My friend DukeLupus recently finished the series of Dune books and posted an article in his blog about the last books (Hunters of Dune, Sandworms of Dune). I am the Kaja he thanked for loaning the books. And he asked me if I could post my comments on the series as well. I’ll try. But knowing myself I write more about how and when I was reading than about my opinion or something worth knowing.
Warning! I didn’t make sure to avoid spoilers, there might be some! It is more of a musing about already-read books than recommending to get acquainted.
I came upon Dune in a way that made impossible not loving it. I remember clearly the first date with the man. I was 18. He was the smartest guy I had ever known. I almost held my breath to immerse myself in all he told me. And I remember clearly, how we drank tea in the end of the date in his granny’s cramped kitchen – after a Nirvana Jam in Von Krahl bar, after an hour walk in chilly February – and he told me about this book. The whole evening was novel for me, plus falling in love. There and then I decided to read the book. I didn’t know of any sequels or prequels or the complexity of following in great father’s footprints – and some of them didn’t even exist back then.
Previously I had been an avid reader of almost everything that happened to be within reading distance. Everything remotely readable in my family home was read – with more fascinating books read many times over1. But there weren’t many science-fiction/fantasy books there. Just some from Mirabilia series – thin and not that epic, I still liked them more than the others. And so when I read the first, the real Dune (hereafter referenced as “the real Dune”), I was amazed. It was entirely different from all I had read at that time, so precisely balanced, so through in all its details, thought-provoking, absolutely non-soapy… I loved the delicate balance of politics in the book, the massive scale of ecology, the expanded limits of human abilities. It really made me think – and I love that about books (and everything else).
By the time I got my hands on Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, I had read the first Dune novel at least ten times. Strangest thing about it was, how every time I read it the time-span seemed to shrink – at first reading I did really feel the years as they were pictured, but later the whole book seemed to last only a few months. Somehow it became so hectic, everything happening too fast, when I already knew, what will happen.
So when I came to Dune Messiah, my hopes were really up. And I was disappointed. I think this is the most pointless of all the Dune books written by Frank Herbert. If I didn’t have Children of Dune already there in the reading distance, I probably would have stopped the dive into Dune Universe right there. Dune Messiah seemed like an afterthought, like the material left out of the real Dune, showing only the inevitable, the logical and adding little of value. While Dune was a really strong standalone book, this is not. It couldn’t exist without the real Dune. It won’t hurt if you won’t read it at all and continue with the others in this series.
But with Children of Dune the series found a new breathing – you could see it developing toward another goal, toward something greater than the universe as they in the book know it, a buildup to something even greater. I always think that Frank didn’t think of visiting the Dune universe again after the real Dune, but seeing its success he had to write more and so there was Dune Messiah. But after or while writing it he got the new great idea, how you really should go about being the Kwisatz Haderach on the throne of the empire, about directing the future and Children of Dune is the buildup to that and more. After that book I still had some doubts, but now I understand that by that time I was locked in and had to follow the series.
Then I broke up with the man I mentioned at the start of this post. I won’t go into details in that awful breakup, but I want to stress that I was disappointed in the man who told me about Dune, but I was never disappointed in Dune itself. So when we split up I lost half the books I liked to read over and over again and had to start ordering new ones2. I did. I went to Amazon and a few books at a time they arrived. Dune was one of the series I ordered pretty soon. I remember loving God Emperor of Dune – the end of the thousand-year peace which made me think about how the short-term solution always conflicts with long-term goals, how it is unavoidable, that you have to sacrifice some of today for the better of tomorrow – but how far can you go in that sacrifice? How long ahead can you see, how far can you set your goals? Is it fortunate or not that our life-span is thus limited? I found it a good book in itself and almost didn’t notice it building up to even more, the urgency of Leto II to prepare people for what is to come. Somehow it is one of the favorites for me among the series. Somehow it is the turning point, maybe because it is stronger in philosophy than those two before that. Though it is pretty good and defined as a standalone book, you have to know the background to really enjoy it.
Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune were good books, still written in Frank’s enjoyable cryptic style, involving more of the exciting Sisterhood’s intrigues and bringing in new forces, showing the changing universe, but overshadowed for me by the Golden Age, the thousand-year-peace. Somehow they seemed to be a decline, or rather felt as a calm before the storm. All of it seemed logical, but I was already too much in the universe and I read it more for the completeness than for any great truth to be discovered. After reading them I was curious of what will be that great unidentified danger and how could they conquer it, but thought I would never know. I read and reread the Frank series of the Dune books and was quite happy.
Until, surely Amazon got back to me with exciting new possibilities – Frank’s son writing prequels and promising to end the series as well. Of course I recognized it instantly for what it was – making more money, milking the same cow that already cashed in pretty well, I guess. I agonized over the decision to buy or not to buy the books which were not written by Frank – but my fandom was rooted too deep and I had to find out more about them.
So I bought the House-trilogy (House Atreides, House Harkonnen, House Corrino). Frankly I think it should have been one book – no book in the series can be considered standalone – and it is the most pointless of all books Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have inflicted upon the Dune universe. There were logic errors, the book was disgustingly soapy and dragging. I believe it is intentionally stretched into trilogy so that you could charge for three books instead of one. There are so-oh many Dune fans out there who can be cashed for being disappointed – but who won’t resist just like me. And I would like to believe Frank wouldn’t think well of publishing even one concentrate of them instead those three. It doesn’t really add any value into the series, it is just a way
to feel nostalgic about Dune.
But did it stop me from ordering even more of the books written by that tandem? No, I couldn’t, with the promise of bringing in material left from Frank himself looming ahead. Though I admit that after the fiasco of House series I agonized over the decision even more. But I could not deny my will to extract the bits of original outline scattered amongst the excess and I ordered the Butlerian Jihad trilogy (The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, The Battle of Corrin). Once again a trilogy instead of a single book. But this time I think it does add value. All throughout the real Dune series there are scattered hints about the end of the machine age, but never definite enough to understand how it came to the machine-free universe of the real Dune (Thou shalt never make a machine in likeness of the human mind!) and the exploration of the limits of human beings. And after reading the last books, allegedly on the outline by Frank himself, I say that it does explain the “evil” machines better, make them understood, what they are and why.
But even though adding value, it also adds excess weight, excess hundreds of pages to the series as well. It is stretched longer than needed with pages of people’s reflections and memories, of telling the reader about everything he/she already knows and understands. I think I managed to get past my frustration only because my practice at “swallowing” the books – when you read quickly enough, you pass over the excess sections quickly as well and they don’t bother you as much. You can just extract the important bits. But it is not enjoyment, the snobbish lingering over each sentence as could be the case with Frank’s books. I really miss the cryptic writing style of Frank, I have never read anything like that before or afterwards, at least in non-scientific books and scientific books aren’t that enjoyable in themselves, they are not meant to be.
Oh, but where was I? At the earliest end of the whole Dune series (with prequels and sequels). After reading the Butlerian Jihad trilogy I was really determined to read the end, no matter how expensive and dragged it should be. In fore- and afterwords the tandem of Brian and Kevin had promised a book to end the series. I read carefully all the mail Amazon sent me – though I did go on the “recommended” page and marked “Not interested” all non-Dune Kevin J. Anderson’s and Brian Herbert’s books. And then came the day and I instantly pre-ordered Hunters of Dune. When I saw the book – bigger format than the ones before, but also more thick – I hoped this could be it, my last investment into the series – as ugly as it is to be so much bigger. I really hoped they managed to pull themselves together and put it all into one book. But really, you can’t talk about it without Sandworms of Dune that came after a year of waiting for me. They are not standalone books, don’t let them be sold to you thus. You have to read them both. But it is an improvement over three that was customary before that.
About them – the tandem still writes the same way, bringing in more than should be brought in. But if you read it quickly, past those musings, then the information is there, that you could expect to have in the end of the Frank books. DukeLupus complained about too simple characters in the books, but I tell you honestly, that I didn’t even notice while reading, but if I think back then he is right. I myself was probably already too cynical at the time of reading the books to expect more and tried to be blind to everything else but the outline, the Frank heritage in it. But now I see that there was a whole undeveloped potential there – and instead they filled the pages with trivial or unimportant bits.
In the end it is really sad that Frank died before finishing the series himself. I am sure he would have done a far better job with it. Writing and rereading this piece I see that Frank’s writing has been in waves. The best, then less, then buildup, then whoa! and then a little calm before the storm again. I would guess that the grand finale would have been more grand if he would have had the time. But it is good to have been finished at all. And for those not having read the prequels and sequels – try to look past that writing style, the price, the volume, and you’ll see a bit of Frank here and there. Frank or the reason you read his books in the first place.
1. They said I was not reading books – I was swallowing them. I think, I was rather being swallowed by them.
2. At that time it was impossible to find Dune books – or any good sci-fi/fantasy books – in Estonian shops. This has improved since then, but I still get most of my books from Amazon or as loans from friends – I don’t have that many books.