Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Frank Herbert's "Dune"... or, I've got sand in my pants. (review)

"Mood? What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises — no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting."

Oh boy.  There's always a problem when you decide to take on a classic or canonical work of a genre for review. Not only is there the weight of history and time to contend with, along with nearly universal respect and admiration, but you have to occasionally disagree with people who obviously know more about literature than I (or you probably) do.  

Arthur C. Clarke dares you to disagree!
Let's take for example Arthur C. Clarke.  Of Frank Herbert's Dune, he said "I know nothing comparable to it except Lord of the Rings".  And who am I to argue with Arthur C. (friggin' Space Odyssey) Clarke?  I'm not going to disagree at all.  This is not only because I wouldn't want the undead wrath of Mr.Clarke or any other hardcore Dune fans to descend upon me, but also because I agree with this statement.  It is apt.  Dune is just like Lord of the Rings... in all the good ways and bad.

Firstly, I have to admit that Dune is completely epic.  It's got the whole shebang: scheming royalty, political intrigue, bitter betrayal, star-crossed love, holy war, lots of killing, etc.  It is all the makings of a really great book.  And for the most part, Dune is a great book.  But it would be a really fucking boring review if all I did was agree with his zombie-highness Mr.Clarke and left it at that.  Frank Herbert gathers all the most epic bits from literature and puts them into one 500 page tome. 


Dune suffers from the same terrible flaw that Lord of the Rings does when it comes to assembling the mountain of kickass-ness into an actual story.  And that is that when Herbert and Tolkien put their stories together, they apparently got really bored and just sort of slapped things together at the last minute when they got tired of writing.  YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.  Tolkien took like a hundred and fifty pages just to get the hobbits to leave the goddamn Shire.  It was like 300 pages in before we got the hell out of the merciless nonsensical clutches of Tom Bombadil.  Then after the story gets rolling he writes like 5000 more pages of awesome high fantasy adventureness.  And readers everywhere are completely enraptured and in love and oh my god they finally threw the ring into Mount Doom and yes victory woooo go hobbits!  And then it's over.  Despite the fact that it took like a billion pages to walk into Mordor (this is because one does not simply walk into Mordor, of course), it then takes them like 20 pages to walk home.  What. the. hell.  Did they discover that if they took the back door it turns out that the Shire was in the backyard or something?!  And then Saruman is there at the end and oh my god we just do not talk about that abortion of an ending.

The view from Frodo's back porch?
But I digress.

My point is that Frank Herbert's Dune suffers from the same breed of terrible timing.  Aside from a big time skip about 2/3 of the way into the book, the rest of the story dodders along at a Tolkienesque pace.  Lost in the desert?  No problem, we can go on that for like 70 pages.  Time for the epic final battle?  Oh, you get like ONE CHAPTER to get that shit done.  And then everyone dies! (There I ruined the book for you.)  Dune runs to its conclusion after jauntily strolling through the rest of the story.  And yes I know there are more books but all the hardcore fans (including my mom) say that they are awful and not worth reading as much as the first one. 

Speaking of the time when everyone died... SPOILER!... I find it incredibly messed up that Paul does not seem to give a mouse fart that his kid is dead at the end of the book.  I know it's because Paul is a Fremen-Super-Saiyan and is above feelings and all that but seriously, HIS KID IS DEAD.  Considering how believable the rest of the characters are in terms of their motivations and actions, I found that this pretty much ruined Paul/Muad'dib/Usul/whatever for me.  Even after his dad the Duke died and he didn't cry, I found that more believable because they were fleeing for their lives. But at the end it's Paul holding all the cards and he's got no tears left for his kid.  It is just too much to believe, even for super emotion controlling Bene Gesserit powered Paul.

The only other thing that bugged me about Dune is the mediocre female character roles.  This probably has a great deal to do with the fact that the book was written in 1965 though, so I can almost excuse it.  Jessica is certainly one of the most interesting characters in the book, but I find the other women's roles to be so small that I can barely even discern if they have personalities beyond their housekeeping skills (this is especially the case for Chani, who I really wanted to like!).

Now, the positives.  Yes, the book is good.  In fact, it's really good.  I am a very slow reader, so if I sit down to read then I am making a serious commitment to spend time with the book.  And Dune just kept pulling me back to read more.  The imagery in descriptions of Arrakis the dune planet are absolutely fantastic.  The characters (for the most part) are lively, believable and inspire pathos.  Layers of personal growth are stacked on each of the main characters as the story progresses, which really helps with the time skip in the last 1/3 of the book.

Last, but not least, I love sandworms.  I could not stop picturing the sandworms!  I wish that they had been a bigger part of the story, and hoped that the final battle finale would see Paul riding into town on a sandworm, squashing Harkonnens all along the way.  Not quite that epic though.  As I was reading, I realized that my mental image of the sandworms matches up closely with the box cover from the 1980's North American import ripoff of Hayao Miyazaki's classic anime Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.  The movie was massively cut and redubbed and redistributed in North America under the name Warriors of the Wind, and is now considered a complete and total abomination since the release of the full version.  But the box is awesome, and it makes me think of Dune.

Ride the worm!!!

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