jedi robe, pick up a DSLR camera, take a few courses in Adobe AfterEffects, and create a passable lightsaber duel. Movie-making is no longer out of the hands of the populace. In a world that is more and more visual, in a society that Vines and Instagrams and Periscopes every day, it just makes sense that sci-fi and fantasy fans are going to engage with their favorite worlds and charaacters through cameras as well as pen and paper. I’ve done it myself — and making fan films is a lot of fun!

Here are some of the new fan films to hit YouTube over the summer:

Released only a few days ago and already causing ripples in Trekkie circles, Star Trek: Renegades is the story of a crew of misfits hired by Admiral Pavel Chekov (yes, that Chekov) to take care of the missions that Starfleet just can’t accomplish. There’s not a lot of traditional Trek here, despite the familiar faces — there’s very little exploration, a simplistic plot, a lot of space battles, and at least one starship captain that jumps to conclusions in a fashion that would make Picard wince and go for something a little stronger than Earl Grey. There’s a lot of potential here, though, if the main character actually lives up to her parentage, and if the writers can grasp that hope and bravery that was always central to the Trek we love even in this grittier, less perfect world.

Next up is Justice League Dark. When Guillermo del Toro dropped out of the Hollywood movie of the same name and the project was canned, a group got together to make this short about chain-smoking Constantine, forceful Zatanna and the force that tries to stop them from rescuing Zatanna’s father. The acting is fairly wooden, but the aesthetic is lovely and the effects are spot-on, and if you like these characters, it’s not a bad way to spend eleven minutes.

Finally, we have Star Wars: Revan, a labor of love from Steven, Andrei, and Jonathan Shulgach. Revan is the main character in Drew Karpyshyn’s Old Republic novel of the same name, and the fan film chronicling part of his story represents a step forward in fan-film production. Revan is a stylish, smooth labor of love. Supported through a Kickstarter campaign by a wide swath of Star Wars fans, Revan’s costumes look fantastic, its greenscreening is flawless and it benefits from a soundtrack lifted directly from the movies (something not every fan film can get away with, but Star Wars fans have been generally allowed to do). While it does suffer slightly from the wooden acting of most fan films, the pacing is on target, star Tim Torre is extremely likeable and Star Wars fans will find a lot to love here.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, this is how to animate a lightsaber in AfterEffects from Flawless Films:

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Human Genetic Testing and the Multiverse of Possibility

“They used to say that a child conceived in love has a
greater chance of happiness. They don’t say that anymore.”
— Vincent Freeman, Gattaca

8497791530_dac0d474e2Who needs runes, bones or tea leaves when you have BRCA blood tests?

Can you tell the future through hard science instead of tarot cards or psychic mediums? Perhaps.

One of the marvels of modern medicine — and the result of the sequencing of the human genome — means that anyone can spit into a petri dish, send it off to a lab and learn about the perfection (or imperfection) of the genes that lie at the heart of every cell in the body and make us who we are. Factor V Leiden, hemophilia, achrondoplasia, sickle cell, Tay-Sachs, Turner syndrome — all of these diseases can be traced back to mutations in our genetics.

What is happening now that we can see who we are and where we’re going so closely?

6003116733_94681b4034Baby Haise, your future is set in stone.

Concern mostly surrounds the genetic testing of unborn fetuses, which has created fears that mothers and fathers could create “designer babies” or choose to abort otherwise-viable fetuses who don’t fit their expectations or desires. Genetic testing has already stoked fears that genetically-imperfect people could, eugenically, become an underclass. (This fear is at the center of the 1997 film Gattaca.)

But genetic testing can also be a good tool to tell if you should be pre-emptively screening yourself for cancer. Did you know that adults are able participate in this augury, too?

Boulder, Colo.-based Sundance Diagnostics has created a genetic test to discover whether people treated with antidepressants may be more or less likely to commit suicide; because suicide and some mental illness tends to “run in the family,” many epidemiologists suspect a genetic base, although lived existence still counts for most of the reasoning that leads to a person ending his or her own life. What if Robin Williams had been warned about the possibility when he went on his own antidepressants? Could this help a counselor offer better assistance to a depressed person, or would it just give the patient further ammunition to think that there’s no other way out?

Home DNA tests can now be purchased on the Internet; with a cheek swab and $99 sent to a lab, people can figure out where they’re from, ethnicity-wise, and what genetic diseases they’re most susceptible to contracting. One reporter for Discover magazine discovered that she had a tendency towards Crohn’s disease and, on the way, met people who have discovered tendencies towards colorectal cancer and celiac disease. The results quickly led the reporter to significant anxiety over her condition, but didn’t change her final goal of increasing her exercise, fixing her diet, and reducing her stress. “While the results were sometimes conflicting, the advice was basically the same: Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, and control blood pressure. Something tells me I should be doing all these things anyway,” she said.

There’s already a pretty decent genetic test to predict cancer: get your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes tested through blood or saliva. According to the National Cancer Institute, these genes produce tumor-suppressing proteins, help repair damaged DNA and keep cell genetic material relatively stable. If the gene isn’t formed up to standards, cells are more prone to cancers — particularly, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and peritoneal cancer. Knowing that your BRCA genes have mutations can mean that you know you have to get screened for cancer more often as you grow older — it doesn’t mean that you will get cancer.

See, right now, a genetic test will only give you small window into a possible future — it is a predictor not of a single universe, but a multiverse of possibilities, a thousand “maybes” and “could bes.” While a test says that you might develop cervical or prostate cancer, what life actually throws at you might be a different story entirely. What happens when insurance companies start taking just one of those multiverses as gospel truth?

Sounds like a sci-fi story.

photo credit: k8947-1 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Our first clear view of Haise Baby Zero via photopin (license)

Short Film Alert: The Arborlight

“Garlic, herbs and rooster’s crow,
or far away the children go.”
— The Arborlight

thearborlightBrian Sutherland and Eden Campbell in “The Arborlight.”

How far would you go to save your child?

What would you do if you could not?

Those are the questions at the heart of The Arborlight, a breathtaking fairytale faith-versus-science story. Thomas and Liz’ young daughter, Elly, is fighting terminal tuberculosis, and although the doctor that attends to her is optimistic, Thomas grows more and more certain that Elly isn’t going to make it through. One day, while gathering flowers for his daughter’s bedside, he discovers a place that looks exactly like the fairy stories she loves so much, and Thomas finds he must choose between the approach of worldly medicine and the lure of something a little more magical…

The Arborlight is filmed beautifully using RED cameras, and despite the fairytale cottage and medieval costumes, Thomas and Liz feel like modern parents in a very modern struggle. Modern medicine has come a long way from the bloodletting and surgery-superstition that Thomas and Liz took as gospel truth, but people still die all the time from maladies doctors and medicines still can’t touch, and people still look for cures beyond what modern medicine can provide — miracle potions and mail-order cures, shamans and prayer healings. In a way, it’s tragic to watch Thomas and Liz make the decisions they make, because modern viewers know that they really have no choice, that the bloodletting provided by the plague doctor is ineffective and cruel, and that both choices are going to be heart-wrenching and unfair.

It reminds me of Anna Mayer‘s beautiful video above, about a young teen suffering from a condition that she knows is going to kill her, and the wrenching feeling about how unfair that is. I thought of Emily a lot while I watched The Arborlight. Modern society judges people who, upon not finding modern medicine sufficient, turn to a place of faith and unreason, but like Thomas and Liz tell us in The Arborlight, it’s a question we’re all going to have to face. Modern medicine will eventually fail. None of us will live forever. What are you going to do on the day? What will you believe? What would you turn to? Can any of us really even know until we, like Thomas, Elly and Liz, are facing it?

Do yourself a favor and watch The Arborlight, a film by Philip and Kevin Harvey, starring Brian Sutherland, Lisa Coronado, Eden Campbell and Russell Hodgkinson:

Watch a behind-the-scenes documentary on how they filmed using the Movi:

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Messiah Week: Cindi Mayweather from Janelle Monae’s Metropolis

“I imagined many moons in the sky lighting the way to freedom.”
– Cindi Mayweather


Messiah: Cindi Mayweather
Messiah Level: Cyber

No pop star on Earth does it quite like Janelle Monáe. She has the voice. She has the moves. She has the clothes. She has the staggeringly beautiful science fiction epic. (“Wait, what?” I’m hearing you say. “In R&B?”)

Oh, yes.

The only thing wrong with this video is that it’s only six minutes long.

Her Metropolis albums chronicles the journey of her alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android who has the misfortune of falling in love with a human. In Metropolis, androids are treated as little more than slaves (“She’s not even a person,” says caller Peggy Lakeshore in “Our Favorite Fugitive,” and the short film “Many Moons” chronicles an actual android slave auction). The punishment for this love is death, with her “cyber-soul” delivered to the authorities by bounty hunters and licensed hunters. Cindi, already becoming aware of the terrible conditions in which androids exist, flees — and, on the run, discovers that she is the ArchAndroid, the quasi-religious savior meant to rescue androids from slavery and apartheid. She becomes the “Electric Lady,” returning ready to save not only Metropolis, but humanity and androidkind, from the oppressive Great Divide, which despises love and freedom.

Seriously, try not to dance to this song. It’s impossible.

There are so few female messiah figures in SF/F, so the Electric Lady is extremely welcome — especially since Monáe takes the spotlight to draw attention not only to Metropolis’s fictional issues, but to the very real racial, societal and class-based challenges facing our world today. (Do we need a Cindi Mayweather?) She references Jim Crow as well as Philip K. Dick; her lyrics are poetic and intelligent, and the music itself is completely infectious. Her songs also work on a number of levels — you can listen to them casually and enjoy them quite a bit, or you can pick them apart to explore the multi-layered world Monáe has built.

Remember: Believe in the ArchAndroid.

We’ll be posting Janelle Monae videos on Twitter all day long.

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Awesome Wallpapers

I’m still recovering from a visit from my awesome family this weekend, so I’m going to put Messiah Week on hold for today to connect you with some AMAZING, AWE-INSPIRING SPACE WALLPAPERS to decorate your desktop on this tired Monday morning!


space.com: Full-color shots from shuttle-mission photography and more, including very recent views of Pluto and Kepler 432-b.
hubblesite.com: Nebulas, galaxies and star clusters seen through the brilliant eye of the Hubble telescope.
hongkiat.com: Retina-ready space views from designers and artists.– spitzer.caltech.edu: Beautiful views from the Spitzer Space Telescope.

What are you waiting for? Decorate your desktop with the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping beauty of outer space!

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Messiah Week: Paul Atreides from Dune

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe
that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
Frank Herbert, Dune

It’s Messiah Week!
#1: Neo from The Matrix
#2: Paul Atreides from Dune

dune1Walk carefully.

Let’s Talk About… Paul Atreides
Messiah Level: Through The Roof, Or Like A Ton Of Bricks

If you thought The Matrix was too overtly Messianic, you obviously haven’t read Frank Herbert’s Dune.

It’s really difficult to summarize Dune in a simple fashion, because it’s not a simple book, even though it masquerades as one. The first novel’s Messiah story seems fairly straightforward: a prophesied superbeing, visions of glory and pain, martyrdom for one’s people, a religious figure stepping forth to save the world and convert a lifeless desert planet into a paradise, an eschatological (or very real) City of God. A good thing, right?


dune2Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto of Caledon and Arrakis, and his rise to galactic power. After the original novel, things get a little complicated, so for now we’re sticking with the first part of Paul’s story.

Paul is the unwitting product of a generations-long breeding program by the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood. The Bene Gesserit had been attempting to create the right combination of genetics that would become a super-being known as the Kwisatz Haderach, who would be able to see the future, and would have power over space and time. They’d been planning for the Kwisatz Haderach to be a trained Bene Gesserit, so that when he ascended to the throne he would be completely under their control; Paul, a product of love between the Bene Gesserit concubine Jessica and Duke Leto, came early and threw a wrench into ten thousand years of careful planning. Oops.

Paul survives a vicious attack on his family’s governance of the planet Arrakis by the galactic Emperor and the evil Baron Harkonnen, and flees into the desert, where he meets the native Fremen and takes on the Messianic mantle of Mahdi, or “Muad’dib.” Mahdi had been long prophesied as the being who will save the Fremen and make their desert planet into a paradise — much like how Jesus promises his followers the Kingdom of God. In the book, Paul leads the Fremen against the Harkonnens and the Emperor, avenging his father and eventually taking control of the Empire itself.

Seriously Messianic, right?

I told you it was complicated. Hang in there!

dune4Arrakis by EvaKedves

One of the coolest parts of Dune‘s Messiah story is how it doesn’t rely entirely on prophecy, or the nitty-gritty death-and-resurrection details, to really describe Paul as a classic Christlike savior, although that’s all completely obvious. Instead, Herbert gives his Space Warrior Jesus a literal “desert experience” much like Christ’s own, which is something that doesn’t always happen in other Messianic takeoffs. Living in the desert with the native Fremen, existing in an ascetic life that had previously been unthinkable to him, awakens Paul’s latent abilities as the Kwisatz Haderach. His visions become clearer; he is better able to predict the future; he realizes what he must do. He begins to step forward publicly, and be adopted, as the Fremen savior.

This echoes Jesus’ own experience in the desert; after his baptism by Paul, he spends a subsequent forty days in the desert that changes him. He sees visions of the devil, which tempts him; he realizes what he must do. When he emerges from the desert, like Paul, he begins a public ministry that will forever change the world. Like Paul, Jesus knows what is coming; he has seen the sacrifice he must make, he knows what he must do, and he works towards it.

Lest you think Herbert really means to anoint Paul Atreides as a perfect messianic hero — and it’s easy to do — don’t forget that Herbert meant to subvert his own story with a very different message, something that becomes clearer once you progress further into the series. Reading Dune after knowing Herbert’s purpose for writing it might give a reader a completely different take on what Herbert really meant to say when he put Paul in power.

dune3“The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes,” Herbert said in 1979.

In 1985, he echoed: “Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader’s name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.”

Knowing that, Dune is an entirely different kind of story, isn’t it?

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