One dung Beetle
Audible, the dealer for my audiobook addiction, periodically has deep-discount science fiction sales. During one of the latest, I picked up two books by Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, which I’ve seen reported as the most-loved and the best-selling science fiction book ever. I read Dune when I was a kid, and seem to remember enjoying it, so I thought Herbert’s other books would be a safe choice. I’ve now learned that authors can be extremely variable in the quality of their work. My first clue should have been that I’d never heard of these books, even though they were written by such a big-name author. My second clue should have been the various book covers for Herbert’s non-Dune books: they usually feature his name in huge letters, with the name of the story below as an afterthought.
In the story, there’s this super-being (who is also a star, as in an actual astronomical object) who facilitates teleportation around the universe by humans and a bunch of alien races. It turns out that anyone who has used this teleportation (which includes everyone except for newborns) will die when the super-being dies. The super-being has signed a legal contract allowing it to be whipped to death. (Am I the only one who thinks the quality of super-beings is going downhill?) The main characters in the story are government agents hunting the villainess behind the contract/whippings.
A large portion of the book involves conversations between the super-being and the main characters. These conversations take place via some kind of direct mind-to-mind connection, rather than in spoken words. So, it makes absolutely no sense when they continually get hung up on English words with multiple definitions. For instance, a character asks the super-being about the whippings, and gets a response like “whipping is the process of beating cream into a froth”. Are we supposed to believe the character got those two concepts confused in his mind? Also, for this story to work, the characters hundreds or thousands of years in the future have to speak the same form of English we used in 1970. I suppose if you’re the kind of person who finds puns hilarious, you might enjoy these conversations, but my finger was hovering over the delete button during all of them.
The idiocy of the book doesn’t end there. The government agents (remember, the guys out to save every human and alien life in the galaxy/universe) are always worried that some judge will issue an injunction against them, or that the villainess’ lawyers will take some interfering action. Here’s a plan for you, government agents: go to the evil lady’s lawyers, and explain to them that if her evil plan is carried out, they and all their loved ones will die. Now, her lawyers are working for you.
Along similar lines: one of the characters gets lost, but declines to have his homing beacon activated because it’s too expensive. Excuse me, highly competent government agent, as all sentient life is about to end in a matter of hours, perhaps this would be an appropriate time to trade money for time?
Didn’t at least one other person read this text before it was published? Maybe after Dune was so successful, they just took Whipping Star right off the author’s typewriter to the printing press. I drew upon my immense reserves of willpower and managed to finish the story, hoping a great ending could redeem it.
It turned out that the whipping didn’t actually harm the super-being, the malicious intent was just hurting its feelings. All that the characters had to do to solve the crisis was tell the super-being that they loved it. That sounds so ridiculous that I’m starting to wonder if I just quit listening and made it up. No, I wouldn’t invent something that ridiculous. There was something near the end of the story where the characters shunted extra hydrogen gas into the star, but it was a temporary measure; a metaphorical group hug is what really saved the universe. So, the next time you’re faced with an alien invasion, robot uprising, zombie apocalypse, or carnivorous dinosaurs – just give them a big hug.