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Literature / ConSentiency

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Arm yourself when the Frog God smiles.
—Gowachin admonition

Speculative Fiction series written by Frank Herbert of Dune fame. Set in the far future, the ConSentiency is like the United Federation of Planets, only without the Rubber-Forehead Aliens and more Starfish Aliens.

The stories follow Saboteur Extraordinaire Jorj X. McKie and the Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab). As their name implies, BuSab's job is to monitor and slow down the government, through covert (and sometimes humorous) sabotage. Apparently, if the government becomes too efficient, bad stuff happens. McKie also saves the world once in a while.

The works were written between 1958 and 1977, consisting of:

  • "A Matter of Traces," a short story focusing on a government subcommittee meeting. The first story in the milieu, in which McKie plays a minor role. Featured in the short story collection Eye.
  • "The Tactful Saboteur," another short tale, focusing on Mckie's search for a missing BuSab agent, while penetrating the secrets of the alien PanSpechi. Also featured in the collection Eye.
  • Whipping Star, a short novel in which McKie must save the life of the Caleban Fannie Mae. If he fails, the universe could be destroyed.
  • The Dosadi Experiment, which is probably the best known. The novel focuses on McKie's investigation of an unethical experiment that could tear the foundations of the ConSentiency apart.

Unique for Herbert's work, the ConSentiency series presents both humans and aliens on equal terms. Even more amazing, Herbert only wrote a few sequels, ending the series after the second novel, avoiding Sequelitis.

Contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Jorj X. McKie, to some extent. As a member of BuSab, he's a natural troublemaker, even taking courses on irritating people. He's had fifty marriages and divorces and is unable to form long-term relationships. His appearance is not very heroic, being described as gnomish and ugly (like a frog).
  • Assimilation Plot: Use of DemoPol has this effect.
  • Computerized Judicial System: Several stories (including Whipping Star and "The Tactful Saboteur") mention a "robo legum" court which is apparently run by a computer.
  • Cool Chair: Genetically engineered Chairdogs, the ultimate ergonomic massage chair.
  • Cool Gate: The most common form of interstellar travel is Jumpdoors that instantly teleport people to anywhere. Not exactly a Portal Network, but it does result in very Casual Interstellar Travel.
  • Crazy-Prepared: McKie has a ton of tools and explosives for a number of occasions, all carried in a small wallet.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Author being Frank Herbert, no large work would be complete without this, right?
  • The End of the World as We Know It: In "Whipping Star", the entire universe is at stake, all because of a Rich Bitch's S&M tastes. See also The Dosadi Experiment.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: "Ser."
  • The Federation: The ConSentiency, consisting of a wide variety of alien cultures and societies.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: "Beachball" interface turns out to do it quite well, given what is behind it.
  • Hive Mind : A PanSpechi individual is a literal Five-Man Band, consisting of five bodies that share one ego (one at a time).
  • Hero Secret Service: McKie has a number of police officers guard him when the villain has her sights on killing him.
  • Interservice Rivalry: The main reason why BuSab gets stuck with saving the world when it really isn't in their mandate. Various powerful people and groups in the ConSentiency want the Bureau to fail and be discredited.
  • Law Procedural: Some stories end up in court, specifically the Gowachin verison, the Courtarena, which is more civilized than it sounds. Anyone, including judges, can be killed or tortured, procedural rules can be be violated, and judges can have bias, as long as it's done with legal reasoning. It's also highly dramatic and full of ancient ritual. On the plus side, no one is above the law, and the "one or two corpses per trial" policy deters lawsuits.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Sabotaged Subverted by McKie and the Bureau of Sabotage. While everyone hates them for creating red tape, the bureau's goal is to protect sentient rights. Far from being pencil pushers and by-the-book types, the bureau is filled with natural troublemakers, who are rather sensitive to the cultures they work with. Aside from normal investigations, they oppose and obstruct loose cannon bureaucrats:
    New bureaus and directorates, odd ministries, leaped into existence for the most improbable purposes. These became the citadels of a new aristocracy, rulers who kept the giant wheel of government careening along, spreading destruction, violence, and chaos wherever they touched. In those desperate times, a handful of people [...] created the Sabotage Corps to slow that runaway wheel of government.
  • Odd Name Out: Fannie Mae. Upon hearing the name, McKie is somewhat shocked, since it would be like making first contact with Starfish Aliens and having him say his first name is "Bill".
  • One-Product Planet: As a result of Jumpdoors, planets have become very specialized, with even Honeymoon and gynecology planets. The various species of the ConSentiency are typically known for a particular trait, some of which (like the Caleban and Taprisiots) are used as a vital service.
  • Organic Technology: Largely limited to furniture and houseboats.
  • Pals with Jesus / God Was My Copilot: The Caleban quickly turn from something weird beyond their Beachball interface into more or less "godlike" beings, even before The Reveal. So when one of them later poses as a sort of Physical God advisor this apparently isn't a breach in their assumed habit of speaking only truth. And another one is in strange personal relationship with a human.
  • Portal Cut
  • The Power of Love
  • Prop Recycling: Chairdogs make an appearance in the Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune. Probably one of the few instances of "Used Furniture" in the literal sense. Galach is also another example, having been used in Dune.
  • Psychic Link / Mindlink Mates: McKie and Fanny Mae, having developed a deep friendship with each other.
  • Rich Bitch: Mliss Abnethe in "Whipping Star", who has a corporation and enough power to de facto own several worlds and keep BuSab off balance, even when threatening the entire universe.
  • Starfish Aliens: Some aliens can be your best pals, and some even resemble humans, but even they are very alien, from biology to culture. Others are more like personified universal forces. Still others are organic creatures who may cooperate with others, but apparently find it easier to have a meaningful chat with said universal forces than with humans.
  • That's No Moon: The Caleban. Possibly the stars in our universe are just their physical appearance! Or part of it.
  • Time Travel: subverted. Granted, the ability to just look into Eternity and make perfect copy of anything up to whole planet may look like one, but there are ... catches.
  • Translation Convention: Most sapients in the ConSentiency speak Galach, which is simply presented in the book as English. It's justified in that it's implied that the various alien species have developed relationships long before the stories.
    • Subverted with the Caleban. Despite being telepathic, talking to one is extremely difficult. Because the Caleban are so alien, they have few common references. As a result, one can't be sure if a Caleban's words have the same meaning as how one typically uses the word. Which may be fascinating in itself, if you can cope with speech that contains nothing save garbled statements of processes in universal "state-space" and emotions relations between the "nodes" in said state-space.
      If association with Calebans had taught him anything, it was that understanding between species was tenuous at best and trying to understand a Caleban could drive you insane.
  • Veganopia : Both aliens and humans find it disgusting to kill an animal for food or use it in a product. Possibly because it's not necessary: they still have meat, although it's grown separately from an animal.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie : not that it would help too much, though.
    But Calebans had never been known to lie. They appeared painfully, explicitly honest... as far as they could be understood.