A lot of people like to discuss the inconsistencies between the new books and the originals. I haven’t been reading Dune for nearly as long as some of the heavyweights around here, so I don’t think there is much I could point out that they haven’t already on this topic. I have however been taking fiction seriously for quite some time, and in the interest of constructive criticism (not that the inconsistency discussions are not constructive, I just feel that we are neglecting to constructively criticize these books in ways not relating to the originals) I would like to start a thread discussing the writing of the new authors in comparison with all Fiction. This thread is also to discuss passages where these new novels contradict themselves. I would like to start with what I feel are a couple of weak points.
This is something that’s bothered me for a while now, since I first read the Legends Series. I am a bit perplexed by the way space travel is portrayed in these books. In these three books the Starships used by both the Humans and the Machines appear to use conventional drive systems (systems which burn fuel to achieve acceleration)
Aft engines blazed pure fire, pushing the vessels to accelerations that would have crushed mere
Work crews assembled merchant vessels and warships, most with safe conventional engines, though some were outfitted with the remarkable space-folding
(Battle of Corrin)
and yet they are able to travel from star system to star system in weeks or months.
During the tedious month-long journey across space to visit her daughter on Poritrin, Zufa Cenva...
Once he escaped from Corrin, it took him almost two months in transit to get to the vulnerable heart of the League of Nobles.
(Battle of Corrin)
This is obviously faster than light can travel, (one of the destinations in the books is Earth, whose closest neighboring start is Alpha Centauri which lies 4.35 light-years away) - this is completely impossible and bad Sci-fi. For those of you who don’t know what a light year is (I know this seems ridiculous, but I’ve been told that you are out there), it is the distance that light will travel in a vacuum (space) in one year – to traverse that same distance in less time is to move faster than light. Under the Laws of Physics (special theory of relativity), a particle (that has mass) with subluminal velocity (is currently moving slower than light) needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light. Thus, to even get up to the speed of light you would need more energy than the entire universe contains, surpassing that speed isn’t even an option. If you want to argue this - fine, but Einstein will be rolling over in his grave. This is a widely agreed upon topic in Science Fiction, if your ships must go faster than light they must use an FTL drive of some kind which allows the current laws of physics to be circumvented.
Do the authors have an explanation for their magic-faster-than-light-but-conventionally-propelled-space-craft?
One of the arguments I expect to hear is that they also utilize some sort of FTL drive or other space-time altering technology to break light speed. I don’t believe that there is anything in the novels to support this (please - quote away if I’m wrong), and the fact that the authors mention the g-forces acting upon the passengers during acceleration proves that they are not using FTL (see below under warp for the logic behind this).
The way that g-force is used is another huge issue with these novels (again I discuss this more below) because the ships obviously have artificial gravity.
On the bridge of the Armada flagship, proud and stony Segundo Xavier Harkonnen stood in full dress uniform, studying thepeaceful-looking planet.
Held in place by the craft's gravity system, which rapidly increased, like a heavy boot crushing her body, Norma could barely breathe.
This same technology would easily be used to nullify the g-forces acting upon the passengers. That the reader is expected to believe that these societies (man and machine) could invent something as advanced as artificial gravity, but not think to use it to counteract g-force is weak writing and shows a lack of depth in world building. The authors obviously thought that the g-forces were a necessary plot device to show machine dominance (the machines, being able to withstand higher g-forces than the humans could reach destinations faster); this was in my opinion completely unnecessary, as they could have just used the higher numbers and more advanced weaponry of the enemy to the same effect. There was no need for the machines to have speed as another advantage.
Why I think these are weakness in writing and cannot be defended as “style”:
One of the most important elements of fiction is creating an environment that the reader can believe in, and if that environment must be somewhat outside the realm of reality, then the writer must take care to do it in such a way that the reader is able to suspend his or her disbelief. The methods used to do this are a large part of what separates genres of fiction, such as Mystery, Horror, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi. As an example: if an author is writing a Mystery novel and feels compelled to include an imaginary item like, say, an antigravity device (maybe the detective has to find it), this is no longer a pure Mystery novel; it is now Sci-fi. If in the same story the protagonist could cast spells that worked, it is now Fantasy, and so forth. In any given genre, even those outside of the ‘real world’ there some standards put in place to help the reader suspend his/her disbelief.
In all true Science Fiction there are some standards concerning space travel. To be fair, some of these are outside of conventional physics (example hyperdrive / foldspace), in all cases however the reader is told that there is a new technology which has solved this problem. Disbelief is suspended. For example, one can believe in a ship with a hyperspace engine making a hyperspace jump, but a reader cannot believe in an un-modified bicycle doing the same. Agreed? Moving on. Here are those standards, and they are not ‘rules’ that can be broken for artistic purposes, they are simply the methods which work in maintaining the reader’s belief, whilst other methods leave holes for readers to poke.
Option 1: STL (slower than light) This can use any of many engine designs, most of which are still far beyond modern technological capabilities. The main rules: the ship will not get up to or surpass 100% of light speed, and the occupants will be subjected to acceleration/deceleration g-forces. (Unless the ships utilize some kind of artificial gravity or anti gravity device, in which case this could be easily used to counteract the g-force by simply applying some artificial gravity to the subjects pulling in the opposite direction of the g-force.) It is completely impossible for a ship using a conventional drive system to accelerate to the speed of light. Even using some kind of field drive would not allow this, unless that field drive is used to alter space-time (see warp).
Option 2: FTL (faster than light and instantaneous) This can also utilize many systems, and while outside conventional physics, there are some standards. Ships can use wormholes and hyperspace drives for instantaneous travel, or they can use some variation of the ‘warp’ drive to travel faster than light, but not instantaneously.
2.1 Instantaneous This can have a wide variety of descriptions, and as this is the furthest from real science there are fewer theories about what effect it would have on the passenger. For example, in Asimov’s Foundation series there are no effects on the passenger whatsoever. If that passenger wasn’t looking at the star field when the jump occurred to see the star patterns change, they would have no idea that they had jumped at all. In this universe the ship only has to be a safe distance from a large gravitational field to make a jump. In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series the passengers experience extreme disorientation after making a jump and they can only entire and exit hyperspace at certain very specific locations which are based on the luminosity of nearby stars. Some stories use wormholes, Dune uses foldspace, the point is that these systems are so far advanced from what we know about physics that we really cannot predict what it would be like to travel using them.
2.2 Warp drives now also known as Alcubierre drives. There are more guidelines here than with instantaneous drives, because this is somewhat within the realm of predictability. The only predicted way to travel faster than light (but slower than instantaneous) is to “warp” space time around the ship, expanding it behind and contracting it in front of the vessel. The bubble moves through space faster than light, but the object inside is not traveling FTL in it’s local space. Because of the fact that ship is not actually moving in it’s local space the occupants would feel no acceleration whatsoever. (this is why the Butlerian Jihad ships cannot be utilizing any kind of space-time altering drive systems, it would not allow for the passengers to feel any g-force).
To tell the reader that the ships use conventional drives to accelerate to and surpass the speed of light is in my opinion a bit of an insult to the reader’s intelligence, and it removes the writing from the genre of serious science fiction altogether. It is akin to saying that one can construct a time machine out of paperclips and chewing gum.
We can argue all day about a lot of things, but I don't believe that anyone can argue with a straight face that KJA or BH are good writers. They write easy to comprehend garbage tailored to the lowest common denominator, and frankly, they don't even do that great a job of that. They are worse than being the Britney Spears of literature, they are the drunkard doing Britney Spears karaoke at a half empty bar of literature.