Destination: Void is about a series of ships that are sent out with the ostensible mission of reaching the Tau Ceti system and colonizing a planet there. These ships carry a payload of 3000 some odd life forms. Mostly humans and some animals, too. The humans are in hibernation, expect for four or five key crew members, and the animals are in embryo form. There is an Organic Mental Core (OMC) that controls the ship and keeps all the systems functioning normally. An OMC is really a human brain hooked up directly to the ships computer (which has a bunch of core memory, by the way. You can guess when this book was written!). The ship also has 2 backup OMCs. The ship in the story is the sixth ship sent out to Tau Ceti. The first five had to be destroyed—for unknown reasons. The ships are populated entirely of clones—company property according to the big boss at Moon Base. If they all die, it’s only money—not real people!
So the crew is astounded when the OMC flips out and kills itself. They are double astounded when the two backup OMCs also go crazy after being hooked up—And they haven’t even made it out of the solar system yet! The book starts just after the crew kills the last OMC—it had gone on a rampage and killed two of the crew members. If this isn’t bad enough, early on we get the hint that there might not even be a habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system!
So what is going on? Well, the crew decides to make an artificial intelligence to run the computer and that is what the book is about. Nothing much happens in this book—the crew members talk a lot of theory about consciousness and how to create it. In fact, my main complaint with the book is that the crew talks a lot and not much happens. It wouldn’t be bad if the talking was fathomable, but its so laced with jargon it’s hard to pick apart and figure out what they are all getting on about. I program computers for a living and I still couldn’t figure out what they were getting at when they talked about the computers subroutines and such. I don’t think Frank Herbert knew a lot about computers. A lot of it certainly sounded good, but when I tried to decode some of the jargon laced sentences, they just didn’t really parse. One of the crew members experiments with a variety of mind altering drugs in an attempt to figure out at what level we are conscious—I wonder if the author was also doing these types of experiments while writing this book. :-).
The result of all this is a book that sounds extremely intelligent, doesn’t make a lot of sense and doesn’t go anywhere for the most part. The end is extremely abrupt, but I happened to like it. I didn’t hate this book—I liked it in spite of myself. Frank Herbert’s writing style is very impressive, even if the ideas are sometimes incomprehensible. Apparently this book is a prequel to the “Pandora Series”, and so I’ve ordered the rest of the series because the end makes it seem like the rest of the series will have a more fertile universe this book had. If you want to read a lot of theories about consciousness, and perhaps you yourself are experimenting with mind altering substances, then you may enjoy this book more than I did—and by the way I did enjoy it.