Atomics (Dune)

Atomics (Dune)

Atomics is a term used to describe nuclear weapons in the "Dune" universe created by Frank Herbert.

Use of atomics

Like real-world nuclear weapons, atomics presumably derive their destructive force from nuclear reactions of fission or fusion; however, Herbert never delves into the specifics of the technology or explores in detail how it may have evolved by the time of "Dune"'s far-future setting.

In the "Dune" series of novels, many of the Great Houses of the Landsraad own "family atomics" as heirlooms, keeping a secure, hidden cache as weapons of last resort in their wars. Though such possession is necessary to secure power, the use of atomics against humans violates the chief prohibition of the Great Convention, the "universal truce enforced under the power balance maintained by the Guild, the Great Houses, and the Imperium" [Herbert, Frank. "Dune", "Terminology of the Imperium" (Great Convention)] . Paul notes in "Dune":

The language of the Great Convention is clear enough: "Use of atomics against humans shall be cause for planetary obliteration."

The atomics themselves serve two political purposes: firstly, they act as a military deterrent — any House which violates the Great Convention flagrantly (such as using atomics openly in warfare) faces the possibility of massive retaliation from any of the other Houses. This leads to the second use of family atomics: there is an agreement with the Spacing Guild that any House which faces certain ruin and defeat is allowed to relinquish control of their family atomics in exchange for guaranteed safety by the Guild, allowing a "defeated" House to flee into a safe exile, and to avoid the possibility of a cornered House lashing out senselessly with its atomics.


The original series

Actual use of these atomics against humans is considered an especially terrible crime, usually punishable by total extermination of the offending individual or House.

In "Dune", Paul Atreides uses an atomic device on the surface of Arrakis to blast a pass through a wild desert mountain range called the Shield Wall. Paul considers this act to be in accordance with the Great Convention because the atomics are not used against humans, but rather against a geological feature.


In the "Prelude to Dune" prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson it is revealed that a renegade House of the Landsraad had devastated the capital of the Corrino Padishah Empire, Salusa Secundus, with atomics and rendered the planet essentially uninhabitable. Padishah Emperor Hassik Corrino III had relocated the Imperial throne to the planet Kaitain, and the attacking House was subsequently exterminated; no record of the House's name exists by the time of "Dune".

Atomics are also used in the "Prelude to Dune" series by Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. In 10,175 A.G. Shaddam starts the "Great Spice War" with the secret aim of emptying the spice hoards of the Imperium and eventually destroying Arrakis, thereby ensuring his monopoly based on the synthetic spice of Project Amal. Under the guise of punishing House Richese for their hoard, Shaddam mercilessly destroys the artificial laboratory moon of Korona with atomics. A quarter of Richese's population go blind from the resulting light produced by the destruction of the Richesian mirrors stored there.

In the "Legends of Dune" prequel series, the first human victory of the Butlerian Jihad (the war against the thinking machines) is the 200 B.G. destruction of Earth and the Earth Omnius using atomics. "Pulse atomics" calibrated for use against the gel circuitry of the thinking machines are also used at end of the war to systematically wipe out every single machine-controlled planet.

tone burner

One type of atomic weapon is the stone burner, the explosion and radiation of which can be precisely adjusted depending on the desired effect. Stone burners emit "J-Rays", a form of radiation that has a tendency to destroy the eye tissue of anyone surviving the initial radiation blast. If of sufficient power, a stone burner can burn its way into the core of a planet, destroying it:

Paul remained silent, thinking what this weapon implied. Too much fuel in it and it'd cut its way into the planet's core. Dune's molten level lay deep, but the more dangerous for that. Such pressures released and out of control might split a planet, scattering lifeless bits and pieces through space. [Herbert, F. "Dune Messiah".]

In "Dune Messiah", a stone burner is used in an attempt to assassinate Paul Atreides; he survives but is blinded for the rest of his life. In the "Prelude to Dune" prequel series, the persecuted Earl Dominic Vernius plans to use forbidden atomics to attack the Imperial capital, Kaitain; when his hidden base on Arrakis is discovered by the Padishah Emperor's Sardaukar army, Vernius ignites a stone burner to destroy himself and as many of the Sardaukar as he can.

"The Dune Encyclopedia"

In the non-canon "Dune Encyclopedia", it is hinted that atomic weapons were invented in the remote human past, perhaps 30,000 years before the term stone burner was first commonly used. Their first recorded use was on Earth by a legendary state called the House of Washington. The House is known to have invented a kind of primitive stone burner called a neutron bomb that prevented battlefields from being totally destroyed by atomic weapons. It emitted a neutron shower and a very minimal explosion, thus in theory preserving cities and buildings while killing off an opposing army.

References and notes

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