Szplug's Reviews > Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert
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Oct 05, 2011

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As kids, my older brother was a Dune guy, whereas I bowed at the altar of John Ronald Reuel—and neither of us could ever bring ourselves to meet fully in the other's territory. I have tried Frank Herbert's renowned series several times now but have yet to make it further than Dune Messiah, the succinct, but inferior, follow-up to his smash-hit series opener. Everything that constitutes this curiously prescient science-fiction champion appeals to me: an alluringly thoughtful and flush aeon-spanning back story; a desert planet from which is harvested the priceless spice that allows interplanetary travel; feuding and scheming noble houses within a middle-eastern-flavored interstellar Empire; human computers and gaberdine sects that have replaced forbidden machines; the super-cool Sardaukar, the soldier-fanatics of the regnant Padishah-Emperor; the young Duke with mysterious portents and genetic mysteries interwoven about his young stud self and his formidable mystic mother, and so on and so forth. It's all there for something to scratch all those itches and stoke all those fires and hoist itself up onto the same level as Tolkien's epic saga.

Except that it didn't.

Every time that I have returned to read this novel, I marvel at how much the first two-thirds suck me in, ramping up the tension and tautening the various strands of the conspiracy-bound story—and the introduction of the Fremen and their austere, feral, and ritualized Neo-Bedouin culture developed amidst an endlessly severe and brutal wasteland is the most brilliant component of this story that has several. And every time I can't believe that Herbert put all of that thought and imagination and effort into this puppy only to sink it with that terribly rushed and anti-climactic ending. With whiplash haste the Baron is toast, his nephew is skewered, the Emperor is debased, the Sardaukar humbled, the Fremen ascendant, and Paul Atreides the smiling blue-eyed boy of the moment. It's the same undue haste and how-in-the-hell-do-I-wrap-this-up? palmball that he uses to hopelessly mar the ending of the already flawed Dune Messiah. The tangled plots and machinations and generational maneuvering and betrayals and...THE END! PLOTS UNRAVELED! BAD GUYS SMOKED! BLAME PLACED ON MEDDLING KIDS NOTED! NEXT!

It's quite obvious that I'm in the miniscule minority here—and I've heard similarly vehement complaints in a reverse manner from my brother concerning the good Professor—but the palpable disappointment I feel at what I consider Herbert's lamentable inability to finish a novel at near the same level with which he constructs the back story and fleshes out the opening sections becomes so intense that it bums me right the hell out. What's more, with nearly every reader warning me that the series gets progressively more obscure and turgid the further down the chain of sequels one ventures, I have never mustered the will to crack the spine of Children of Dune, let alone the infamous God Emperor. Ah, Frank, you brilliant innovator and miscegenetic culture breeder, how magical it could have been if only you had the moxie to finish what you started.
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message 1: by David (last edited Oct 05, 2011 05:48AM) (new)

David I read about a third of this when I was young. The writing, as I recall, was merely functional and the book itself had that stale, musky stench of checkout counter massmarket paperbacks that wafted through my childhood. (I was a fan of film novelizations back then, you know. How many Goodreaders, I ask, have read the celebrated novel Gremlins?)

Now, David Lynch's film version of Dune is another story. I love it. Yes, yes, I realize that objectively speaking it's not a good movie. David Lynch won't even discuss or acknowledge it anymore, and not without reason. The De Laurentiis family made aesthetically unreasonable demands upon the film, resulting in a confusing, poorly edited, irregularly paced curiosity. Nevertheless, from the moment that a bald Sian Phillips tells Kyle MacLachlan to put his hand in the box (all kinds of Freud going on there), I was hooked.


message 2: by Szplug (last edited Oct 05, 2011 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Szplug Ah, how I do know that stale, musky stench, which I originally associated with my maternal Grandmother's tub-thumping prairie bookcase, one stacked with every single thing written by Agatha Christie, Alistair MacLean, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

I was a fan of film novelizations back then, you know.

I was a member of that club—The Cat From Outer Space, Charlie The Lonesome Cougar, The Thing, Halloween, and, not quite the same thing, the thrilling Han Solo at Star's End by Brian Daley.

I've only seen the cinematic Dune once in my life—I know that I have caught it on the tube since, but only in bits and pieces—and I remember that, coming into as I did with zero expectations after the relentless critical drubbing it had received, I didn't find it that bad. Sting is a wanker and MacLachlan simply can't act, but otherwise I felt it did the job—I mean, I didn't fall asleep or anything.


message 3: by David (last edited Oct 05, 2011 12:11PM) (new)

David Oh, yes! The Star Wars novels. As I recall, the first non-direct film novelization was Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster, which had (as I remember it) Luke and Leia crouching or crabwalking away from Darth Vader on the cover. My favorite was The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut. I read that one repeatedly the year the movie came out.

I've never thought Kyle MacLachlan couldn't act, per se, but I always thought he was upstaged by his chin. (He did a fine job flailing in that swimming pool with Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls.)


message 4: by Szplug (last edited Oct 05, 2011 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Szplug I preferred the Daley novels to that of ADF, primarily because I found Han and Chewie far more interesting than Luke and Leia. One memorable thing about Splinter, though, was L and L rolling around in the muddy streets after a bit of bar brawling, and a little bit of boob slipped out the side window (this was before it was determined that they were actually siblings, so no ick factor). Other than that bit of titillation, though, Daley ate ADF's breakfast. I read the novelizations of Star Wars IV and V, but not VI...I think the Ewoks kind of turned me away.

Those sex scenes in Showgirls were way too spastic and energetic. Berkley was stunning all buck naked and blonde, but epileptic fits in such a natural state aren't at all sexy.


Heather Spot on review, although I'm willing to forgive the ending because I love the world so much. The second two books are vastly inferior and pretty disappointing, and the prequels are very "meh".


John Your review is spot on to how I am feeling. This book was highly recommended to me by many people who share the same tastes as I do. I also felt most of the book was well-developed and rich, but the ending seemed rushed. I was disappointed we didn't get more of a battle scene- it just cut from "let's go get those Harkonnens!" to "now all that remains is this one base." As I was nearing the end, I was aware of how few pages were left and I kept thinking "this has got to end in a cliffhanger or something. He can't possibly hope to resolve all of this." Like you said, it was a bit of anti-climactic.


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