The Ascension Factor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Fourth in the series of novels set on Pandora, THE ASCENSION FACTOR is the third to be co-authored by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom. Dying before its completion, Herbert was unable to oversee the entire composition of his last novel. Nevertheless, in most respects it is a typically fine Herbert performance. The intricate and suspenseful plot follows several groups of characters as they contribute to the downfall of their leader, Flattery, and to the establishment of a radically new social and political order on Pandora.

Flattery is the clone of a man from the original colonizing ship that traveled from Earth to Pandora. Designed to ensure the survival of humanity by the most ruthless means, he is hostile to the native sentient life form, the unique kelp that fills the seas. Almost exterminated by the first human colonizers, the kelp has regrown and reorganized itself. Though it receives most human communications, it cannot transmit usable messages to all Pandorans. Flattery controls the kelp in part to minimize its contact with humans. To achieve his goal of building a new interstellar ship so that he can preserve humanity by escaping, Flattery pits the Pandorans against one another, causing much suffering.

The people who have developed on Pandora yearn for unity and peace. They must find a way to depose Flattery without betraying their dream or pushing him to destroy the planet. The kelp has an answer that the rebellious Shadows, a group of Pandorans, seek. The novel shows how the rebels learn that answer and what they make of it.