Dune and Battlefield Earth—Futuristic Technology: Sci-Fi Classics Set the Pace for Tech Innovations
Guest blogger Eva Mahoney (Part 2 of 3)
Futuristic technology inspired by science fiction classics is all around us.
With the film remake of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune, now set for release in October 2021, I decided to re-read it (along with millions of other fans). There is a real growing excitement about how this sci-fi classic will be re-imagined by director Denis Villeneuve.
In this three-part series, we explore world-building, futuristic technology, and heroes—especially heroes—of Dune and Battlefield Earth (another of my favorite science fiction novels). If you have not read Battlefield Earth, read the first 13 chapters or listen to the first hour of the audio for free (it is a fantastic sci-fi audiobook).
In Part 2, we’ll be looking at some of the future technology described in these famous sci-fi novels and see how they relate to current and developing innovations.
Future Technology (Part 2)
One of the key elements of an epic sci-fi saga is advanced technology envisioned but not yet available. These innovations are especially compelling where the boundaries of travel and conquest are extended out to near-infinite distances. Whereas we earthbound citizens may wonder whether there is more to heaven and earth than can be currently seen, these speculations are fact to Paul Atreides and Jonnie Goodboy Tyler in their struggles for survival against formidable galactic enemies.
When L. Ron Hubbard and Frank Herbert wrote their classic tales, they introduced technologies that made things possible in the worlds they built. Things such as large-scale teleportation, voice-amplified weaponization, thought-controlled space navigation, and flying platforms and “ground” cars (hover cars) are just some of the advanced technologies that scientists, engineers, and future thinkers have started on.
In Frank Herbert’s Dune, Paul Atreides teaches the Fremen how to use the voice as a weapon, based on the training he received from his mother Jessica, a Bene Gesserit sister. The Bene Gesserit skill known as “prana-bindu” training gave them superb control over their bodies—muscles, nerves, and the voice. The voice could be used to control others with specific frequencies. The original Dune movie (1984) introduced a voice-activated weapon. This “Weirding Module” was a sonic weapon that shot a devastating beam at an enemy based on certain words shouted through the weapon in battle.
One may think that incapacitating an adversary using a voice weapon is the stuff of fantasy and sci-fi, but such tech actually exists and is in use today. It’s called the LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Device, a sonic weapon sometimes used by police to quell riots. LRADs generally come with two modes, one acting as an amplifier that Popular Mechanics described as “projecting a human voice or recording across thousands of meters. In the other, it emits a ‘deterrent tone’ so loud it can cause permanent hearing loss.” Sonic weapons or LRADs are somewhat controversial because of potential hearing loss.
There is also a ship-mounted type of LRAD, which is a military-grade device meant to disperse potential threats with an “unbearable alarm-like sound.”
Another future technology introduced in Dune is thought-control or thought-guided navigation. Certain students, called Mentats, were trained and conditioned with computer-like abilities. There are the Navigators who, with the use of the addictive Dune spice mélange, could bend space and time to move space-faring ships across the vast expanse of space. This ability has been largely attributed as “mystical” in terms of its actual mechanics. Still, the idea of the mind or brain controlling physical things has not gone unnoticed in the tech world. The concept of virtual reality (VR) gained traction in the 1980s, creating an interactive multi-media experience using goggles and gloves to immerse the participant more fully in video games.
Recently, more ambitious efforts have been pointed at actually controlling things in the physical universe via the brain. Elon Musk, in August 2020, unveiled a new functional brain-computer interface called Neuralink. In the short term, it aims to treat neurological injuries and ailments and, in the long term, hopes to fuse humanity with artificial intelligence. Elon predicted that the Neuralink could be used to summon a Tesla ‘telepathically.’ (Express.co.uk)
Similarly, in 2015, Chinese researchers unveiled a “mind-controlled” car. They explained that a driver can control the car by wearing brain signal-reading equipment only (no hands or feet). They can go forward, backward, come to a stop, and lock and unlock the vehicle. The equipment comprises 16 sensors that capture signals from the driver’s brain. They developed a computer program that selects the relevant signals and translates them, enabling control of the car. The project developers hope that brain-controlled technology might be used in driverless cars such as the Google self driving car, Waymo.
In Battlefield Earth, large-scale teleportation to the aliens’ home planet of Psychlo plays a key role in their mining operations. Mr. Hubbard wrote that the success of teleportation depended on certain principles in the physical universe. Because of the phenomena of “samespace,” Jonnie Goodboy Tyler learned that a transshipment rig could not teleport anything nearer than about twenty-five thousand miles away.
“The ‘samespace’ phenomena informed them that space ‘considered itself’ identical on the principle of nearness. By a law of squares, the farther another point in space was away, the more ‘different’ it was from the point of origin. Total difference did not occur until one reached a point approximately twenty-five thousand miles away.… But to move an object cleanly, without destruction of it or harm to the transshipment rig, one had to have two spaces to coincide with each other, and space would not do that so long as it ‘considered itself’ ‘samespace.’ You would just get a tangled mess.” —L. Ron Hubbard Battlefield Earth
In 2017, a team of Chinese researchers “teleported” a single particle (photon) from the ground to an orbiting satellite more than 300 miles above using a process called quantum entanglement. Basically, the transportation of information rather than matter. Quantum entanglement is described as a strange phenomenon that occurs when two quantum objects, such as photons, form at the same instant and point in space and so share the same existence. In technical terms, they are described by the “same wave function.” (Time.com)
Wow, that sounds similar to “samespace.” Maybe they should try transporting something physical farther away (like 25,000 miles). Maybe they will in due time.
The Psychlos’ Intergalactic Mining Company took out most of the Earth’s population with a single gas attack-drone. Scientists trustingly sent a message into space advertising our location on a solid gold disk (a Voyager probe), which is how the Psychlos discovered our planet. Soon after, Psychlo mining personnel and heavy machinery was established on a now conquered and devastated Earth. The alien technology included flying platforms for mining that could hover despite the wind and battle-worthy “ground cars” that move at high speeds or hover mere feet off the ground. Mr. Hubbard described the engines as an enclosed housing in which the space coordinates could be changed—adjusting the coordinates on a panel would literally shift the space itself, and the car around it.
Along this line, hover technology and flying cars are getting closer and closer. There are several locations in the world where the principle of magnetic levitation or “maglev” is used to power trains at high speed on rails without wheels or friction. China, Japan, and Great Britain all have some routes carrying maglev trains. The concept of a maglev train, first used in 1984, involves “a magnetized coil running along the track that repels large magnets on the train’s undercarriage, allowing the train to levitate between 0.39 and 3.93 inches (1 to 10 centimeters) above the track.” —Science.HowStuffWorks.com
Also originating in the mid-20th century with prototype models is the hovercraft or air-cushion vehicle capable of traveling over water, mud, ice, land, and other surfaces.
Naturally, the offshoot of the concept of a ground car, such as the ones in Battlefield Earth, is the flying car (à la the Jetsons), a manned prototype of which was recently tested in Japan. The car took off and circled the test field for about four minutes on August 25, 2020. The CEO of the design company SkyDrive said, “We want to realize a society where flying cars are an accessible and convenient means of transportation in the skies and people are able to experience a safe, secure, and comfortable new way of life.” (CNN.com)
Another version of the flying car in development is the Volocopter, an all-electric vertical lift aircraft with capacity for two passengers and specially designed to be flown in urban environments.
There is also a passage in Battlefield Earth where the alien villain takes a picture and recording of his surroundings to send home to family on Psychlo, like a glimpse of future social media and this now common use of smart phones:
“With a sudden inspiration Terl reached down into the car and grabbed the picto-recorder. He aimed it in a sweeping circle, letting it grind away. He’d send his folks a spool of this. Then they’d believe him when he said it was one horns-awful of a planet and maybe sympathize with him. ʻMy daily view,ʼ he said into the recorder as he finished the sweep.” —L. Ron Hubbard Battlefield Earth
Smartphone technology has probably advanced the most of any technology in the last 30 years, with ever increasing internal storage and better camera resolution and increased internet capability. But what about the next 10 years? It’s likely that the phones of 2030 will rival the tech of sci-fi novels.
Possibly the most encompassing future technology is the promise and reality of reaching the stars via space travel (sci-fi spaceships have been part of many science fiction novels over the past 100 years, including both Battlefield Earth and Dune). This goal has lately generated renewed excitement across the globe, especially with SpaceX’s successes and renewed support for NASA. Once a future fantasy, sending an expedition to Mars, is now a distinct possibility—Elon Musk has set his sights on an expedition in the next four years. In June, the CEO of SpaceX stated that “he’s still aiming to launch the first ships to Mars by 2022. These ships will hold cargo designed to support a future mission. That mission will come in 2024, the next time when the Earth and Mars are close again.” (Inverse.com)
These are just a few examples of sci-fi technologies in Dune and Battlefield Earth that have contributed to new and emerging innovations.
“You have satellites out there, man has walked on the moon, you have probes going to the planets, don’t you? Somebody had to dream the dream, and a lot of somebodies like those great writers of The Golden Age and later had to get an awful lot of people interested in it to make it true.” —L. Ron Hubbard Battlefield Earth, Introduction
In Part 3 of this series, we will look into how these authors crafted the third major component of most sci-fi epics: heroes—especially heroes. A great saga is more than its bells and whistles, or rather black holes and quantum theory. The heart of every great story is human. Dune and Battlefield Earth are no exception.
Eva Mahoney is a writer, musician, and all-around renaissance woman with a passion for sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, and epic thrillers—in short, great storytelling. She is currently operating out of a converted garage loft on the family farm in upstate New York while taking care of her parents and a small menagerie of pets and wild animals. In her “spare time,” she telecommutes for a large NYC law firm on the weekends, writes songs, and blogs for several causes. She dreams of a place for all people of goodwill to unite in helping to a create better world and is developing a digital platform to “make it so.” And, most importantly, she is a grandmother!