beccaelizabeth (beccaelizabeth) wrote,

Frank Herbert: The Eyes of Heisenberg

I got to the end of this book and was mostly puzzled.
Like, however did the writer come to the conclusion that could work, even for two pages right at the end of the book?

The book is about a society where genetic engineering produced the first Optimen 80K years ago, and Optimen are believed to be immortal with the right medical treatment. So all future engineering is about making Optimen, or making the conditions optimal for Optimen. This has led to 80K years of stasis and totalitarian rule by an elite who think they'll never die.

Optimen have enemies, Cyborgs, who think that the proper way forward is upgrades for everyone. But for different reasons Optimen and Cyborgs both have a problem: they flatten out their emotions, either by replacing them with computer logic, or by keeping their biochemistry on such an even keel they mostly only feel boredom.

The cyborgs realise that Optimen will only remain immortal as long as they don't feel anything. So they set something up to be interesting, exciting, scary, violent, and a whole bunch of other important emotions. They expect Optimen to drop dead, and do not anticipate that first they will become very mentally ill indeed, start responding randomly, have memory problems, and get very violent. Which is a problem when they have weapons that can wipe out every human on Earth.

Optimen are sterile. Even with the techniques of genetic engineering they cannot reproduce. Because their gametes will not combine. Which was... difficult to suspend disbelief for, because really? Genetic engineering in this 'verse involves combining gametes at random and then using really really tiny surgery to cut bits out of their DNA if those bits would cause badness, and there's some 'tense' and 'exciting' sequences where they throw chemicals at cells to make an optimised embryo. Only a tiny proportion of humans are potentially viable, ever shrinking, and even they are controlled with contraceptive gas in the atmosphere. So the only way to reproduce is by this complicated cut and pasting.

So if the Optimen push the button, even if Optimen survive, it won't last very long, because they're the last generation.

So okay, the science isn't meant to be very science, the setup is high metaphor: immortality-sterility-stasis, frozen in perceived perfection, the dangers of eugenics writ across the whole planet as trying to get everyone to be precisely the same just stacks up the flaws they can't see in themselves.

But the solution only works as a metaphor.

Because the solution, presented as a brilliant last minute save from the medical protagonist, is to make everyone pregnant forever.



See apparently being pregnant naturally regulates your biochemistry into an optimal configuration. Apparently being pregnant makes you healthy. Apparently being pregnant continuously and forever will make you live for thousands of years.

So, around this point, I not only felt rather sick, I couldn't buy this story at all, because what?

I know, as metaphor, they're countering sterility-stasis with fertility-change. And the idea that giving people a hope for a future gives them a full emotional palate, I can see the connection. And I guess if it's of a mind to reject cyborgs then biotech implants would be the way forward.

But the biotech implant of a womb, in everyone, so that they can remain pregnant for the rest of their lives, somehow sustained by the implanted embryos?

I don't know, do you think it was meant to be a horror story?

It don't work as science fiction no more.

Plus the basic blatant sexism summed up with 'You're a woman. You must have some compassion!'
where there's only one pregnant woman on the planet, and she's a catalyst for all this change, and the only woman among the Optimen rulers is the one that survives and changes how things are run, and it's because she realises that secretly she was only disgusted by fertile people because she was jealous... ugh, so many layers of ugh.

Plus the idea that pregnancy will work as emotional regulation: 'bucolic docility in pregnancy' and 'the flattening tenor of her emotions' gets mentioned by the woman who has been pregnant at this point for all of a day after surgical implantation. Like, these are the qualities of pregnancy meant to save the Optimen, who were being killed by their out of control emotions. Pregnancy equals bucolic.

Because comparing pregnant people to cows is super helpful.

And obviously pregnant women are calm.


The compromise between emotionless stasis and crazy change is slow pregnancy with its inevitable calming effect and consequent life extension in the ten thousand year range.

... so, no, I couldn't at that point suspend disbelief even for the remaining handful of pages of this book.

So either it's very poorly understood science fiction or it's a mess of a metaphor, but the whole nausea and rejection reaction right at the end made it fail either way.

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