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destination

Destination: Void

Destination: Void (1966) is the first science fiction novel set in the Destination: Void universe by the American author Frank Herbert. A revised edition, edited and updated by the author, was released in 1978. The book stands alone but the story is continued - and embellished with more details of the Moonbase project and the history of the clones - in Herbert’s other novels The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect and The Ascension Factor, co-authored by Bill Ransom.

Plot summary

In the future, humankind has tried to develop artificial intelligence, succeeding only once, and then disastrously. A transmission from the project site on an island in the Puget Sound, "rogue consciousness!", was followed by slaughter and destruction, culminating in the island vanishing.

The current project is being run on the moon, and the book tells the story of the seventh attempt in a series of experiments. For each attempt the scientists raise a group of clones. These clones are kept isolated and raised to believe that they will be the crew of a spaceship that will colonize a planet in another solar system. The spaceship will take hundreds of years to reach the system and the crew will spend most of their time in hibernation. Along with the crew of six, the ship carries thousands of other clones in hibernation, intended to populate the new colony and, if necessary, provide replacements for any crew members who die along the way.

The crew are just caretakers: the ship is controlled by a disembodied human brain (known by the euphemism "Organic Mental Core," further euphemised as "OMC") that runs the complex operations of the vessel and keeps it moving in space. But the OMC becomes catatonic, and its two replacements suffer similar fates. The crew are faced with a choice: turn around, or build an artificial consciousness that will enable the ship to continue. The chances of survival if they attempt to turn back are very low.

The clones have been bred and carefully selected for psychological purposes to reinforce each other, as well as to provide various specialized skills that will give them the best chance of success. The crew includes a chaplain-psychiatrist, Raja Flattery, who knows their real purpose, and that the breakdown of the "OMC"s were planned. He's aware that several ships have gone out before theirs, each one failing. He understands the nature of the test: create a high pressure environment in which brilliance may break through out of necessity, and create in the safety of the void what humans couldn't safely create on Earth.

Connection to Frankenstein

In between revisions, Herbert read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Struck by the similarities in tone and theme, Herbert intermixed citations from Frankenstein, along with other notable maxims, as lead-ins for the 1978 revision.

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