Frank Herbert – Destination : Void

With regard to the novel Destination : Void (1966) by Frank Herbert there is one thing that can be put into discussion and that is its publication year. Although I give the year as 1966 here the story was revised and edited in 1978, partially to accommodate it as a prequel to the Pandora Sequence. The later edition is the most common version and finding the original version will be much harder. To make it even a bit more complicated is that the story was published as a series in an science fiction magazine in 1965. However, the original bookform of the story was published in 1966 and although it was revised later on they are in essence still the same story. I have not read the original version but as both versions are not considered to be different novels I follow the original book publication year with the note that it is the 1978 version.

With that behind us I can focus on the novel itself. Destination : Void is a traditional hard science fiction novel. The core of the story is actually a thought experiment. Telling what it is will give away the plot and it is more fun to discover it while reading. I intentionally did not read the backcover to avoid giveaways. It is not a long novel, so there is much to give away. The thought experiment is a ‘what if’-idea and Herbert aims to develop it in a rational way, having the main protagonists discuss concepts and the development of the issue while telling the story. In that sense the title of the novel can be interpreted in different ways but it is nice to think about it afterwards.

Just describing a thought experiment as a story can be quite boring. Herbert makes sure there is a plot that keeps the reader engaged. From the very beginning the characters find themselves in a position of crisis, forcing themselves to the so-called thought experiment as a ways to survive. During the development of the experiment they are confronted with ethical issues, conflicts and threats that spice up the story but also provide a way to give the experiment a direction. The plot thus does not fall away into boredom but that could also partially be so because it was originally published as a serial, forcing Herbert to make each chapter engaging and interesting.

On the part of character development Herbert has made the perfect setup to do so. There are only four characters and each fits a specific profile and position within the story. Each struggles with the situation in a different way and tries to obtain the objective in the way they want it to. Throughout their thoughts and interaction with the other protagonists it is impossible not to get connected with them.

Herbert provides a strong plot that keeps the reader going forward to find out where it will lead to. The voyage seems clear but the destination is murky. It is at the destination that Herbert goes a bit astray as the final is rather sudden and strange. That is partially one of the defects of a thought experiment. The journey forms the core that drives the story. The destination brings all kinds of complexities and choices are plenty. It is here where the characteristic flavour of Herbert’s science fiction emerges as just writing a somewhat regular suspense plot is not his way. There has to be something bigger. As such I am somewhat divided about the finale. It is provoking but not all together fitting to the down-to-earth atmosphere of the story.

Some parts of the story may seem outdated, especially on the technology field, but much remains very readable. That is always the issue with old science fiction as current technology jumps ahead on concepts that were unimaginable at the time. Even so I like to read things like it because they express the ideas of the time. Most of the future technology is even now of present interest, using ideas that in today’s world is a matter of discussion as well. In that sense it remains a timeless story until all ideas have been put into reality.

Comments are closed.