Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on "Children of Dune"

I may be off-line at home, but not at work. That time AWOC (away without computer) last evening gave me time to work on my novel in progress, something I haven't done in several months. It also gave me time to read twenty more pages in Children of Dune, the third in the Dune Trilogy, written by Frank Herbert. This was next in my reading pile, reshuffled to bring up fiction after reading several non-fiction works.

I had never heard of Dune or the Dune Trilogy or Frank Herbert until a couple of years ago, when my son gave me Dune as a birthday or Christmas gift. The size was daunting, and I didn't start it for several months. It's not as if I lack reading material. Plus, I don't read much science fiction. When I finally did begin reading it, the many strange terms and the even stranger writing were a hindrance. I read Dune too long ago to review for this blog, but you can see my review of Dune Messiah here. In the meantime I had picked up the book Heroes of Dune, an interquel between the first two of the trilogy, written by Herbert's son, and covering the twelve year gap in the Dune history. I elected to read Children of Dune ahead of Heroes of Dune, to stay in the order they were written, rather than chronological order of the saga.

I may be sorry I did. I'm finding Children of Dune very difficult reading. By now the strange terms are second nature to me. I understand Mu'ah Dib, Benne Gessert, Arrakis, Arrikeem, Shai Halud, mentat, melange, steich, and Kwisach Haderach on sight. I finally came to understand CHOAM a little better in this volume.

But the writing style! My goodness, it goes against everything you hear in writing classes nowadays. Endless pages of thoughts of Leto and Ghanima as they stand with their grandmother waiting for some event. Endless conversations of a feared conspiracy that will end the House of Atreides. Long descriptions of back story, worked in chapter by chapter. It's downright boring!

Yet, this is a successful sci fi series. Who am I to question Herbert's writing? He did the same thing in Dune, though I thought a little less in Dune Messiah. Now in Children of Dune he seems to have caricatured what he did in the first book. It's been a couple of years since I've read it, but I don't remember the internal monologues going on for this long, or being repeated chapter after chapter, with no break for real action.

In an early chapter, where Princess Jessica returns to the planet Dune after a long, self-imposed exile, her protective force fans out into the crowd ahead of her and somehow apprehend the dozen or so conspirators intending to take her life. But this action is under-written. One barely gets the sense that it is action by the words. Herbert did that in Dune as well, the constant downplaying of action in favor of thoughts, descriptions, and conversations.

As I say, the original book and the series were successful, and more books have been added by Herbert's son than he himself wrote. But I have to say reading this is a struggle. I don't know if I'm going to finish it or not. And that's saying something. I always take the approach that if I've paid for it I finish it, to get my money's worth. Even if it was thrift store money as this one was. I'm at page 153 out of 410. At 10 pages per weeknight and 30 per weekend night, I would finish it somewhere around October 18th. Do I really want to dedicate two more weeks of my reading life to this?

Yes, if I don't finish it, and go on and read a couple more in the series, how will my growth as a writer be stunted? The series is successful. Perhaps it has something to teach me in terms of alternate writing styles, and widen my views of science fiction, of which I've read so little. I'll probably muddle through it. But if something else comes to my attention, either on the reading pile or elsewhere among the books I'll soon be putting back on shelves in the basement, I may just lay Children of Dune aside for a more opportune time.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Heinlein and Asimov are the classic SF writers for story. Skip the juvenile stuff and start with the mid-career works. Asimov specialized in the short stories although his novels stand up well. Heinlein always is no nonsense and had a universal vision. It's been 30+ years since I've read them but I still remember their work.