Putting the life back in science fiction


Silly summer thoughts 3: Dune Shields

First, a bit of news: I’ve got another guest post up on Antipope, if you haven’t already seen it.  Go have fun with it, if it’s your sort of thing.

Now back to summer silliness; why not pick on Dune again?  It’s a fun target at the moment, especially since it gives this distorted impression that magnates and aristocrats could be part of  a breeding project to produce a superhuman messiah, even though rationally we know that regression to the mean seems to be a more common outcome for human reproduction(except for inbreeding, which gets rather worse).  The current administration in Washington is a great example of how each generation in a wealthy family gets smarter and more talented.  Or not.

In any case, for summer silliness, I give you the shields of the Dune universe, which apparently are spherical shells of force (or weirder, if you’re David Lynch and filming the novel), that slow down objects passing through them to 6 to 9 centimeters per second (this from the glossary in the original story and here) . So problem one: 6-9 cm/s is slow.  To put it in context, a human fist traveling 25 mph moves 1117 cm/s.  I’d guess the way to swordfight around a shield is to put your arm through the shield, pray that your nerve impulses work normally as your arm transits the thing, and fence within it with a shorter blade.  Or perhaps you can use a really long rapier  to penetrate the shield and use the shield as some sort of pivot point: once you’ve penetrated it, your blade moves normally on the inside (otherwise the person inside would freeze as all the atoms inside the shield start moving at 6-9 cm/sec.  Air at room temperature moves at 454 meters/second, or 45,400 cm/s), and since the blade would fall at 6-9 cm/sec, it would in effect be slowly falling down the side of the shield under gravity.  Or you could use multiple blades.  Since the shield tracks  the person wearing it, it could probably be exploited as some sort of inverted pincushion, where you stick a bunch of blades into the shield, then manipulate them one after the other (they only fall at 6-9 cm/sec, so it’s not hard to juggle them) until you skewer the dude inside. Anyway, silliness would ensue in a sword and shield fight.

And how about shooting at a shield?  You don’t want the canon slow stunner, e.g. a gun that shoots sabots that move at 6-9 cm/sec to get through a shield, and scratch your victim with some baroque poison.  Personally I’d go for depleted uranium bullets.  After all, DU has the bad habit of igniting when it hits armor, so if you shot at a shield, you’d have these slugs of flaming uranium slowing working their way though the shield, then probably rolling down the inside and fuming the whole time.  Sodium metal might be another good one, but you get the idea:  guns that shoot something that turns kinetic energy into chemical nastiness would be great for anti-shield attacks, because it would just slowly ooze through to the other side, then get stuck inside the shield until it could ooze out again…

Finally, there’s the whole lasgun+shield=nuke thing.  Great rule, love it, but why did Herbert then privilege the great houses to have actual, fission-powered nuclear warheads?  It looks like any idiot could make a nuke just by putting a frame that has a large lasgun pointed at a strong shield, then setting a clockwork trigger-puller and running very, very, very far away.  Nuclear proliferation in this universe would seem to be an incredibly serious problem, since shields and lasguns are everywhere.

I could go on, but I do appreciate Dune as a piece of fiction, not least because it inspired Door Into Ocean, and also as a piece of 70s nostalgia that might pair well with movies like the upcoming Thor:Ragnarok.  What else have you caught  in the Dune universe that would be, um, interesting?  Would you be willing to fly in an ornithopter that was entirely under human control (only clockwork automation, remember?) and had two jets in its tail to help it gain altitude?

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