Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: DUNE

Dune by Frank Herbert, 1965, The Berkeley Publishing Group, Special markets Hardcover September 2005, ISBN 0-441-01405-4

How does one go about writing a review of Dune? It's a massive job. I shall need three days to say most of what's in my head. Imagine, therefore, how much more difficult it was to write the book in the first place. The achievement of Frank Herbert is immense. To create the planet Arrakis, with all its culture based on physical characteristics, and the worlds beyond Arrakis is a staggering work, easily rivaling the achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I began reading Dune on June 15 this year, and finished July 19. As I said in previous posts (here and here), I found the beginning very hard reading. Herbert did not spoon-feed his readers. We have to figure it out from the barest of clues. On the first page I was confronted with the term Kwisatz Haderach, planets Caladan and Arrakis, the Atriedes family, and the curious term "suspensor lamp". Strange words, strange concepts, hard going. I didn't realize I had a "Terminology of the Imperium" section in the back. I assumed I had to figure these out from context or later illumination.

The second page presented the gom jabbar, Bene Gesserit, CHOAM, Landsraad, etc. The first five pages, even the first fifty pages, threw up one difficulty toward full understanding after another. I like to understand what I read. If I can't figure out something from the context or internal explanation, I consult a dictionary, or even on occasion an encyclopedia. But where to go to understand Bene Gesserit? Nothing to do but read on and hope to figure it all out from accumulated context. I did, eventually, stumble on the glossary, and made frequent flips there. It wasn't the most helpful, but consistent with Herbert's aversion to spoon-feeding. I read fairly slowly, trying to maximize my understanding. Possibly the need to understand caused me not to focus on some plot elements, or the depth of character development.

Once I was past the first fifty pages, the extent of new terms diminished. Some others started to become familiar. I consulted the glossary less, and enjoyed the book more. The mind fog over Arrakis started to clear (and in so doing, I hope, provided something for the dew harvesters to collect), and the plot stood front and center. About the time Jessica and Paul had to escape from their Harkonnen captors (or were they Sardukuar?) was when I began to see the big picture.

On the next two days--I think; it could take longer--I'm going to cover what I liked and didn't like about Dune. Today I'll simply mention that I like the fact the book had no swearing, no overt sex scenes, and little violence. Oh, there were wars, battles, and knife fights, but the covering of this was superbly done by Herbert, such that you almost didn't know it was a violent scene. The violence was not gratuitous, and the book did not rise or fall on the violence. This, I feel, is a mark of good writing.

So I conclude today by saying put me in the camp of fans of Dune. Some day I will re-read this, and I don't re-read many books. Thanks to my son for this gift, which has enriched me. More later.

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