I have spent the last few months plodding through all 6 of the books in the Dune series.
I did this because I read Dune years ago and hated it. So many of my friends were shocked since I am such a big science fiction fan. Many of them suggested I re-read it with new eyes. So I did. Starting in November I began the series and just recently finished Chapterhouse Dune.
I firmly stand by my opinion that this is, without a doubt, the most over-rated and unsatisfying series in science fiction literature.
The only impeccable piece of writing in the entire series is the Litany Against Fear:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing……Only I will remain.”
No argument here, this is truly one of the best little nuggets of science-fiction and all genres of literature. This litany works so well because it is universal and amorphous enough to apply to any situation. This truly badass little litany is Herbert’s best work. It’s really too bad that the rest of the books never approach the same plateau again.
Just because I am a completist, I rented the 1984 David Lynch atrocity DUNE, and both of the SyFy miniseries, Dune and Children of Dune. I immersed myself in the world of Arrakis, trying to determine why this story is so revered. Clearly, every filmed version of this story is an abomination. Don’t even get me started on those. But my feeling is that every adaptation of Dune hasn’t worked simply because of the source material. You can’t make mead from muddy water. The books are simply not good.
A great book must have well-developed characters that you actually care about and can discern from one another. There must be a good story arc, mystery, and at least a few moments of action or danger. Science fiction books in particular must give the reader a sense of awe and majesty, a sense of peering into another world, possibly better than ours. It must challenge your thinking and keep you intellectually engaged. Dune does none of these things.
I have read other books by Herbert and really enjoyed them. 1982’s THE WHITE PLAGUE is a favorite of mine, and DESTINATION: VOID and THE JESUS INCIDENT are classics of the genre. But honestly his writing style in the Dune books isn’t even that good. He relies too much on dialogue and actually has a clunky style, not to mention needing an editor who would’ve cut out at least a hundred pages per book. Wooden characterizations and plot holes run rampant in the books. He also starts chapters with quotes about people whose outcome is unknown to us at that point. So he basically gives away spoilers that a specific character indeed lives to document that activity, or becomes the messiah for example.
Supposedly Dune (published in 1965) was unique for involving themes of religion, ecology, conservationism, and politics. I suggest reading Walter M. Miller’s ‘A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ’. He published this classic in 1960 and dealt with many of these themes earlier and better than Herbert did.
Dune also has the worst ending in all of science fiction. Because there is no ending whatsoever. He just stops writing. Even if you knew you would be publishing a sequel, a book has to stand on its own and it needs some sort of conclusion. When I read the last page and flipped it over, I literally thought that my copy of the book had the final pages ripped out because no book could end that abruptly without any crescendo, closure, or resolution.
The sequel (DUNE MESSIAH, 1969) ranks as the worst sequel ever written because nothing happens. Seriously, read it, nothing happens. Characters just talk the entire time and nothing new is introduced.
Each subsequent book gets more boring and in some cases, more ridiculous. Herbert was clearly writing for a paycheck and milking his accidental success with Dune.
I halfway enjoyed 1981’s GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE simply because Atreides turns into a fucking sandworm. Ah, the weird and bizarre 80’s.
Remember how the Star Wars prequels sucked? Can anyone explain the intricacies of the interplanetary trade disputes, taxation, and blockades from The Phantom Menace? No, because it was terribly boring, convoluted, and honestly not particularly necessary to the story. Same problem with the Dune series. Herbert will spend hundreds of pages having characters discuss political issues, infidelities, sell-outs, and all sorts of mind-numbingly boring issues that don’t matter. At its worst, the books de-generate into soap opera scheming.
And these are the sandworms of our lives…
I’ll give the original Dune book a mild endorsement for containing The Litany Against Fear and creating the idea of the desert sandworms and the spice mélange. But as a thought-provoking work of literature it fails to hit its target. If I had to give the books a rating I would give Dune a C and every other book either a D or an F. It does win the award for most over-rated series in science fiction. Hands down.
For science fiction series that actually satisfy, I recommend these classics:
ARTHUR C CLARKE
2001, 2010, 2061, 3001
GATEWAY, BEYOND THE BLUE EVENT HORIZON, HEECHEE RENDEZVOUS, ANNALS OF THE HEECHEE
PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION, FORWARD THE FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE, SECOND FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION’S EDGE, FOUNDATION AND EARTH
HYPERION, THE FALL OF HYPERION, ENDYMION, THE RISE OF ENDYMION
ORSON SCOTT CARD
ENDER’S GAME, SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, XENOCIDE, CHILDREN OF THE MIND
RINGWORLD, THE RINGWORLD ENGINEERS, THE RINGWORLD THRONE, RINGWORLD’S CHILDREN, FATE OF WORLDS