Jan 12 2011 11:37am

In league with the future: Frank Herbert’s Dune

Dune by Frank HerbertDune is a book that sneaks up on you. It’s an easy book to make fun of—ultra-baroque, ridiculously complex plotting, long pauses while people assess each other—and yet when all’s said and done, it sneaks up on you and sucks you in. It does a number of clever things, and it plays with some interesting ideas, and step by step it builds a very seductive world. It’s far from an Aristotelean plot—it’s a weird cocktail, part messianic, part intrigue, part ecological, but it works. I loved it when I was twelve, and I read the sequels, which are each half as good as the one before, and I didn’t give up until they were homeopathically good. I reread Dune frequently when I was young, but I hadn’t read it for a long time, certainly not since 1990. I thought maybe you had to be twelve, and I had grown out of it. But picking it up now to consider it as 1966’s Hugo winner, I was wrong. It got me again. I have reservations, of course I do. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I’d recommend it.

This is another one for the “religious SF” pile. But the religion in question is a distorted Islam. One of the things Herbert succeeds in doing here is making this seem like a far future that starts from here, and making the time between seem like history. He does it mainly by hinting and not explaining, and it works. It also has great names that plausibly come from different cultures—Duncan Idaho and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen and Stilgar.

Paul Atreides is the heir to a Dukedom, and we are told unequivocably and right away in the chapter start quotes that he will become Muad’Dib, that he will be a phenomenon, somebody worth writing books about within his universe. Before we know what Muad’Dib is, we know that’s Paul’s destiny. The quotes come from books Arrakis Awakening, A Child’s History of Muad’Dib, In My Father’s House, etc., all written in the future of the text we are reading. They do a number of clever things. First, they give information, secondly they give information the characters don’t yet know and hence foreshadow, sometimes more subtly and sometimes less. They therefore build up a sense of tragic inevitability, as with Yueh’s betrayal and Leto’s downfall. We know it’s going to happen, we know it’s going to have huge mythic significance, but we don’t know exactly when, and we don’t know how Paul and Jessica will survive. Thus the chapter start quotes set us up to be ready for Paul’s weird prophetic abilities, how they show and hide events at the same time, they make us understand them as if they have happened to us. This really is amazingly clever—chapter start quotes are an old device, but this is an astonishing use of them. It’s giving us a prescient weighted experience and two layers of time at the same time, so that when Paul gets that we understand it. The other clever thing the quotes do is that they come from a whole pile of books about Paul and written by “the Princess Irulan.” When we finally meet Irulan as a character and hear she has literary aspirations, that’s another and unexpected connection.

We have a universe that is balanced, Great Houses against Emperor against Guild—the Guild of pilots who are the only ones who can move ships between the stars. And moving across this balance there’s the all-female Bene Gesserit, a eugenic society with secret aims, and the Spice, which allows the Guild to see futures and therefore fly, and the Bene Gesserit to see futures and therefore plot. Spice comes only from Arrakis, the dune planet. The balance falters when Arrakis is given to Paul’s father Duke Leto, and Leto has plans for the desert dwellers, the Fremen. Unknown to him they have secret terraforming plans, and a strand of ecology has got into their religion. Their religion has also been twisted in the past by the Bene Gesserit, who spread legends on planets to make it easier for any of their members who happen to get stuck there. In addition to this, there was a revolt in the past (the Butlerian Jihad, mentioned, not described) in which computers were destroyed, and now people trained to think like computers, mentats, are valuable members of society, though both the ones we see are also trained as assassins. The whole plot is what happens after the balance is tipped, and how it comes into a new balance.

Everybody has their own agenda, and all the agendas are twisted. The Harkonnens, enemies of the Atreides, the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit, the Fremen, everyone. A lot of what makes the book good is the depth of the worldbuilding. Herbert takes all the time he needs to build his world, one funny word at a time. The book starts on Caledan, and moves slowly to Arrakis, and this is good, we need that time. It starts really slowly, establishing characters. Paul and Jessica aren’t normal but they come from a world much more like ours into a world where every drop of water is precious and the culture has been utterly shaped by that. And it really feels as if it has. Paul and Jessica are thrust out among the Fremen and have to learn to adjust, at the same time as Paul is learning to use his prescient powers. The different cultures build up drop by drop until they feel completely real.

So, caveats. It’s incredibly overwritten and purple. At times it almost seems like self-parody. The plotting is unnecessarily baroque. There are some lovely set pieces, but there are also some ridiculous ones. The prescience is brilliant, but the race memory—if you had race memory of all your ancestors through your genes, that would give you their memory up to the time they conceived their child, not their wisdom in old age and experience, but a whole pile of twenty year olds. Agamemnon’s children were all conceived before Troy, and Shakespeare’s before he left Stratford. Their memories won’t be that much use.

But all of that aside, it got me, I wanted to keep reading it, and by the end I was utterly caught up in it and asking myself if the sequels really were as bad as I remember, because I wanted more.

The sequels are not worth it. But if you haven’t read Dune itself, do pick it up. It’s entirely self contained, it has a beginning and a satisfying end, it’s a classic, it’s a good story, and it’s one of the things helps define the edges of what science fiction can be.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and eight novels, most recently Lifelode. She has a ninth novel coming out on January 18th, Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter

and I didn’t give up until they were homeopathically good.

That's a great line. I pretty much had the same experience. I read Dune multiple times around the age of 12. The sequels--not so much.I haven't thought much about the writing itself for quite a while, but I really agree that the chapter quotes add to the depth and prescient telling in a novel way.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
I'm going to have to remember the phrase "homeopathically good".

Now that I finally have my books again, I've been thinking about rereading Dune, but I've been hesitant, largely because of the sequels. There appear to be a lot of things in there that I missed the first couple of times around, but then I was in my mid-20s the last time I read it.

I do remember being bothered by the genetic memory thing, for the same reason you mentioned. Now I just have to figure out which box it is that has this in it.
James Goetsch
3. Jedikalos
Another book I read when it came out (when I was 10), and I have always loved it. I think you are wrong about the memories: just as all my personal memories don't overwhelm me from all the years I have lived, I think it makes sense that a sort of gestalt would arise in the combined consciousness of the generations. I have never read any of the sequels (and you have set that choice in stone)--just like I wish I had only watched the first Matrix movie, etc. I love the way you phrase the idea of a books "Homeopathic goodness"--to express the range at which the goodness of reading it drops below the required limit! I love your reviews and look forward to reading them.
4. Menshevixen
I am actually rereading Dune right now (for about the eighteenth time). The older I grow and the more I read it--I think I read it first when I was 13 and I am 23 now--the more I love it. The book becomes more dated as well, of course, and I become more aware of needless complexity and bad writing and sexism and so forth, but every time I read it I'm still shocked by how quickly I am drawn in, how everything seems new and intriguing and surprising. It is one of those books that I can recognize errors or poor style or whatnot in, but not want it to be changed.

The sequels...enh. I liked the two which Frank Herbert wrote, but when his son took over, well, that never goes the way we want (hello Todd and Christopher).
5. Story Cottage
I think Dune is a must read for anyone getting into science fiction. The impact of this book on many authors and their work is understated.

In a small respect I do differ with your opinion on the sequels. While Herbert took this series into an embarassing, downward spiral, the first two sequels (the original trilogy) are quite enjoyable. From what I read, Herbert actually started writing them while he was still writign Dune as he had ideas, etc., that he knew didn't fit within Dune's framework.

One quick note, if for whatever reason you do read the rest of the Dune books Frank Herbert wrote and you want to continue in the Dune Universe I implore you not to read any of the prequels and sequels by his son, Brian, and Kevin J. Anderson. Their stories and their takes on, and protrayal of the characters (and ancestors, and organizations, etc.) almost ruined the entire work for me.

Luckily the Dune stands on its own quite nicely.
Michael Burke
6. Ludon
Dune is one of my favorite books. I was not able to get into Children of Dune and I didn't try reading any of the rest.

I think that those long pauses in the story (the info dumps) are part of what makes the chapter start quotes so effective. It adds to the feeling of reading history rather than fiction. Those and the wonderful bits of inner dialogue are the main reasons why I don't expect to see a "good" movie version of Dune.

Now. some thoughts on the race memories. First. We do have some race or genetic memories - they're called instincts.

Second. It has been said that the babbling of a baby contains all the sounds of the world's languages. Many of the sounds or sound combinations drop away as the child grows familiar with the sounds being made by everyone who comes near. The child clings to the sounds that seem to be most useful. With genetic or race memory the child could have access to a wider range of memories but much of it would not make sense. That sense would evolve over time while matching memories to surrounding events and situations then those matched memories would come to focus and the rest - or most of the rest - would fade away through lack of attention. And before those memories faded? Well maybe that could explain why childhood creativity is almost universal and that most children seem to lose it as they grow older. The Bene Gesserit could have found or developed techniques to reclaim some of those lost memories.
Evan Leatherwood
7. ELeatherwood
Jo, what other works fall into the category of religious SF? A Canticle for Liebowitz, sure, but what else? I'd love your list. What are the characteristics of religious SF?
8. EzekielDLamb
The last book in the series, Chapterhouse Dune, is my favorite, followed by God Emperor of Dune, then Dune. You should really give Chapterhouse a second chance, or even the last 3 books, if you haven't already.
Michael Burke
9. Ludon
@7. ELeatherwood

I'm not sure about Jo, but I'd place James White's The Silent Stars Go By in this category.
[da ve]
10. slickhop
@Jo: this phrase "homeopathically good" really is fantastic.

Good write up. I had never thought about ancestral memory that way before, suddenly feeling very silly.

I have only read Dune and none of the sequels from my father's advice, and I'm glad he gave it to me whenever I hear the advice confirmed.
David Dyer-Bennet
11. dd-b
Dune holds a solid place on my top-5 SF books list. It's full of mysticism and precognition and stuff I despise, but it's still wonderful.

Plus it's a whole book about trying NOT to send the legions of jihad out across the universe to shake everything up. There aren't enough books about people trying to resist wars.

I like "homeopathically good". I mostly stick to the simpler formulation "there are no Dune sequels".

There's also no movie; although there's a visual richness there that isn't completely wrong.

The technology that justifies personal combat being important is pretty clever -- force screens that resist stuff moving through them proportional to the square of the speed, or some such. So they'll stop a bullet, but not a knife, especially if the knife moves slowly.

There's a thread on human capability going through this -- the Bene Geneserit control of their bodies, the level of martial arts training Paul gets from people like Duncan and Gurney, the mental abilities of the Mentats, the Guild navigators questing through time and space.

There's a story going around that the level of input from Campbell on this one amounted to an uncredited collaboration -- and that this explains why this book is so much not like any other Herbert books (including the alleged sequels). It doesn't seem very Campbellian to me, but sometimes collaborations work out that way; one person's concerns worked out in another person's way which the first person would never have thought of.

The Fremen have their twisted Islam; but in addition to that there are the "Orange Catholics". And the Bene Geneserit approximate a religious order in a lot of ways as well.
Rob Weber
12. valashain
@ 8. EzekielDLamb

And here I was thinking I was the only person on the planet to like the last book in the series the most ;)
13. talopine
I love the political parts of Dune, but I must confess that the religious bits of it irritate me exceedingly. (But the Bene Gesserit are just cool. Especially the Voice and the fear litany.)
14. GurneyH
@Menshevixen: Frank Herbert wrote five sequel novels, not just two.

I'll have to disagree with the general opinion on the sequels. While none of them are as good as the original, each contain scenes which alone make the book worth reading. Granted, there may only be a handful of these in some of them, but e.g. the portrayal of the God-Emperor in the book of the same title is fantastic. And they all go off in weird directions which, to me, is good.
15. GurneyH
I should hasten to add that this goes only for the sequels Frank wrote himself. I've not read the others, only ever skimmed the first few pages and found those so dreadful that I could not continue.
16. Menshevixen
@GurneyH: my (typing) mistake. As I was responding here I was also looking through the catalog of the library I work in, and wondering why we are missing Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, but have the other four books. Something must have short-circuited. :B
Jo Walton
17. bluejo
ELeatherwood: In the last couple of months I've written posts on _A Case of Conscience_, _A Canticle for Leibowitz_, _Stranger in a Strange Land_ and now _Dune_. (All findable with the search box). These are all Hugo winners and they are all religious SF.

This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list -- maybe I'll do a post on that.
19. I can't think of an alias
Dune is clearly one of the greatest SF works and is probably my all-time favorite SF novel (I don't think we ever let go of our childhood loves). It is always very difficult to fully appreciate the impact of a work almost 50 years later. Clearly parts of it are dated, it was a product of its time.

The sequels, unfortunately, play to Dune's weakness, becoming even more baroque. The first three are redeemable because of their endings. I won't give spoilers, but each have a great resolution. If you love the characters from Dune, you should read the the first three sequels, with lowered expectations.

I have read Frank's post-God Emperor sequels, and they are not worth it. As for Brian Herbert's works, I am sad to say I have read some of them. The Butlerian Jihad stuff wasn't as terrible, because Frank had left that time period so vague. I regret reading the pre-Dune works and because of that I refuse to read the novels that are set after Dune.
20. DBratman
That's a wonderful summary of Dune's strengths. I'm not fond of the book because of its flaws, but what it does well it does very well indeed. The device of using quotes to create a sense of inevitability and to look back from the future of the story had been used in SF before - Asimov's "Encyclopedia Galactica" for one - but not so subtly. And the sense of a complex and believable invented historical past - maybe only Tolkien exceeds Herbert here.
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
DBratman: People had certainly used it before, but Herbert was using it to give the reader an experience of partial prescience parallel to Paul's, which is really just incredibly clever. At the end, when we first meet Irulan, we know her future, just as Paul does. We know she will write those books. She doesn't.
22. a-j
Joining the appreciation of homeopathic good.

I avoided Dune for ages when I was an avid teenage SF reader because the NEL edition was so big and had no blurb, so I had no idea what it was like. Weirdly enough, read Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment first and then moved onto Dune.
And loved it.

I've often re-read it and agree with the criticisms above. I also liked the fact that the UK magazine SFX put its total lack of humour into the top '100 Things That Are Bad In Science Fiction'. And yet and yet. The world building is excellent and it has to be one of the most flattering to its readers books ever written. Not just that we are expected to follow all the political/religious/ecological plot lines but also all that business with people making fairly obvious comments and others stating how 'penetrating' or 'adult' the character is.

It also has one of the most fascinating 'fall and rise' plots I am aware of.
Terry Lago
23. dulac3
I am actually one of those who did enjoy Herbert's sequels (though I actively loathe his son's attempt to cash in on the series), though I have to admit the ending of the final book left me wondering where the hell he was going with all of this.

I agree that the worldbuilding is probably the strongest aspect to really sucks you in.
Tony Zbaraschuk
24. tonyz
There's actually a third layer in the pre-chapter quotes (though you probably only realize it when you get to the sequels), and that is that Irulan is also doing propaganda for the Atreides as a way of convincing herself that the the old imperial line was really overthrown by divine intervention (which makes it hurt less). So something like "A Child's History of Muad'dib" should also be considered along the lines of a pro-Napoleon propaganda piece written by Marie Louise.
25. Foxessa
I loved Dune from the first reading, and re-read it many times, until, well it was squeezed dry for re-reading.

Then along came the SyFy (though they didnt' call themselves SyFy then) Dune and Children of Dune television series, which I have re-watched often. They too contain all of what one loved about the novel and what one hates, and sometimes even magnify both. I loathed the phallic-centricness of Dune and got to loathe it more with each re-reading; this holds equally for the television series. The relentless , portentious iteration of 'Muad’Dib' in the mouths of everyone creates the need to scream, just to shut it out. The design and costuming though, can be set against that as great positives.

In many ways a first reading experience of Dune never came along again, until, maybe, Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. I continue to hope for a third reading experience like this before the lights go out.

Love, c.
26. Foxessa
I'd like to add that I become more awed by what Herbert extracted from his period in North Africa every time Dune comes into notice. He must have been one heck of a journalist, one thinks.

Love, C.
Sean Newton
27. SJN
The Bene Gesserit always seemed to me as masquerading as a religion. I thought that was a cool idea, using the religion as a really long con. And of course it is explicit in the bit where Jessica becomes a Reverend Mother. It was s subtlety that the film versions lacked.

The couple books I've read by Brian Herbert seemed to lack both all the stuff that made Dune fantastic, and all the stuff that made the sequels not quite so good. In other words, they were entirely mediocre.
Soon Lee
28. SoonLee
"Homeopathically good" Oh excellent!

I kept reading regardless, and enjoyed all the Frank Herbert Dune books. I didn't enjoy the Brian Herbert/Kevin J Anderson ones; the change in authorial voice was so drastic, it left me cold.

To use a word from 2010, "Dune" is an epic story.
Sim Tambem
29. Daedos
I found Dune on my own when I was young, so I didn't have anyone to tell me not to read the sequels. I think I am glad for that. Even though I agree that Dune is by far the best book in the series, I do not think it contains the series' best ideas. If you stop reading after Dune you never get to truly appreciate the awesomeness that is Duncan Idaho.

And that's just sad.
Chris Hawks
30. SaltManZ
@lambson: Right on about Duncan Idaho. I especially loved him in God Emperor, my favorite of the Dune books. I've yet to read KJA's Jihad trilogy {shudder} but I don't suppose Duncan shows up in those as well? :D
Sky Thibedeau
31. SkylarkThibedeau
I still have that same well worn copy from ACE books I first read as a 12 year old too. 'Dune' is really timeless and it's about time I reread the original.

I recently introduced my son to the book (previously he had only known it thru the Superior Sy-Fy channel movie) and he has now gone thru all the sequels and prequels even the ones I haven't read.

Though I enjoyed 'House Harkonnen' I always considered the prequels to be the Herbert estates version of Yogurt's "Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money" sans a Sardaukar Flamethrower for the kids.
Rob Munnelly
32. RobMRobM
Nice post, Jo.

I love Dune. In particular, I like the idea that Paul is a thoughtful, apt learner and everyone understandably decides to train him in their particular specialties (leadership, weapons, hand-to-land, mentat, BG skills). The end result is an incredibly potent human even without the KH powers that come later.

Re religious sci fi, one can also add Jo's favorite, The Sparrow.

Eli Bishop
33. EliBishop
Interesting point about the effect of the chapter quotes; I hadn't thought of them as making the reader prescient. The effect for me was more about reinforcing the huge historical scale of the story, making the "present-day" events feel part of something much bigger since, from the perspective of the chapter quotes, they're actually part of the distant past.

Anyway, it's impressive how Herbert manages to convey the impression that he's created hundreds of thousands of years of future history, when really a lot of it is just barely sketched in. He shows us the tip of the iceberg and encourages us to imagine how massive the part under the surface must be.
Fragano Ledgister
34. Fledgist
I'd like to add my appreciation for the term "homeopathically good".

Two things strike me about Dune, one is the dizzy multiculturalism of the novel (something that was very important to me when I read the copy I borrowed from the Santa Cruz public library in Jamaica when I was 14), and the way that the characters simply accept it. It's that multiculturalism, whether ethnic or religious, that gives it so much of its depth, it seems to me.

The other is that Herbert managed to weave in a number of jokes, ranging from the fake scholarly apparatus at the end of the book, to laugh-out-loud japes like "the Orange Catholic Bible" (guaranteed to bring peace to Northern Ireland?).
35. Dasein
I read Dune for the first time in 1969 when I was 16. I borrowed the NEL pb edition with the Bruce Pennington cover from a friend, & loved it so much that I'd bought my own copy (no small thing as it cost more than a week's pocket money, and must have been the most expensive book I'd bought at the time!) before I finished reading it.

After finishing it, I started again from the beginning (another first). Yes, it's flawed but I never noticed, being too much caught up in the story. The chapter head quotes I loved too, and it's a device I still like to see, even though they are rarely done so well as in Dune.

Dune Messiah I liked a lot but not as much as Dune, it didn't have the same narrative. Children of Dune I loved, almost as much as Dune; I found it very intense, and only exceeded in that regard in Herbert's other works by The Dosadi Experiment.

I bounced off God-Emperor once or twice, aware of the prevailing opinion of it and the other 2 books.
36. Dasein
Oops, a word missed out:

Dune Messiah I liked a lot but not as much as Dune, it didn't have the same narrative drive.
Chris Hawks
37. SaltManZ
It may be somewhat telling, but when I try to recall the first Dune book, a lot of the scenes that spring to mind are actually from the second.
Joe Romano
38. Drunes
Dune is one of my two favorite science fiction books, something I always recommend reading. (The other is A Canticle for Leibowitz.) I read Dune back in the late 60s or early 70s and have never re-read it (something I seldom do). For me, Dune was the perfect story and I've never had any interest in reading any of the sequels because of that.
39. joelfinkle
I never got past God Emperor -- at that point, my reading standards had gotten high enough that I wasn't going to spend the money/time on anything but the good stuff. The second book in the series, though, worthless on its own, has a few nice payoffs in the third. But definitely stop there.

Have you looked into more recent SF with religion? Note that as an atheist, I view religious SF as an interesting form of psychological fantasy. A couple things to look at would be Card's "Folk of the Fringe" -- faith plays an important role in a post-apocalyptic world. Cherry's Hammerfall deals with gods that aren't gods, but the religion is fascinating. Scalzi's "God Engines" reads like a bet to create something that can't be labeled correctly as SF or Fantasy, but there's the issue of worship there too. And of course American Gods, but, really, that's fantasy, not SF.
Michael Butler
40. Adelrune
I am in the minority I guess when I say I enjoyed several of the sequels and prequels put out by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert. I love the original Dune and Children of Dune but increasingly was frustrated and bored with the original set of 5. The "what happened before" stories are intriguing.
T Neill
41. Anarra
I love Dune. Our cat is named Leto Purrrtreides, Son of Meow'Dib (God Empurrror of Dune).

I loved the quotes at the top of the chapters from when
I was young. I liked the feeling of history they gave the book. They hel immerse me in the universe and make it more real.

I like the baroque language. Come to think, Anatham has some of that feel as well and I loved it, too.

I agree about avoiding the prequels by Brian and Kevin. I feel they altered Frank's cannon in the first one. After that, I didn't read any of the others.

My wife, an even bigger Dune fan than I, liked them. She says 'they're not Dune, but they're not bad'. They're not as complex nor is the writing style the same. They're more graphic than Dune as well.

As for me, I just got irritated at the changed cannon and gave up.
john mullen
42. johntheirishmongol
I read Dune when it came out and I still believe it is one of the best SF books ever written. It was one of the first books I ever read that I understood the layered approach to it. I actually detested the first 2 sequels but enjoyed some of the others. I have read some other Herbert I loved, including Dosadi Experiment and Hellstoms Hive.

I don't think you can entirely blame Herbert's son for the novels when he was working off of Frank's notes. Definately not as good and so they suffer by comparison but I have certainly read a lot worse stuff over the years.
43. Ryk E. Spoor
I had an interesting experience with respect to Dune. While in my Golden Age (12-13) I was voraciously devouring any SF novel I could get my hands on. And someone left behind in a classroom a copy of a novel "Dune Messiah". (In retrospect, the fact that it had been left behind should have tipped me off)

That novel sucked so badly that it was many years before I was willing to try _Dune_ itself. When I finally did, I was totally blown away; I could not imagine that the same man had written both -- I couldn't see how it was POSSIBLE that the same Frank Herbert could have produced that masterpiece, and then followed it up with a stunningly boring and meandering piece of crap.

It was many years after that (on, I think, r.a.sf.w) that I finally was told HOW it was possible: Dune itself was written under the iron editorial hand of John W. Campbell, but the sequels were not.
44. blocksmash
The problem with the sequels is that Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune weren't written as, or supposed to be read as sequels. Herbert kind of screwed himself when he decided to go back a few years later and answer questios that he had originally left deliberately open. ( He actually did this on at least one other occasion with Destination Void-The Jesus Incident-The Lazerus Effect-The Assension Factor)

The three books were supposed to be one large arc showing why super-hero messiahs were actually a Very Bad Thing, and Herbert had the end of CoD writen pretty early in the process. Most people I've talked to over the years about why they don't like the sequels usually aren't able to really articulate anything (a trend continued in the comments up to the point when I am writing this), but sometimes comment on the tearing down of the characters. It was a pretty bold decision, and I'm not sure he executed it as well as he could have. I think it could have been clearer that readers were supposed to consider it as one narrative, and as I said, the addition of "actual" sequels only muddied the situation further.

12 years old sounds about right, but Dune was maybe the fourth Herbert book I borrowed from my dads bookshelf (The White Plauge was first) and I burned through all six of the books in about 2 weeks. I loved Dune and it pretty much cemented Herbert as my favorite author for several years. I liked the next two, but I found God Emperor more or less unreadable. The last two are ok, if a little bit slight (they kind of read like a lot of John Dalmas to me if that means anything).

I don't know that rereading Dune Messiah or Children of Dune with the larger arc in mind will really change anybodys opinion, mine went up slightly I guess, but I am curious if people on here who don't like them could go into a bit more detail on the reason(s).
45. OtterB
Re religious science fiction, and knowing that Jo is a fan of Susan Palwick, I'll point out that Palwick has a previously published religious-themed story reprinted in the current Lightspeed online. I tried to post earlier with the link, but including a link apparently sent my comment to permanent spam limbo, so you'll have to google for it. But the story is titled "Cucumber Gravy," which is not a common phrase.
Filip Belic
46. fbelic
I had a bit different experience with "Dune". I first watched the movie as a very young kid (the 1984 version; best one in my opinion), then I read all the prequels when I was around 12 ("Houses", not "Butlerian Jihad") and finally, when I was around 18, I've read original "Dune".

I grew really fond of characters that were only marginally shown in "Dune" (Duke Leto, Hasimir Fenring...), so I was a somewhat disappointed with it. So, it's all about perspective.
47. Gorbag
Well, just to set the cat amongst the pigeons, as is written - and sung:
"Like a cat amongst troubled pigeons, I will ease your mind ..."

I started out by reading Dune Messiah, after having got my initiation into Frank Herbert's world by reading Whipping Star, and understanding that this here Mr Frank Herbert postulated such things as whipping stars to death, and having a Bureau of Sabotage ... In Lieu of Red Tape :) Jorj X. McKie was cool!

When I stumbled into Dune itself, I was primed. His world was unpleasantly believable - and I kept reading, with the hope that it would become less so.

I found much of the later, post-God-Emperor Dune rather preachy. I think he was spinning a mile from an inch's worth of wool by that time.

I prey you, ask me not my opinion of the post-Frank Herbert stuff. I would that the Dune cannon fire upon them and their perpetrators, cowering in the Arrakis caves, and erase them from my mind.
48. GuruJ
I found God Emperor to be grotesquely fascinating, but rarely enjoyable.

Since the book answers the question "What would it be like to be voluntarily become virtually immortal and a complete bastard because you knew the alternatives were even worse?" that's not perhaps entirely surprising :)
49. Bourgeois Nerd
Dune is one of those books where I more understand its importance in terms of the genre than truly love, or even like, it, which makes me feel like a bad sci-fi fan or something. I don't know, something about it has always just seemed so cold. And I just can't get over the "ancestral memory" thing. It's just... THAT'S NOT HOW GENES WORK!!!
Christopher Turkel
50. Applekey
I liked Dune a lot when I read it. I really wish I could write something like it. Dune Messiah and Children Of Dune where okay. God Emperor, oy, what a mess. I only read it after Heretics Of Dune came out. I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm still not sure it was worth it.

As for the Dune books written by Brian Herbert. No. Just no. Bad, bad, bad.
51. Kevin Standlee
My mother, who is the person who launched my reading of science fiction, gave me a copy of Dune when I was young, and I stalled out after reading about a chapter. It wasn't until I was in my twenties, I think, before I could actually digest the book. Like many of the others above, I agree with the "homeopathically good" comment, too.
Kurt Lorey
52. Shimrod
I guess I'm just odd, cuz I kinda like parts of the Brian sagas.

Purists. ;)
Soon Lee
53. SoonLee
The prescience is brilliant, but the race memory—if you had race memory of all your ancestors through your genes, that would give you their memory up to the time they conceived their child, not their wisdom in old age and experience, but a whole pile of twenty year olds.

This is what tips it into Fantasy despite the SF trappings. Some later books describe human abilities that are magical* (humans moving almost faster than the eye can perceive, gholas remembering events that happened to their other selves). The books read better for me when I regard them as fantasies.

*Or maybe it was a sufficiently advanced technology.
build six
54. build6
I really love Dune. I even love the later books :-), though not as much. But -

I've always had this wierd impression of the book, and I'm curious if anyone else feels the same way: there's ... several "tonal shifts" in the book - it reads like a different book early on (when the book starts, before they go to Arrakis, etc.); e.g. he early bits felt like "YA fiction" to me, while the later parts of the book felt "deeper"/more mature. Almost like separate books were stitched together (I chalked it up to Herbert writing in the Age Before Computers/Word Processors, such that everything is slower/harder-to-edit-to-fit-everything-thematically)
55. thomrit51
the cal state fullerton library at one point had herbert's notes (probably still do) from recollection is that he worked on it for about a decade and the collection has all of his starts and stops...i compared paul and jessica's meeting with the fremen in the to what he wrote in an early pass...purple prose fails to describe the first read like something from a 1930s pulp magazine --- one of the happily forgotten stories of the era.
build six
56. build6
ah i see that explains it - makes a lot of sense, yes, the "change in tone" is very much a "written during a different age/part of life" kind of thing. Well I guess the good news there is that the book just gets better and better as it goes along :-P
Eli Bishop
57. EliBishop
Related to what blocksmash said @44, and Ryk E. Spoor @43: this really interesting monograph on Herbert has quite a bit in chapter 7 about John W. Campbell Jr.'s input on Dune, and gives the impression that Herbert wrote the first book with the full intention of going in a very different direction in the sequels, which he knew Campbell would not like one bit. Campbell, being somewhat obsessed with the idea that evolution and ESP should always be Good Things, was basically unable or unwilling to understand that Herbert thought of Paul as a tragic figure-- so he made various suggestions for Dune along the lines of "Don't make Paul quite so powerful, because then you'll have nowhere to go in the sequels unless he turns out to be flawed and self-destructs somehow, and no one wants that." Herbert mostly ignored these. When Campbell realized what he had in mind for Dune Messiah, he refused to publish it.
Alison Sinclair
58. alixsin
I read Dune for the first time at the age of 16 or so, sleepless with jet lag; when I did finally pass out from sheer exhaustion, I had terrifying, hallucinatory dreams about Harkonens and sandworms. From an 16-year-old perspective, great adventure (sure, I'd ride a sandworm!), lots of cool ideas and scary people. I loved Duke Leto and was glad Jessica wasn't MY mother.

About 25 years later, I re-read it. All the cool ideas were still there, but the sense of tragedy was overwhelming. Instead of a powerful figure, Paul was a young man who'd barely come into his own before he got rolled over by Destiny.
Soon Lee
59. SoonLee
alixin @58:
...Paul was a young man who'd barely come into his own before he got rolled over by the Shai-hulud of Destiny.

There, I corrected it for you.
David Levinson
60. DemetriosX
While opening boxes at random looking for something to read, I found my copies of the original trilogy. With all the commentary we've had lately between this post and the two relevant Hugo posts, I grabbed them. I'm only through the second part of the first book, but a couple things have jumped out at me.

The first was after just a few pages, I thought ,"Wow, this is way better than I remembered!" Obviously, my memories were strongly colored by the later books. I've also noticed that process of homeopathic dilution really begins with the second part of Dune. The first part, which I assume corresponds to the bit that got the first Hugo nomination in 1964 and ends with Paul finally mourning his father, was excellent. But after that things just don't quite live up to that start.
61. james lehnen
Im sorry i have to say this but i seriously think Brians work is better because he adds more action into the series, but really i think both of their styles of writing are near the same, Brian adds a edge and a little less philosiphy and i ts the other way around for his father, both are great writers i think most of you just dont want to betray his father because he was the creator, but let me tell you something Brian is going by his fathers notes so in essence its still Franks work, so if you dont like Brians work than you dont like franks
63. Shana
What?! Eww. Get a clue in re the continuation of the series. The development of layer upon layer of story and meaning and the development of the will to consciousness of all beings make every book worth it...though some will strike deeper with one reader more than another and it is a long commitment.
64. olethros
The FH penned sequels are, to me, worthwhile, if not as spectacular as the original. In addition to Duncan Idaho, Miles Teg is fantastic.

The BH/KA books are execrable, and if you still believe that crap about working from FH's notes, I have a bridge to sell you. It's just barely possible that they started out that way, but at this point they're just crapping out cash cows and making up whatever they feel like.
65. James Lehnen
I guess I worded what I wrote two years ago odd. I would like to follow it up with something better expressing myself with the new books. I equally enjoy both FH and BH and they both have things the other does not. I think that BH is doing well in introducing the original books to the newer generation. I can say that there are a great many who would like to discredit Brian, and I have had my own doubts about the notes, but doing research on the matter it gives me little reason to believe he's lying about it.

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