Anyone who knows me in real life right now knows that my life lately has been like Shark Week, but instead of lots of shows about sharks it’s alternating episodes of crazy telenovelas and episodes of Maury Povich, and instead of commercial breaks it’s lots of long phone conversations with various entities through which I must adult. It’s been very interesting, but there hasn’t been much time for reading, especially since my JCC membership and its correlated forty minutes of stationary cycling ended a few weeks ago. When I got the reminder email over the weekend that my turn at this blog was coming up Monday, I slid open my credenza and browsed my book collection for a suitably ancient previously read title with an appropriately garish cover. I grabbed Frank Herbert’s “The Eyes of Heisenberg,” which I read in the fall of 2015, and called it a night.
I vividly recall buying this book. It was September of 2015, and I had been separated from my husband and living in my hep yet dilapidated dwelling on Independence Street for about a month. I was eager to explore my artsy, funky new neighborhood, and my sister’s October 5th birthday was rapidly approaching, so I headed down to the monthly Piety Street Market to see if I could find her something cool. After perusing several tables of jewelry and artisan baked goods infused with what seemed to be the contents of your elderly aunt’s potpourri sachets, I found a table of old books priced one for five dollars, two for seven. I found two slim volumes by “Dune” author Frank Herbert. “Hellstrom’s Hive,” about a secret group of people led by Dr. Hellstrom who model their lives upon social insects, was destined to be my sister’s, seeing as how she had recently gotten engaged to her now-husband whose name is also Dr. Hellstrom (a PhD of aerodynamic engineering, not of making people chew up wood and barf out paper or whatever the hive did in the book). The other was the gorgeous tome you see above.
The cover of “The Eyes of Heisenberg” is right up my alley. First of all, the title referencing Heisenberg – no, it’s not a book about Walter White “slingin’ blue glass and makin’ fat stacks” as Skinny Pete might say, but anything that even makes me kind of think of one of my all-time favorite fictional universes and characters is going to press my “yes” button. Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” still makes me tear up. Secondly, let’s examine the particulars of this cover. “World-Famous Creator of DUNE and THE JESUS INCIDENT.” I haven’t read “Dune.” I did watch the first few minutes of some miniseries based on the book, but all I remember from that is some space guy saying “I eat duty for breakfast.” “The Jesus Incident” is also not within my realm of knowledge, but it sounds pretty noteworthy. Then there’s the Frankenfurter-faced gold-bikinied being. At first I thought she was wearing a big red pope hat but it’s actually a smaller pseudo-Cambodian headdress resting upon some super luxe floating massage chair that was probably 70% off at the store closing sale at your mall’s Brookstone last year. Come on, did you really think you could just go in there and sit in those vibrating chairs and not buy something trip after trip and they’d just always be there for you? You couldn’t have at least bought some of that gross wet sculpting sand? It was only $19.99 for pete’s sake! Below the chair on the uber-googie platform, we see the brass ring we are all to reach for in life. Wait, I just noticed the shoes. What are they, orthopedic slippers for a mummy? They’re ruining this whole thing for me.
So what was “the most terrifying mutation ever!”? If you flip the book over, you’ll see that it had something to do with a “rogue embryo.” In the dystopian future described in this book, all human reproduction is done in the lab to ensure that only the best genes make it through to the next generation. This book came out in 1966, over a decade before the advent of IVF, so it was fascinating to read how close and yet how weirdly far Herbert got to scientific reality (one of the main draws of vintage science fiction, I’m sure). The “cut,” which is a mandatory process for manipulating the genes of the embryos in the book, is somewhat similar to a procedure that exists today, but the procedures in the book involve a lot of vats. In fact, nobody gets pregnant anymore, babies are just grown in these vats. There are two genetic classes of people, the “Optimen” and the “Folk.” The Optimen (including goldieboobs on the cover) are the genetically superior ruling overlords. Everyone takes special enzymes and even the Folk live for hundreds of years, but the Optimen are basically immortal. Only the Folk can reproduce, though, and of them, only a select few are chosen to do so (there’s some birth control gas keeping everyone from fruitful boot knockin’). All Optimen are sterile from conception. However, resistance is a’brewing, and when one of the embryo surgeons discovers an embryo that appears to be a fertile potential Optiman who technically shouldn’t exist and must be destroyed, the plot of this book happens. There are cyborgs and clones and bored Optimen who’ve all humped each other already yet have never witnessed violence until all this kerfuffle over the dangerous embryo.
It was a decent read, and I’m glad it had this cover and not this alternate one I found online, because mama don’t do sliced up brains ponging their inner glands betwixt their hemispheres while the eye that gets sliced open in that Dali movie wonders if it forgot to turn off the stove before leaving for work this morning: