January 2011 Book of the Month: Dune by Frank Herbert

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Hobbit, Dec 31, 2010.

  1. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    New Year, Old Classic.

    Dune is seen by many as a seminal work of SF.

    From Wikipedia:

    *though first published in a shorter form in Analog magazine from December 1963 - February 1964 as 'Dune World'.

    [​IMG]

    So: is Dune worth its reputation, 47 years on? Is it still worth a read? What is its enduring popularity?

    Discuss!

    Mark
     
  2. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    About the best thing I can find to say about Dune is that the concept of an entire planet covered in sand and riddled with gigantic worms is really quite good. That and the fact that I never have to read it again :D
     
  3. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Like many, I read it many years ago and enjoyed it a great deal. I may have re-read when the (then) SciFi channel aired its miniseries.

    It was an interesting initial read since I was approaching from an academic sense; the book was on the required reading list for my Science Fiction Literature course and was one of the primary books discussed in the course. I recall being fascinated with the depth of world building.

    I've had it my head to re-read the book for the past few years, and to continue with the remainder of the books in the series written by Frank Herbert.

    On a side note, I met my wife in the SF literature course, so for that reason, this book will always have a special spot for me. Conversely, my wife did not like the book at all, she didn't finish it. :(
     
  4. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I should start my reread of this in a few days. Had to finish up Storm of Swords, which was my winter break project, and the fantasy BOTM, which isn't a reread.

    My recollections of my decade-old read of Dune are that I really liked it and that it read very quickly for me. I'll try to remember a little more about what I thought of it then, but that's all I have in memory so far.
     
  5. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    The principal problem I had with Dune was the quality of the writing. I wonder how you would critique Dune on a SF Literature course as I found the general style leaden and tedious. Herbert's descriptive passages were overblown but unexciting and the character prose was archaic and pompous.

    I am fussy when it comes to writing style I'm afraid so it doesn't then really make much difference to me that the plot may (in places) be quite interesting and well developed. I imagine it would have been a much better book had Alfred Bester written it!
     
  6. pox

    pox Registered User

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    I enjoyed my recent (couple of years ago) re-read a lot more than I thought I would. I'd seen it as a chore as a kid, and couldn't remember what had happened in the series (ha).

    There's many element such as the analogy to the spread of islam spread throughout the books that I even noticed when I'd studies islam. I bears a couple of reads to get it right without a doubt.
     
  7. Colonel Worf

    Colonel Worf Registered User

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    That's funny, because I can't stand Bester's writing.

    I'm going to reread the book (my favorite novel) in a few days, but I just wanted to chime in about it first.

    Dune is the only book where I can name pretty much every character years after reading the book. Paul, Leto, Jessica, Alia, Vladimir Harkonnen, Feyd, Piter, etc. Every character is completely fleshed out. There aren't any cardboard characters in this novel.

    As far as worldbuilding goes, riding sandworms in a desert and being addicted to spice and all this other stuff that goes on, is genius.
     
  8. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    I only use him of an example of an author with a more 'exciting' and readable style (IMO). I don't really care for his books that much. I just wondered how an admittedly rich and intelligent plot like Dune's would have come out in the hands of a more skilled stylist.
     
  9. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    [showing my age]It's been more than a decade and a half,[/showing my age], so I can't recall the specific discussions or my exams in specific. However, in a broad sense, we looked at Dune (and the remainder of the books we read) from a thematic sense and an impact to SF sense.
     
  10. Colonel Worf

    Colonel Worf Registered User

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    I've never really thought of Herbert's writing style as being anything less than perfect. It's the first adult novel I ever remember reading and just being completely blown away by, so I might be biased. I guess a reread will tell.

    I wrote a paper on Dune in high school (and used it again for college. ;)) I think Dune was the first book where the masses realized science fiction wasn't all about scantily clad women and ray guns.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2011
  11. PeteMC

    PeteMC @PeteMC666

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    47 years on, Dune is still amazing. I will admit that my first exposure to it was seeing the film at the cinema when it first came out in 1984 (I was 12) and falling in love with it right then.

    I don't think I actually tackled the book until my late teens, but I re-read it last year and I still loved it. I never got into the later ones, and gave up altogether after God Emperor, but the original will always be special to me.
     
  12. fluffy bunny

    fluffy bunny Tasty or your money back! Staff Member

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    I'm a couple of chapters in on the reread. Some of the things I'm noting are:

    - The little prologues to each chapter are a nice touch and add a nice sense of destiny to the novel

    - There's a lot of information thrown at you in the first few chapters. Some would call it throwing you into the thick of the action. Others would call it infodumping with style.

    - The characters are pretty well fleshed out. I didn't like the book when I first read it over a decade ago, but I enjoyed it more on the reread approx 5 yrs ago. There's a nice sense of familiarity and some of the scenes (eg gom jabbar, intrigue, fremen scenes) are nicely handled. If the measure of a book is how memorable it is a few years down the line, Dune checks quite a few boxes, even if the ending is as rushed as I previously remember.

    I see where you get this impression from. The characters always seemed more theatrical to me (in the same way as 70s Doctor Who) rather than gritty and uberrealistic as per novels written from the 90s onwards. That style does appeal to me although I can see how it could alienate some.
     
  13. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I'm a quarter in and finding it very readable and as interesting as I found it something like a decade ago when I first read it.

    As fluffy says, many of the scenes so far (if not all of them) feel fresh in my memory here on the reread. There are images from later in the book coming back to me in advance as I read the earlier parts. One thing that's bugging me at this point is that I can't remember the relationship between the worms and the spice...want to say it's their waste, but could just as easily be eggs or some such. I'll get to that soon, I suppose.

    Another thing that strikes me is that the book in no way reads to me like something written almost 50 years ago. Many older books I read, particularly in SF, feel very dated, even things from, say, 30 years ago. Other than a few words here and there that wouldn't be used in the same context today, there's little to my eye that really dates the text.

    I'm certainly not finding anything to be overblown or pompous. Examples, Ropie, of what you mean?
    I'm not finding the characters to be particularly
     
  14. Roland 85

    Roland 85 Registered User

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    I have extremely fond memories of it, but it's been about 15 years, I guess, and that wasn't in English either. I've been meaning to reread it for a while, but with the catching-up and rereads I have to do this spring due to the ungainly amount of new stuff that's gonna see publication in the next few months, I'm not sure I'll find the time...
     
  15. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Month™

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    I clearly remember that great tranches of mysticism make up a lot of the content, which definitely gives it a 1960s feel, so in that sense it is quite dated.

    I can't think of anything specific, Erf, and I don't have a copy of the book anymore. They were general points I noted when reading it a couple of years back that have stayed with me. I can live with a bit of pomposity in the character prose, but the huge number of pages that really not much happened between events gave the book an overblown feeling.

    I've got to say as well - this is fantasy IMO. There's some science in the Fremen suits and the space travel elements but the vast majority of this story is mystical hokum and magical quests.
     
  16. pox

    pox Registered User

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    nah, I'd totally disagree with that. There's a different approach to the science based around breeding and drugs to replace computation. The training systems alluded to are martial and rigorous rather than mystical and ephemeral. There's the whole thread running through where the spice combined with the mentat ability allows access to future branches of a causal decision tree, but when you look at that in terms of recent publications around psi and the potential arbitrary direction of the time vector, and everyone kinda holding their breath 'till we know more... it starts to look prescient.

    The 'jihad' back in ancient earth time diaspora history against technology over a certain level is a hell of a move in terms of making the book as timeless as it became.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2011
  17. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I agree that there is an explanation of Paul's mental powers, through selective breeding and mental discipline. I do, though, think that that explanation falls flat when it comes to Paul having dreams of people he will meet later and places he will be in later before he even gets to the planet on which those dreams are set. "They will call me Muad'dib." Again, seems a little like a stretch to so completely understand what a people will do before even knowing them.

    I'd never thought of this similarity before, but I'd be surprised if no one else out there has talked about it -- the similarities between Paul and Kellhus. I wonder if there's a piece out there on it.
     
  18. pox

    pox Registered User

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    yeah, it certainly pushes its luck in that regard wedging it in early, but it's all wrapped into the effective prescience which he demonstrates later through 'stuff'.

    For it's time I'd still defend it as science fiction over fantasy without hesitation though.
     
  19. Roland 85

    Roland 85 Registered User

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    I'd shoot my own knee-cap if the similarity isn't intentional. Although I'd say that Kellhus is more of a Bene Geserit (spelling?) witch than Paul...
     
  20. pox

    pox Registered User

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    Though of course that's the whole thing, that Paul IS a bene gesserit witch...

    knowing nothing of Kellhus.... I have nothing to contribute here really...
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2011