Sunday, February 01, 2009

Snow Drivers of Dune

There's no point in being humble about it at this point: When it comes to driving in bad weather, I have super-powers.

Honesty, not vanity. I built them up slowly, from starting driving with an 81 Dodge Challenger whose favorite activity was to throw me at guardrails if there was weather, to my insane road acrobatics as a young man, to driving pizza for 4 years in a series of perpetually ailing vehicles. Over the years I developed a nice touch with cars in bad road conditions. It grew on me, got in my head, and, well... I became superhuman. There, I've said it. Superhuman.

In my current car, I'm pushing 50,000 miles on all my tires, and if there is weather, they slide if I break hard, and have trouble getting traction from a dead stop, despite the Vue's traction-control system. Regardless, during this Tuesday's snow, I trekked from Ohio to Virginia to attend my grandmother's funeral, coming back late Wednesday through conditions that had gotten marginally better in some places, and significantly worse in others.

If you're wondering, I'm not bent out of shape about my grandmother because I didn't know her as a child, and never thought of her as a grandmother. Her sister was my grandmother by virtue of adopting my mother as an infant. I don't know the whole story, but the funeral illuminated some pieces of it for me, like she was so guilt-ridden about giving up my mother that she adopted two other kids later in life, was involved in foster care, and worked in a nursery. In my family's typical style, she spent a lifetime of atonement and martyrdom trying to undo one mistake - to regain the family's love, perhaps, or maybe to buy her way back into heaven. Don't know the whole story, or her reasons, but it's the kind of thing you see in my family. It was familiar, and, hearing the stories, I felt that I knew her.

For example, I felt that it was my duty to brave the weather to be with my family through this, whether or not I got killed on the road in the process. That kind of foolishness is just the thing someone in my family would do.

I had confidence enough in my road-mojo to believe I could handle the trip, and so I handled it, with nary a slide or near-collision along the way. I was stuck at about 40, sometimes a little less, for about a third of the trip, feeling my tires start to show early signs of slippage if I went any faster. There was no one else in the car, so I had no distractions, and didn't fall into the trap of second-guessing myself for the safety of loved ones. The only problem with the trip was that the extra concentration needed to feel the tires caused me to lose focus on the audiobook I was listening to, I had to keep rewinding it back a minute or two to hear what I missed. It makes the story much less enchanting if you have to do that too much.

Plus the story is part of a series of letdowns I'm slogging my way through: Sandworms of Dune. I am a huge Dune fan, and I typically list "Heretics of Dune" as my favorite book. Heretics describes the encroaching insanity of the Bene Gesserit, their struggle to deal with returning peoples from The Scattering, updated Face Dancers, Sheeana (the girl who controls sandworms), and a description of what an Axlotl tank actually is -- hee hee.

Anyway, Frank Herbert's son discovered some notes his dad left about continuing the series, and got together with another sci-fi author and wrote a bunch of prequel novels and post-Chapterhouse novels. I didn't like them, but I kept reading them anyway, struggling to keep an open mind... this reminds me of an anecdote:

Back when I gave blood to the Red Cross regularly, before a series of poorly trained nurses butchered my veins too much to give without getting ill or having several days worth of pain, I kept an appointment and noticed a scared girl sitting across from me with some of her friends. She had intended to donate, but was squeemish about it, came close to feinting (which a few people do when they see or think about blood). I staged a subtle intervention to help her out. I saw that she had one of the Dune prequel novels with her (House Atreides, perhaps), and as the nurse was having her ball her fist be squeezing a rubber toy, I struck up a conversation with about Dune.

She had been roped into reading it by one of the friends she was with. Said friend was adamant that the writing of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson were *exactly* like Frank's work, and had a little geeky fit about it right then and there. It's nothing of the kind, of course, but I kept my opinion to myself and kept talking to her in a calm voice, eliciting both opinions and flirtiness out of her. When we were done talking, her bag of blood was half full, and she didn't remember the nurse inserting the needle. That was possibly my best work at distraction.

Point being there are fanboys (and girls) that get fooled into believing they're reading something outstanding when they are not. In the case of the new Dune novels, some elements are interesting, but the way Bene Gesserit speak is wrong, there is less and less intelligent reflecting by the characters, and it strays towards space opera. Yet, I've managed to read through five of the new novels, mostly out of nostalgia and to see Frank's outline of the story's continuation. I don't really hate any of it, it's just not Dune.

So Sandworms of Dune was my company on the way down and back, with many short rewinds. I didn't wreck by virtue of my superpowers, and I paid my respects to a very familiar woman who I never knew.

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