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Norma Cenva is a fictional character from the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. Mentioned briefly in Herbert's God Emperor of Dune (1981), she plays a large role in the Legends of Dune prequel trilogy (2002–2004) written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The character reappears as the Oracle of Time in the Brian Herbert/Anderson novels Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007), which conclude the original series.
God Emperor of Dune
Norma Cenva is first mentioned in God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, when the God Emperor Leto II notes:
Who has ever heard of Norma Cenva? ... You think a man designed the first Guild ship? Your history books told you it was Aurelius Venport? They lied. It was his mistress, Norma. She gave him the design, along with five children. He thought his ego would take no less. In the end, the knowledge that he had not really fulfilled his own image, that was what destroyed him.
This paragraph is the only mention of Norma Cenva in Frank Herbert's works, although Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson develop and expand her character considerably in their novels.
Legends of Dune
Life and achievements
Norma Cenva (b. 218 B.G.) was the daughter of Zufa Cenva, Supreme Sorceress of Rossak. Barely four feet tall, Norma was a gifted mathematician. Realizing her genius, famous Poritrin scientist Tio Holtzman invited her to be his assistant in 203 B.G. Despite being against slavery, which was common on Poritrin, Norma lived much of her life there because she liked working with little distraction. She also cared little that Holtzman took credit for much of her work. Nevertheless, her innovations would prove indispensable to humanity in the war against the thinking machines known as the Butlerian Jihad.
Holtzman discovered the scientific phenomenon he called the Holtzman effect; though never explained in detail, it uses ambient subatomic energy fields to make (among other things) defensive force shields and instantaneous space travel possible. In Dune chronology, the effect was first employed during the events in Dune: The Butlerian Jihad for defensive force fields capable of scrambling the gel-circuitry of thinking machines. Networks of towers generating the field from the surface thus protected entire planets from machine attacks. However, the machines soon realized that their cymeks, human-machine hybrids, could slip through the field to destroy the transmitters because they possessed human brains which were unaffected by the scrambler fields. Norma then had the idea (in 203 B.G.) to use the field as an offensive weapon, projecting it with portable transmitters to knock out machines and their installations. Later that year, she used the Holtzman effect to invent suspensors. In 202 B.G., Holtzman calculated that the field could be modified to prevent penetration from physical projectiles; Norma agreed, correcting the flaws in his concept but noting that objects could still pass through the shield at a slow enough speed. She also predicted that when hit by a laser the shield would react violently; resulting in an explosion with the same effects of a nuclear weapon. In 185 B.G. she began to work on Holtzman's original field equations to find a way to fold space, and in 177 B.G. she successfully invented the theory of space-folding. By 174 B.G. she had built a prototype space-folding ship on Poritrin, but she was soon cast out from the planet by Holtzman and his patron, Lord Niko Bludd. The ship was then used to fold space successfully by Zensunni slaves fleeing a violent rebellion on Poritrin.
While being tortured by the Titan Xerxes in 174 B.G., Norma's latent psychic abilities were unleashed, destroying Xerxes and six cymeks. Using these powers she reworked her own body into a more beautiful, appealing one based on the many women of her ancestry. The next year she and her mother's former lover, industrialist Aurelius Venport, established a shipyard on Kolhar to produce space-folding ships (eventually called heighliners). Ever uncaring about her own fame, Norma credited the invention to Aurelius as a gift to him. In 164 B.G., Aurelius put the space-folding technology and shipyards at the disposal of the Jihad forces. He was soon awarded the Manion Cross (by Serena Butler herself) for his service to the Jihad.
Initially, foldspace travel was not completely accurate or safe; only about nine out of every ten heighliners made it to their final destination. Realizing that the spice melange amplified her psychic and calculative abilities, Norma pioneered the use of massive concentrated doses to presciently perceive space/time. In 88 B.G. she discovered that this was the way to safely navigate foldspace, and essentially became the first Navigator. That same year, Norma's son Adrien Venport established the Foldspace Shipping Company, and found the first ten volunteers who one day "would navigate fast company vessels throughout the League and the Unallied Planets." They were "confined to chambers filled with gradually increasing concentrations of melange gas ... mutating and changing, much like Norma." Norma experienced extreme mutations as a result of the constant exposure to such high concentrations of spice gas:
Her direct physical senses were deadened, and Norma no longer cared about taste, touch, or smell ... She found it remarkable to see webbing between her fingers and toes. Her face, once blunt-featured and later flawlessly beautiful, now had a small mouth and tiny eyes surrounded by smooth folds. Her head was immense, while the rest of her body atrophied to a useless appendage.
The Foldspace Shipping Company later became the Spacing Guild, monopolizing space commerce, transport and interplanetary banking. This marked the beginning of the Guild Calendar, and the universal dating system started over at 1 A.G. (After Guild).
The confidential Guild memorandum Norma Cenva and the Spacing Guild said the following of Norma in Dune: The Machine Crusade:
Though Norma Cenva saw great revelations in the intricacies of the cosmos, sometimes she could not distinguish night from day, or one place from another. Perhaps she did not need to identify such things, because she was capable of journeying across an entire universe in her mind. Was her brain physically capable of assembling huge quantities of data and using that information to identify large-scale events and complex trends? Or was it instead some inexplicable extrasensory phenomenon that enabled her to exceed the thinking capacities of any person who had lived before her? Or of any thinking machine? Generations later, her biographers would argue over her mental powers, but Norma herself might not have resolved the debate. Realistically, she would have cared less about how her brain worked than she cared about the actual performance of her mind and the incredible results of its inquiries.
In Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, Norma's mother Zufa Cenva was described as "a tall, statuesque woman" with "pale eyebrows, white hair, and luminous skin that made her seem ethereal, but charged with power." Zufa and her Sorceresses of Rossak possessed destructive telepathic abilities capable of obliterating limited numbers of human brains, such as those of cymeks, but a Sorceress was always killed when she unleashed her full power.
In 201 B.G., Zufa's lover (and pharmaceutical magnate) Aurelius Venport founded the VenKee corporation (with Tuk Keedair) and introduced the League of Nobles to melange, a substance with interesting properties in use by the natives of Arrakis.
Zufa gave birth to Ticia Cenva, her daughter by Iblis Ginjo (of which he was unaware), in 173 B.G.
Norma and Aurelius (b. 228 B.G.) had five children, her first and most successful child being Adrien Venport, born in 172 B.G.
In 164 B.G., Zufa and Aurelius were intercepted in space by the Titan Hecate. Not knowing that Hecate was assisting the Jihad forces against the thinking machines, Zufa unleashed a telekenetic blast that killed herself, Aurelius and Hecate.
In 108 B.G., Ticia led the Rossak Sorceresses in the collection of genetic samples of various human bloodlines, as they were in jeopardy from a catastrophic virus (the Demon Scourge) genetically engineered and unleashed by the thinking machines. Since the Sorceresses later became the Bene Gesserit, this process marked the beginning of a wider scope for the Sisterhood's breeding program (the Sorceresses had actually started keeping detailed breeding records circa 400 B.G., trying to improve the potency and prevalence of their telekinetic powers).
One of Ticia's children was Jimmak Tero, one of the genetically-undesirable people of Rossak referred to by the Sorceresses as the "Misborn". According to Ticia herself, he possessed "a sweet disposition which did not make up for his dull intellect." Raquella Berto-Anirul traveled to Rossak (with Mohandas Suk) in 88 B.G. in her role as a doctor to help fight a new outbreak of the Scourge on the planet. She befriended Jimmak; after being infected herself, Raquella made a miraculous recovery due to "healing water", provided by Jimmak, from a secret source known only by the Misborn. Paranoid and feeling that the doctor might somehow usurp her power, Ticia poisoned Raquella with the Rossak Drug. When the attempt to kill Raquella failed, Ticia killed herself.
That same year, Norma's son Adrien Venport founded the Foldspace Shipping Company, Norma having discovered how to safely navigate spacefolders using melange-induced prescience. The Foldspace Shipping Company later became the Spacing Guild, monopolizing space commerce, transport and interplanetary banking. This marked the beginning of the Guild Calendar, the universal dating system now starting over at 1 A.G. (After Guild).
Excerpts from Norma's writings appear as epigraphs in the Legends of Dune novels:
Unpublished laboratory notebooks (Dune: The Butlerian Jihad):
- The eyes of common perception do not see far. Too often we make the most important decisions based only on superficial information.
- Science: The creation of dilemmas by the solution of mysteries.
- Science: Lost in its own mythos, redoubling its efforts when it has forgotten its aim.
- Creativity follows its own rules.
Mathematical Philosophies (Dune: The Machine Crusade):
- Nothing is ever as it seems. With appropriate equations I can prove this.
- Life is about choices — good and bad — and their cumulative effects.
Private lab journals (Dune: The Machine Crusade):
- Time. We always have too little, or too much — never just enough.
In the 2012 novel Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, the highly-evolved Norma is a supporting character who appears several times, often as an advisor to her great-grandson, Josef Venport, a ruthless businessman and the head of Venport Holdings, the precursor to the Spacing Guild. She appears to be detached from many problems facing some humans who have not evolved as she has. Occasionally, this frustrates Josef, who nevertheless benefits greatly from her advice and support. She also appears in one chapter of the book in the Imperial Palace on Salusa Secundus and meets with Emperor Salvador Corrino, her arrival disrupting an already-eventful banquet and scattering guests.
The Oracle of Time
In Hunters of Dune, the 2006 Herbert/Anderson sequel to Frank Herbert's 1985 Chapterhouse: Dune, the Oracle of Time appears. She is able to communicate with the Guild Navigators and Duncan Idaho telepathically, although the range of her communications and prescience has limits. The Oracle possesses the power to fold space; she calls all Navigators to a certain coordinate in space, and when they arrive in their heighliners she transports them all to an alternate universe. She informs them that Kralizec, the so-called "final battle," is upon them, and they must find the wandering no-ship Ithaca. According to the Oracle, the Ithaca — fleeing from both the Bene Gesserit and the all-powerful Daniel and Marty — contains the ultimate Kwisatz Haderach, and both sides in the great war between humanity and thinking machines wants him for their victory. The Oracle finds the Ithaca and transports it back to the Old Empire, telling passenger Duncan that he has a part to play in Kralizec. But with Daniel and Marty in pursuit, the Ithaca soon flees and the Oracle loses track of the ship again.
At the end of Hunters, it is revealed that Daniel and Marty are in fact reincarnations of thinking machine leaders Omnius and Erasmus, and that the Oracle of Time is actually the consciousness of Norma Cenva, somehow still in existence over 15,000 years after the formation of the Spacing Guild. She watches over humanity in order to prevent Omnius and the thinking machines from destroying the human race.
In Sandworms of Dune — the 2007 sequel to Hunters and the conclusion of the original Dune series — the Spacing Guild has begun replacing its Navigators with Ixian navigation devices at the prompting of Face Dancer infiltrators with their own plot to take over the universe. Their supply of melange cut off, the obsolete Navigators are dying one by one. As Edrik pursues alternate sources of the spice, he and the remaining Navigators seek the Oracle's assistance. She responds that their problem is trivial compared to her need to find the Ithaca and assure victory in Kralizec.
As the forces of humanity make a last stand against the thinking machine forces and ultimate Kwisatz Haderach Duncan faces Omnius, the Oracle gathers the last of the Navigators. The weaponry and navigation of the human ships fail due to Face Dancer manipulations, but the Navigators intervene and are able to hold back the first wave of the machine attack. The Oracle emerges on Synchrony, the capital of the new Synchronized Empire, and takes all traces of Omnius with her to an alternate dimension. This paves the way for Duncan Idaho to bridge the gap between the humans and machines and guide the two into a peaceful coexistence.