Thursday, July 24, 2008

More on DUNE

I am at work, intending to write the next post in my review of Dune, but discover I do not have my notes with me. Let me just plunge in then, and do what I can without either the book or my notes at hand.

For today, a few things I liked about Dune

- the desert life descriptions: While Herbert did not go into great lengths to describe the deserts of Arrakis, he did show how the scarcity of water affected everything in that desert world. I loved the concept of the dew harvesters, with their swishing sickle-type contraptions. So effective was Herbert at this, that I cringed when Duke Leto, at his first state dinner on Arrakis, dumped half his glass of water on the floor, and his guests had to do the same. What a waste. I believe Leto was planning on making a point about this in future dinners, but of course never had the chance.

- the Fremen culture: This was another great achievement of Herbert. How much thought he must have given to a people who live in the desert without an oasis, who must dodge monster sand worms and yet do so expertly, who must avoid being enslaved by whatever family currently has the planet as its fiefdom, having developed a culture that accomplishes all of this. Such things as the still suits and tents, the sietches, riding the sandworms, etc. are quite well developed and written. Again, Herbert does not spoon-feed us with elaborate explanations of how this culture came into being. Enough information is given on most of these to understand them from the context.

- reliance on Arabic: Obviously much of the names and terms in the book are derived from the Arabic language, even using directly such words as jihad and hajj in the Arabic meaning. As one who lived five years in the Arab world, and who knows a smattering of Arabic, I found this enjoyable. Some terms, such as the words of greeting (can't type it in since I don't have the book here; will edit tonight) are close to the Arabic. I imagine some found this difficult or tedious. I found it enjoyable.

- the downplay of technology: In Dune, the technologies are assumed, not described. Space travel is a given, and no information is given on spacecraft. The 'thopers, for atmospheric travel, are never really explained. Suspensers, poison snoopers, shields, and many other technological advances that are not in our 21st century world are not explained; they simply are. I found this good. The book was long enough without adding too much explanation of what they are and how they worked. Perhaps this is the way of all science fiction writing. Since I don't read it much (the last was Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and the two sequels back in the 70s), I wouldn't know. But I liked it.

I am out of time, and probably have a long enough post. I'll continue soon.


Proteinstar said...

The lack of explanations of common technology isn't necessarily a hallmark of science fiction, only good science fiction. I absolutely love DUNE and have enjoyed reading your synopsis and opinions on the book.

David A. Todd said...


Forgive me for not responding to your comment sooner. As you can tell from other blog posts, I was away on a combination business/pleasure trip, and was not able to adequately monitor my blog.

Thanks for the comment, and glad my review was of interest to you. Thanks also for your thoughts on what makes for good science fiction writing as it concerns explanation of technology. I don't know if I'll be reading a whole lot more science fiction very soon. I have the next two in the Dune series, and will read them (though possibly not for months, or maybe a year).