By Frank Herbert
Published by Audio Renaissance
A good friend of mine has a set speech about the Dune series which goes something like this:
Dune. It’s a good book. You should read it.
Dune Messiah: Put it down. Now, go back and read Dune again. It’s a good book. You should read it.
Children of Dune: Think about reading it and then go back and read Dune again. It’s a good book. You should read it.
God Emperor of Dune…
Well, I think you get the idea. I haven’t heard him do that routine in some years now so I can only imagine how he feels about the prequels and attempts to conclude the original series, but I think he was right; Dune stands out on its own and none of the rest of the series ever quite measured up to the original. However I’m not reviewing the rest of the series… Not this time anyway.
Dune is one of the true classics of Science Fiction. I could not deny that even if I wanted to. It has a heck of a lot of best-selling sequels and prequels, by Frank Herbert and others. It has been adapted into a movie and a mini-series. It has inspired thousands of costumes and even spawned at least one filk opera (hence the above title).
It is not for everyone, of course, but then what book is? There are people who, having seen the movie by Dino de Laurentis, won’t touch the book. That’s a shame because the book is so much richer and fuller than the movie ever could be. That too is a shame, because it had one heck of a cast, even if the Harkonens looked more like Herbert’s description of the Atreides and Patrick Stewart was not the right physical type to play Gurney Halleck (though actually he did pretty well, considering). In truth the movie had many redeeming features, but it just did not have the time to tell the story properly so it came off as disconnected scenes from out of the book… and since when are Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers bald? I am also not reviewing the movie (and I will be a good boy here and not review the SciFi Channel’s mini-series).
The thing is there are also those who just cannot get into the book. Well, I can understand that. There are plenty of books I can’t get into although this was not one of them when I first read it in college. In fact I made the mistake when I was about a quarter of the way through, of opening it up just before going to sleep the night before a final exam and literally could not put it down. How I managed to stay awake to pass that exam, I really don’t know.
This is a story of Byzantine complexity blending Intra-Imperial politics and intrigue with religious and military motifs. To summarize it in “High Concept” belittles the story (the son of a deposed and murdered duke recaptures his fief) and does not really tell you what happens. Frank Herbert mixed current day and historical Earthly cultures and set them in the stars so we find in a European-like setting at first in which the young Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto is still learning all he needs to be the next duke on the watery world of Caladan. However, the Emperor has just granted the planet Arakis (aka Dune) to House Atreides and the whole household, armies and all are relocating to this desert planet that makes the Sahara look like a large oasis in comparison. However, the previous owners of the planet, House Harkonen, are the arch-enemies of House Atreides, so we know from the start this is not going to be a smooth transition.
The Harkonens intend to take Dune back for themselves and it turns out that the Emperor is in on the plot (I said this was very Byzantine. We are led to understand that the Emperor sees Leto as a threat for some reason although in this book at least the reasons are murky… unless I missed something). After various assassination attempts, that turn out to be mostly feints, not expected to work, Leto and his family are betrayed by the one person who supposedly could never do so (of course… but we the readers see it coming from the second or third chapter so it’s not a surprise to us), Leto is killed and Paul and his mother, the Ducal concubine, Lady Jessica, are taken captive. Using their wits and special Bene Gesserit training, they manage to escape and are eventually rescued by the semi-nomadic Fremen a people who seem to be part Beduin and part Tuareg. From there Paul and Jessica must build an army and take back their world.
Even that description pales beside the actual novel. I will admit that I did not enjoy the story as much as I did when I was back in school. I suppose my tastes have changed and I have less patience for characters who say one thing and mean four or five other things most of which are understood by the people around them. It’s interesting if two or three character are that complex, but when everyone is, I find it tiresome. The whole wheels turning within wheels to infinite regression thing can be fascinating but sometimes I want a straight story.
However, This story is not a disjointed one and while point of view sometimes shifts from one place and character to another, this is not the sort of story I have come to detest with a dozen short-story plots woven together in order to bloat a thin book to a thousand pages or more. Herbert really did masterfully weave the threads together and even when he shifts the point of view it is generally in a linear manner. I never found myself thinking, “Hey what about that guy we haven’t seen in three or four chapters nor was I bored by having an entire scene run past me two or three times in order to show what some other character was thinking and seeing. Herbert shows us you can have a cast of thousands without turning it all into a rambling science fiction soap opera and if this time around I was a little put off by (the ungrateful bastard… literally) Paul who spends more time ordering people around (like royalty? Well, yes…) than thanking them for everything they do for him and more or less behaving like everything he gets is just his due, well, my tastes have changed. But on the whole, this is a good story told well.
Dune… It’s a good book. You should read it.
A few weeks ago I griped (or whined, perhaps) that the multiple voices reading books from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender Series” was jarring, off-putting, and just plain annoying. It did nothing to help the flow of the story whenever the voice changed with the point of view. In this production we also have multiple readers, some of whom were in those other recordings. However, this time it worked.
I think the big difference is that the person reading the narrative passages was the same throughout and that each character was voiced by a different actor and always the same one when that character spoke. They dropped the dialogue tags completely so it felt more like a play than a book, but other than the dialogue tags no other words were cut from the book that I am aware of.
I said in some other review (sorry, I forget which one just now) that in dropping dialogue tags from a reading means it is not really unabridged, and I stand by that, but in this case I must say, ‘So what?” In this performance they are not necessary and would have got in the way.
So we have a classic of science fiction that is performed well. Definitely worth listening to.