If this is the gold standard against which all science fiction must measure and be judged, let's just blow our brains out right now and call it a day.If this is the gold standard against which all science fiction must measure and be judged, let's just blow our brains out right now and call it a day.
As far as I can tell, Dune largely inspires two points of view. One marvels at its historical importance and world-building (unique, fascinating, complex, rich), and the other dislikes the stilted writing but does so apologetically because Frank Herbert couldn't help the fact that he wrote science fiction in the 1960s and that Edward Said hadn't done his thing yet.
Come on , people of the world. Linear models of progress don't apply to good writing. Frank Herbert can't write because he's a shitty writer, not because it was the 1960s. The dialogue is clunky and characters have endless internal monologues (in italics) that serve no purpose but to explain incredibly obvious plot points to the reader. This is an embarrassingly novice mistake.
The plot also lacks any element of surprise. Princess Irulan, oblivious to the concept of spoiler alerts, summarizes all major plot points in her historical vignettes which introduce every single chapter. We can't wonder about whether and how Jesus Christ Paul will become the messiah of the people because the princess has already told us before we've begun the book. We can't wonder about who the traitor in the Atreides house is because Princess Irulan's vignette is all like "Yueh! Yueh! A million deaths were not enough for Yueh!"
And then there's the world-building. It is So. Fucking. Lazy. Half the words are lifted from Arabic and Arab Fremen culture is the result of a scavenger rampage through Islamic concepts, scraps of Buddhism, and Frank Hebert's Orientalist curiosities all cobbled together into a cringe-inducing whole. The main subject of this book, the sand niggers Fremen, have been in the desert for thousands of years, border on religious fanaticism, and haven't changed a bit over time. They pray salat, conserve water (because hello, desert), and wait for their white savior Paul to bring them out into the light (or into the shade, as it were). They frequently declare Muslim-sounding things in bastardized Arabic and are very upset because the Imperial forces are preventing them from doing Haj. It's unclear how the Imperial forces have blocked all outbound flights to Saudi Arabia, but we'll take it on faith. There was a jihad situation, like, hundreds of years ago but it was apparently a jihad against computers? I don't know. The ragheads Fremen also do this thing where two men will fight to the death and the winner will take the dead man's woman as his wife or his servant.
Given the history of the U.S., I think it's hilarious that a book full of racism, imperialism, and misogyny was considered groundbreaking in the 1960s.
The other thing that makes this book unreadable is Frank Herbert's I-Tarzan-You-Jane approach to gender:
“There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed … The greatest peril to the Giver is the force that takes. The greatest peril to the Taker is the force that gives."
Man has the mighty penis. Mighty penis does the thrusting action. Woman has the sacred hole. Sacred hole is warm and open for mighty penis penetration. Thanks for clearing that up, Frank.
Male and female characters in this book align nicely with Frank's pole-in-hole view of the world. The men do the war because the penis. The women do the manipulation and mind control because the vagina. They are either wives or concubines, and having children is of utmost important. Man and his woman sometimes have tender conversations about all of this. Observe:
"[Paul] began tightening his still suit. "You told me once the words of Kitab al-Ibar," he said. "You told me: 'Woman is thy field; go then to thy field and till it.'"
"I am the mother of thy firstborn," she agreed."
Anyway, let's talk some more about Paul, our white messiah. When he's taking a break from tilling his fields, he's busy being a cartoon hero. He has no flaws. Like, none. He sees everything, understands everything, knows the future, and every word out of his mouth is prophetic and vaguely Shakespearean. This is the kind of shit he says:
[Re. aforementioned penis/vagina theory]
""And you, my son," Jessica asked, "are you one who gives or one who takes?"
"I'm at the fulcrum," he said. "I cannot give without taking and I cannot take without [giving].""
You're SIXTEEN, bitch. Sit down and shut the fuck up. Nobody cares.
Opposite the cartoon hero is the cartoon villain. He's really, really evil. He wakes up evil, goes to bed evil, and all the time in the middle, he has evil conversations and evil thoughts. Many of his evil thoughts are in italics so we know EXACTLY where the story is headed because plot twists are also evil and will not be tolerated. Please note, he is also fat as fuck and eats a lot. Also, he's a big homo. And the homo's a pedo.
I really have nothing more to say. I AM glad I took the time to wade through this shitstorm of misogyny and orientalism. You can't read sci-fi and not have read Dune. I always suspected I might hate it, but at least now I have proof. ...more
Outside, the moon hung low. It sang of tremulous shadows and evenings past, of urban gunpowder and decay. In trembling hands, the reader held it. AlasOutside, the moon hung low. It sang of tremulous shadows and evenings past, of urban gunpowder and decay. In trembling hands, the reader held it. Alas, not the moon but something better. The solid weight of the book, after months of yearning and patient waiting. A creep of color in her cheeks, an imperceptible shiver of anticipation. Finally. She held it, not daring to believe -- but unable to stem the tide of hope and eagerness. It felt heavy. Six hundred and thirteen pages. An ending. A beginning. A dream. Of God and Monsters. The uncommon love story held within the desperately thick hardcover beckoned. She unfurled in her couch and began reading beside a steaming cup of decaffeinated tea that hinted of cinnamon and apples, of autumn long past. Would there ever again be such an autumn , she wondered absently, for a moment, before the tide of language pulled her under.
On and on she read. Akiva was manly but also beautiful. She was reminded repeatedly that his eyes were fire. Godstars and silverdust, they were fire. And Karou was a woman independent, strong, and brave. She led an army of revenants but she burned in the flames of Akiva’s eyes and his devotion to her, which knew no bounds. Karou stood fast, gulped, and joined her eyes with Akiva’s. In the known universe, there was nothing like these two sets of eyeballs, the same yet different. The eyeballs of Akiva and Karou. Each contained such intensity, grief, and resplendence, that the universe was destroyed and reborn each time their gazes locked. It was a thing indescribable in language. But the author tried anyway, over three books that sung with grief and hope. Across the nation, readers held their faces to the glimmering night sky and wept. They wept tears of moonshine and starlight. And they read.
After the universe reconstituted itself in the wake of Akiva and Karou’s soul-shattering look, the nature of their gazes … shifted. Karou’s was vivid, hopeful, searching. Akiva’s was troubled, unsure, and angry at the devastation he had caused her people. In a voice that was low and sweet and rough with love, he spoke: “hello.” Her hair was a shimmer of blue and her cream-colored face flushed and he thought, Gods, she was so beautiful. “Hi,” she said, and the word was a wisp and it brushed against his skin, soft as the caresses they had once shared before their worlds were torn asunder by a knowledge neither of them could ever unknow. As they looked on at each other, it seemed as though all the words in all the languages in all the worlds had been extinguished in the bright blaze of their love. What was there to say? But the ugly shadow of Thiago and his attempted brutalization of Karou hung low in the air between them, even lower than the moon outside the reader’s window. A very masculine rage tore through Akiva’s chest and threatened to blind him. I should have been there to protect you, he said, his voice choked with sorrow. The emotion in his voice seared its way through his body, and his chest rippled, slightly and gently as the leaves of a summer tree. Karou, strong and self-sufficient, said shortly, “I protected myself,” but her eyes were bright with tears. Outside, clouds were gathering. Clouds of hope and heartache.
But then the unthinkable happened. At the corner of the reader’s eye, a vibration. She turned and saw her iphone blinking the way it did only when someone was calling her. It was like a kick to her heartbeat, that burning light. The screen shone yellow-green, then sparked and blazed like a star calling out to the heavens. It was mom. Dear gods and stardust. She felt…exposed. Torn. An age-old conflict churned inside her: answer the call of duty or continue being caressed by the firelit words of the moonheavy book. Moments passed but seemed like years, like an eternity. She made her decision. She reached over and with the sly cunning of a fox, pressed a button that would silence the ring and as she did, revealed a smile like a lovechild of a shark and scimitar.
She drowned again. The author’s tortured prose opened its arms, and the reader fell into that lunatic embrace, an unwilling captive, and the world fell away around her. Oh, Akiva. Oh, Karou. Oh, two halves of one soul, their destiny written in war and blood. Oh, tears. The reader was dimly aware that plot and pacing were pitch-perfect, that occasional characters were well-drawn, and that the setting was still interesting. But in the end, these things were known and buried under prose that shone unbearably purple in the starlight, growing brighter and brighter like a wounded star in the night sky until there was nothing left of the dream of god and monsters, and of the reader's patience which lay in pieces on the desolate wasteland of her bedroom floor. ...more