Sunday, September 11, 2011

Oldie, But Far From Classic

Book Review - Whipping Star by Frank Herbert

Every so often I manage to attend the yearly book sale at my local library. Last year I just happened to notice the sign while driving by. . .

Fifty cents (CDN) for a hardcover is a very good price, assuming you can find something you like.

One of the books from my haul last year was Whipping Star by Frank Herbert. Now I admit that the last thing I read by Mr. Herbert was Dune. And that was over a decade ago. What I remember is that the book was kinda obtuse and overly dense. Of course, I was seventeen at the time that I read that tome.

Despite my first impression of Herbert's writing, I bought this novel.

Or perhaps novelette would be a more apt description. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the book was that it was quite thin. Opening the book revealed rather large font. Font almost large enough for the elderly to read.

That being said, it felt kind of refreshing to read a story that wasn't plumped up 500% like many books being written today.


The Empire was built on a gift from a mysterious alien race, a gift that allows instantaneous transport to any place in the universe. Now the last member of the alien race is being slowly tortured to death by a madwoman and it soon becomes clear that once the alien dies anyone who has ever transported will wink out of existence. . . and no-one is known to have not transported.


My first impression of the writing was that it was amateurish. While reading those first few pages I surmised that this must be one of Herbert's early works. So I looked up some dates on the internet to confirm this idea, but alas, I was wrong. 1945 appears to be when his first short story was published. 1963 was when Dune appeared. 1970 is when the book form of whipping star was published (apparently a shorter version was published in Worlds of If Science Fiction the year before). I think it's safe to assume that Whipping Star was written to keep Herbert's pot of water boiling.

One thing that intrigued me was Herbert's invention called the Bureau of Sabotage, although it was not fully developed in this short work. In fact it mostly came across as just another government agency.

Herbert also created some cool alien names in this book which mostly offset the negative aspects of the Law of Alien Names. Despite this, the names match up to some pretty average aliens. That's not to say that there isn't some experimentation, especially with the eponymous race (what you couldn't figure that one out from the title?). At least, should a movie ever be made from this story, the aliens couldn't all be played by people with rubber masks.

The main character reads very much like an ethnologist from the 1960's. I picture him as a burly man wearing flannel, arrogant and full of bluster (pretty much exactly like this guy). His ethos is characterized by an oblivious humano-centrism, much as real ethnologists from the mid twentieth century were ignorant of their Euro-centrism. Central to this attitude is also the belief that everything can be understood (usually with only casual observation). Typical of literature from this period, this attitude is always correct and successful.

One last thing - I don't normally condone vandalising library books, but. . .

Rating: **.5/5

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