12th July, 2013
He who controls the spice, controls the universe!
Dune! Well, more specifically, Chapterhouse: Dune. What is Chapterhouse you ask? Well, first, Dune is the impossibly popular Sci-Fi novel written by Frank Hurbert back in 1965. Chapterhouse: Dune is the 6th and final book, written in 1985, of Herbert’s six book run in the Dune universe.
Now, the fledging sci-fi nerd has undoubtedly read one or all of these books. There is even a good chance you nerds were tricked into watching the 1984 David Lynch film adaptation as some kind of cruel prank or punishment… And what a punishment it is, this movie was a total dud prompting the following from Roger Ebert, “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.”
Sadly, this sentiment was felt before the movie was even released. The powers at Universal were so afraid audiences would get lost that a Dune Glossary was distributed to moviegoers entering the theater; a move just dripping in desperation, no?
However, from what I understand as I haven’t watched it yet, a better Dune miniseries was released back in 2000 by the SyFy (then SciFi) channel. This was then followed up by the sequel and best Dune based adaptation yet, Children of Dune in 2003 — though, again, I have yet to acquire and watch it to verify.
The relative success of the two cable channel miniseries, along with legion of fans the books have accumulated in prior decades, fed the undying rumormill of a new feature length version of the first book. Many of these rumors proved to be more than that, with directors, writers and timelines attached… but a more recent botched Sci-Fi adaptation seems to have sealed the fate of the latest Dune. That’s right, Dune got John Carter’d (or Lone Ranger’d?).
Clearly, and at some length, I’ve digressed. With this being the second post of the ‘What I’m Reading‘ variety, the point and process is still — shall we say — unrefined… Seeing as how I am musing over the last book in a series of six and I lack the linguistic knowledge, wit or basic structural scaffolding to reflect on 30 years of storytelling, I’ll just jump into a slightly more holistic take of the series.
The Dune series is, in its most basic description, an incredible fantasy story nestled in a universe that hurdles past the typical fantasy descriptor, ‘world-building’, for the very reason that it involves ‘the known universe’. Dune takes place thousands upon thousands of years in the future and with earth no longer in existence. As a result, Herbert is able to explore and define a universe full of numerous planets full of cultures and orders evolving in relative isolation but bound together by inescapable interdependence.
Sound confusing? Well, it can be. Remember, a glossary was given out at the beginning of the movie because there was just so many alien terms. I can promise you though, after the first 40-50 pages of the first book the learning curve levels off and the story is as good as any fiction I’ve read. And that is core of the novel(s), fiction, which can often be lost in discussions, dismissals or exaltation of the material. Undoubtedly, heavy forays into religion and philosophy will prompt that.
Does that make Dune a serious book? Well, mostly yes. Flash Gordon it is not. The weight of the worlds Herbert created don’t allow for frivolous adventure and light-heartedness. Progression through the various novels greets the characters and, consequently, the reader with moral dilemma and philosophical quandaries. Huge, sweeping statements often mount page after page, chapter after chapter; but always with intent to engage and provoke. My half-forgotten Philosophy 101 learnings argue the ultimate point of philosophy is to seek clarity whereas Dune often poses more questions than it could hope to answer.
Perhaps that is why one of the fundamental axioms of Dune is: “Sometimes the best questions are better than the best answers…” “Questions created their own patterns and systems. This produced the most important shapes…” That is, the increasingly heady thoughts presented throughout the series do much to establish a lens through which to view those questions. Whether you decide to subscribe to that lens’ angle or not isn’t what I find the point to be. Rather, to present questions and challenge the reader during an epic six book narrative is what good Sci-Fi —novels or film— does and Dune is the best.
So yes, there is a lot there. And no, it isn’t as complicated as I’ve likely made it out to be. As with any book, the number of tangential paths it sends you down is entirely up to you. Hell if you’ve made it this far into my rambling review, you’ll find the books a breeze, ‘cuz.. you know, Herbert was a great writer and I’m barely good at anything. So don’t let a rambling review frighten you away, dive in and always remember…
Fear is the mind killer.
Plus, it has giant sandworms.
Verdict: Highly Recommended
One final note: If you buy the books, about a billion first editions were publish so I recommend picking the hardcovers up on eBay for a song and making your bookshelf look infinitely cooler.
Cover Image: Copyright Frank Herbert and Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated.
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