Tag Archives: Let’s Read

Let’s Read! Dune, Part Five

13249366These last few chapters of Book One are a welcome payoff after the first third of the book was spent so much on occasionally-interminable-feeling exposition and set-up. When the Harkonnen coup—apparently backed by the Emperor as well, who even lends some of his own men to the Baron for the event—against House Atreides finally comes, it’s swift and brutal, though we’re spared any particularly gory details. It’s a restraint that dates the novel a little, as modern trends in SFF have skewed heavily towards more graphic depictions of violence, but Frank Herbert manages to convey the horror of the Harkonnen invasion just fine and without being coy, either. It’s actually a superbly imagined sequence, with clear thought being put into the language used, exemplified in the recurring food metaphors and descriptions of the rapacious Baron’s conquest of Arrakis in terms of eating and consumption.

If it feels slightly anticlimactic, it’s only because most of the death and suffering belongs to unnamed characters—guards, servants, and the like—who are largely unmourned (or only mourned en masse and in brief passing) in the narrative. Instead, like many genre works that feature Chosen Ones and prophesied leaders, the focus here is squarely on the troubles and experiences of the nobility. This narrowness of scope is more generally associated with epic fantasy novels, but it’s not necessarily at odds with the science fictional elements of Dune, either. Instead, it simply marks it as belonging to the same essentially conservative and sometimes regressive school of thought that a lot of epic fantasy belongs to. Which is fine. A little boring, with so much storytelling energy being spent on debating the qualities of a good dictatorial ruler rather than imagining a world free of dictators and kings altogether, but fine. Sometimes it’s nice to read something so familiar, and I’ve been enjoying Dune so far, for the most part. Anticlimactic and expected as it is, this section of the book does contain as much that is interesting as the first 160 pages or so did.

Yueh’s guilt and shame over his betrayal of the Atreides family leads him to make arrangements for Jessica and Paul to survive the Harkonnen attack, a redemption which allows Yueh’s death to be tragic rather than otherwise. Duke Leto’s death is likewise sad, though even more expected than Dr. Yueh’s. I was surprised that Leto didn’t manage to take the Baron with him, as I thought the rest of the story would be a conflict between the heirs of the two men, and I thought Piter would be a more important character considering how significant he seemed when he was introduced, so I suppose it’s not fair to say that this first climax was entirely dull. Still, these are ultimately minor deviations from a common story type. Even the revelation near the end of the section that Jessica is the Baron’s daughter—and Paul his grandson—doesn’t do much to break the mold. It’s certainly an aggravating circumstance, and I expect this to figure largely in Paul’s internal conflict going forward (oh, god, I hope he has some internal conflict), but it’s not enough to elevate the story much above the pedestrian. The revelation that Paul and Jessica are likely trapped on Arrakis for life is interesting, and there is some poignancy in the realization, but, again, this isn’t a detail that is particularly out of the ordinary for these kinds of tales.

From a critical feminist perspective, however, perhaps the most interesting (and frustrating) part of these chapters comes in the last one before the break between Book One and Book Two. While Paul has been much talked about in this first third of the book, Jessica has been far more a main character than he has, and there has been much more written from her point of view. I complained in my last post that I felt that she was kept too subservient to Leto and Paul, and that continues here. With Leto’s death, Jessica seems almost broken; she’s pregnant with his daughter, but now is without any social standing or apparent means of survival so she turns to her teenage son, whose mystical-seeming abilities have already surpassed her own. Paul, for his part, is angry with his mother for making him into, well, whatever he is, and Book One ends with Jessica quite cowed in the face of her son’s anger as well as a little in awe of his burgeoning power. While Paul may see several possible paths for their future, my only big prediction is that the rest of the book is going to further marginalize Jessica and continue to keep her subordinate to her son.

Also, how gross is the Baron’s sexual obsession with Paul? I basically hate everything about this, especially since there’s no positive depictions of queerness in the book so far to balance it out. It’s no coincidence, I think, that both the Baron’s relationship with Feyd-Rautha and his fixation on Paul are incestuous. With no other representation, this stands out sharply in contrast to the highly conventional heterosexuality of the Atreides family and sets up a clear dichotomy in which the Baron’s queerness is depicted as evidence of his evil and depravity rather than incidental to it. It’s like it wasn’t enough for the Baron to be wickedly gluttonous; Herbert wanted to make certain that his readers knew the guy was a real fucking deviant, and queer-coding villains—or, here, just making them explicitly homosexual—is a classic move.

Let’s Read! Dune, Part Four

13249366I feel as if I could just title all of these posts so far “Duke Leto Deathwatch 2016” considering the amount of time I spend speculating on the time and manner and necessity of the Duke’s demise. I’m sad to report that after 162 pages, a full third of the way through this book, Duke Leto remains in the land of the living. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Dr. Yueh finally makes his move and attacks the Duke in chapter eighteen. Before we get to that, however, there’s a good deal more set-up for the imminent tragedy.

The sixteenth chapter opens with an epigraph on greatness and myth-making from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib,” and the chapter sticks fairly closely to these themes as it continues to explore Duke Leto’s character and touches on Paul’s precociousness and the likelihood that Paul is this mythical Kwisatz Haderach figure. I still feel as if this is an enormous amount of ground-laying for a plot that is so highly conventional that surely people knew it by heart even in 1965. Most of the chapter is taken up with a long dinner, in which the Duke discusses his progressive goals for Arrakis and some of the recent problems on the planet with several locally important men. The thing that is most interesting here, however, is the dynamic between Duke Leto and Jessica. He doesn’t publicly disavow her like I thought he might, but he’s certainly cool and mistrustful towards her, and Jessica definitely notices.

It’s not until the next chapter, however, that Jessica takes action, and this is only when she’s directly confronted by a very drunk Duncan Idaho (literally the worst character name so far in the book; what was Frank Herbert thinking?) who accuses her to her face of being a Harkonnen spy. This finally helps her understand the Duke’s weird behavior, and Jessica is livid. She goes to discuss this garbage with Thufir Hawat, who is a massive dick to her because he doesn’t understand or trust the Bene Gesserit. A couple of major pieces of information come out of this interview, though. First, neither Jessica nor Hawat suspect who the actual spy/traitor is. Second, Jessica is pregnant with the Duke’s daughter. Third, Jessica is a woman of considerable intelligence and power in her own right.

Here’s the thing, though: If Jessica is so intelligent and powerful, why must she be so meek and subservient to Duke Leto? Serious question. It’s not that I don’t understand politics or the long-game scheming the Bene Gesserit seem to be engaged in. Sure, I buy it. They’re shaping the future of the galaxy, one eugenically planned Chosen One and one meticulously orchestrated and seeded “prophecy” at a time for some reason. Ethics or something, I guess, since Jessica seems to be somewhat unwilling to just straight up mind control dudes in order to get her way, although she’s not above terrifying poor old Hawat. And so, Jessica is a devoted concubine and attentive mother, demonstrably powerful but with no apparently ego or ambitions of her own. Instead, she’s focused almost entirely on securing her husband’s legacy and her son’s future, and her entire identity is wrapped up in these concerns.

I just find this stuff tiresome and sadly characteristic of many of the male-penned, progressive-for-their-time novels that make up so much of the SFF canon. Frank Herbert, like many authors of his age (and our age, if we’re being honest), can imagine a woman who is beautiful, strong, intelligent, brave, principled, and powerful, but only insofar as she’s appropriately in thrall to a Great Man™, busy nurturing a future Great Man™, or otherwise safely ensconced in some version of a 1950s gender role while the real protagonists (all men) do all the truly important stuff.

Jessica is too tamed by heteronormative not-marriage and by doting motherhood to be truly powerful, and she’s never treated as an equal to Leto or Paul in the narrative. When she does show her considerable power, it’s framed as irrational—she’s goaded into it by Hawat’s suspicions about her motives—and her connection to the Bene Gesserit, who are actually powerful, is portrayed as legitimately questionable. Certainly the Revered Mother is treated as a somewhat sinister figure, even as she’s also treated like an irrational old hag who isn’t to be taken seriously. It’s a treatment of women that is condescending in its magnanimity—because, you see, women can be powerful—but also sadly limiting of women’s opportunities and stories—because powerful women are frightening and emasculating, so they must be controlled in the narrative, preferably by men, at all times.

Maybe I’m wrong, but with the Duke’s demise imminent, I can’t help but feel that Jessica is going to spend the rest of the book subservient to her own son. And that’s if she’s not fridged for Paul’s character development, which seems like a distinct possibility at this point.

Let’s Read! Dune, Part Three

I’m starting to worry that finishing Dune is going to be more of a chore than I originally anticipated, to be honest. It’s a novel that I think would be fine if I could sit and just devour it in a single sitting, but taking the time to do a close(ish) reading of it only highlights its flaws, the greatest of which, so far, is that very little has actually happened yet. I’m now over a quarter of the way through the book, and I still feel as if the story hasn’t quite begun. Instead, the whole thing is still rather hopelessly bogged down in exposition and world building. And it’s a lovely world that Frank Herbert created, but without any actual events occurring it feels empty and dull.

In the twelfth chapter of Dune, Paul attends a staff conference with his father, and we’re treated to even more details about just how difficult a situation House Atreides is in on Arrakis. In addition to the recent attempt on Paul’s life and the exodus of the spice miners who are essential to the economic operation of the planet, there’s also a smuggling problem, various environmental and geographic challenges, aging and broken mining equipment, and discontented Fremen to deal with. We also gain a better understanding of Duke Leto’s goals for his House and for Arrakis. Mostly, it seems that he wants to build a healthy, sustainable home for his House that will keep most of the people of Arrakis happy and allow him to stick it to his political and economic rivals, the Harkonnens.

The one thing that isn’t delved into much in chapter twelve is the identity of the traitor in Duke Leto’s household, but the next couple of chapters deal heavily with that. Thufir Hawat finds a scrap of a note that seems to implicate Jessica as the traitor in chapter thirteen, but Leto doesn’t believe it and even calls it out as a trick intended to sow strife in the household—which the reader, of course, knows to actually be the case. Nonetheless, chapter fourteen finds Duke Leto informing his son that he plans to publicly disavow Jessica in some way in order to try and flush out the real traitor. Schemes like this almost never end well in fiction, but we’ll see about this one—just not in today’s reading.

From a literary analysis standpoint, the most interesting thing about the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters is the symmetry of how they explore Duke Leto’s hopes and fears, the things that he finds beautiful and ugly about the world, and the internal conflict of his own optimism and cynicism. Leto is a man of many dualities and contradictions, and Herbert paints a picture of him here in deft strokes. Leto can trust his lover, but still be willing to hurt her. He hates Arrakis but can’t help but notice its beauty. He is “morally exhausted” and yet able to carry on with his plans. He is deeply concerned with the rightness and goodness of things, and he doesn’t seem to be a superstitious man, but he also isn’t above advising his son to capitalize on the superstitious beliefs of others if necessary.

The final chapter of today’s reading, the book’s fifteenth, is fully half of the material I read this morning and perhaps the longest chapter yet in the novel. It starts off promisingly, with an epigraph that finally reveals the identity of the Princess Irulan from whose works all of the epigraphs have been extracted. It’s also another epigraph that seems to heavily foreshadow the death of Duke Leto (so did the epigraph for chapter fourteen, and that one fairly explicitly), but the Duke is still in the land of the living at the end of the section. Instead of finally getting around to depicting Leto’s inevitable demise, this chapter splits its focus three ways, focusing in turn on:

  1. How awesome Paul is and how he totally fits the words of a local prophecy.
  2. What a great man Duke Leto is (and, by implication, how sad we’ll all be when he finally dies).
  3. How rad sandworms are.

Tying all these things together in chapter fifteen is the point of view of the Imperial planetologist (a sort of ecologist) Dr. Kynes, who is a guide of sorts—albeit an unreliable on—for Leto and Paul (and the reader) as they (we) tour the deserts of Arrakis by ornithopter in order to survey the land and better understand the production of spice. This is neat, but ultimately unfruitful. The undeniable highlight of the chapter is that we finally get to see a sandworm in action, but the lowlight has to be that nothing much comes of it. When some miners are endangered by the appearance of one of the enormous sandworms and Duke Leto insists on rescuing the workers even at the expense of the spice, I thought for sure that this was how he was going to die—heroically and tragically, leaving Paul to fend for himself with a very uncertain future.

Not so.

I’m not sure when the last time was that I read something where so much foreshadowing and buildup of dramatic necessity had so little payoff. When it finally comes, Duke Leto’s death had better be fucking epic.

Let’s Read! Dune, Part Two

13249366I was certain that this section of the book would have a lot more going on than the first few chapters, but that isn’t actually the case. Instead, though the Atreides family does finally make it to Arrakis, most of these pages are still dedicated to set up and exposition. The book continues to be highly readable and mostly enjoyable, but the final chapter in this section did finally manage to be truly disappointing when I thought—was certain—something was going to happen and then nothing of consequence did.

The first chapter of this section starts off well enough, giving the reader a little more insight to Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides. There’s a good amount of Leto thinking about how awesome Paul is at everything, but most of the chapter is about getting deeper into the economic and political situation that they find themselves in on Arrakis. Paul has a lot of questions for his father, mostly about the Reverend Mother’s warnings and pronouncements of doom, but Leto downplays the prophecy as being just “a woman’s [Jessica’s] fears” and advises Paul to treat it simply as evidence of Jessica’s great love for them. It’s an interesting moment that skirts the edges of the depiction vs. endorsement debate, to be honest. Certainly, this sexism belongs to the character of Leto Atreides, but is it also Frank Herbert’s sexism? With so little actually happening in the book so far, most of what we have at this point is still just narrative setup, and it’s hard to judge the overall treatment of women in the book until we see how the actual story unfolds.

The next chapter sees Leto interacting, for the first time in the novel, directly with Jessica, and it clarifies a lot of questions I had about Jessica’s relationship to the Duke and what her status in the household is. It turns out that, while she is Paul’s mother, she’s not the Duke’s wife, which puts her in a somewhat complicated position. The way it sounds here is that being just a concubine gives her somewhat more freedom than if she were married, at least when it comes to not having to participate in normal public wifely duties, but it also makes her standing and authority someone ambiguous. She does work as the Duke’s secretary, but it’s not exactly clear what work she does, and most of what we’re actually shown so far in the book is Jessica being responsible for fairly ordinary household duties rather than doing work related to the Duke’s business or politics. The most significant thing that I noticed about Jessica and Leto’s relationship, though, is how incredibly patronizing and condescending Leto is towards Jessica, both in the way he talks about her to Paul as I mentioned above, but also just straight to her face in a way that is infuriating to read about.

It’s good, I suppose, to get this window into their relationship, but it’s not a partnership that I find romantic, and it doesn’t go very far to make me care about Leto’s almost certainly impending death. Rather, I can’t help but feel as if Jessica and Paul would be better off without his toxic influence. The Duke is deeply chauvinistic, but the way he considers race is also pretty messed up. Duke Leto is described in racially coded terms and in a negatively connoted fashion as olive-skinned and dark-haired, but Jessica is described as fair, blonde, light-eyed and beautiful, something the Duke takes pride in. What he takes even more pride in, however, is the fact that Paul, though dark-haired, has inherited his mother’s lighter skin and eyes and generally favors her more in looks. With the Bene Gesserit, of which Jessica is a part, being so concerned with eugenics and breeding, it’s hard not to perceive Duke Leto’s reflections here as at least indicative of the character’s internalized racism but also quite possibly a sign of the author’s own unexamined racial prejudices.

Speaking of toxic influence, the Harkonnen stewards have certainly left Arrakis in a messed up state for the Atreides family to deal with, and most of this second section of the book is detailing just how hostile things are for the Duke, Paul, and Jessica. The land itself is unreceptive to life, with most of the planet taken up by vast deserts and devoid of water, which is precious and highly controlled. The people are suspicious, and many of the workers responsible for harvesting the spice that the Duke is supposed to be in charge of are planning to abandon the planet altogether. However, the most significant actual event in these chapters comes in chapter nine, in which Paul wakes up from his nap and only just manages to escape an attempt on his life, and with the help of the mysterious housekeeper, Shadout Mapes. It’s a brief moment of real danger and slight excitement in a story so far mostly made up of long pieces of exposition, but even that doesn’t do much to liven things up. Paul is so clearly a Chosen One and so obviously going to be the main character that it’s hard to believe that he’s actually in any real peril.

Finally, and speaking of real peril, the last chapter of this section begins with an epigraph that I was certain was foreshadowing that Leto’s abovementioned impending death was actually imminent. After the foiled attempt on Paul’s life and this chapter’s ominous introduction, I felt sure that Duke Leto was not long for this world. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and instead we’re treated to what mostly amounts to even more exposition, though it’s all mixed together with some examination of Duke Leto’s toxic masculinity. Throughout the chapter, Leto is upset that he feels out of control, ashamed of his feelings of fear, and terrified for his son. He repeats, over and over again, “They have tried to take the life of my son!” and this mantra also contributes to the sense that Leto himself could be in danger as well, so it’s disappointing that he’s still living at the end of the chapter.

It’s obvious that Leto has to die in order for the story to progress, and I fully expect his death (likely murder) to be a major instigating event that sets Paul on whatever his path will be for the rest of the book. There’s a reason that many similar Chosen One and Hero’s Journey narratives just cut all this stuff out and start after the death of the parents, though, and that reason is that too much of this stuff can be very boring. That said, this pacing, excruciatingly slow and approaching dull as it is, still feels very deliberate, and Dune is a book that’s so well-loved and enduringly popular and influential that I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that there will be some payoff. I just hope it comes soon.

Let’s Read! Dune, Part One

Good news: I think I’m going to love this book, which is good since I’m going to be writing quite a lot about it over the next month. Bad news: I have to figure out how to keep my posts on it to a reasonable length; Dune is a pretty dense book, with a lot to analyze and talk about.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m breaking the book up into twelve sections of approximately forty pages each, and I’m treating each section that is headed up by an epigraph as a chapter, which is probably how I’ll refer to them even though they aren’t actually called chapters in the book. Today’s reading was pages one through forty-one in my edition of the book, which is broken up into five of these epigraph-headed chapters.

Each epigraph—seemingly all from the works of a fictional historian, Princess Irulan—introduces an idea, event, or point of view that is central to the following chapter, which is pleasant so far, though I’m somewhat concerned that the epigraphs will get tiresome as the book goes on. I’m not a huge fan of using epigraphs in this fashion in general, and I’m similarly not a fan of including lots of excerpts from fictional literature in fantasy and sci-fi. I know it’s a part of worldbuilding for some writers, and I’m sure some people love that crap, but I would be just as happy with simple chapter headings or short, evocative chapter titles instead. I’m perfectly capable of figuring out themes and stuff on my own, and these kinds of epigraphs always feel a little too much like authorial hand-holding to me. Still, it’s been a long while since I’ve read anything that uses this particular stylistic flourish, so it hasn’t worn out its welcome quite yet.

One thing that’s already notable about Dune is how dense with information Frank Herbert’s prose is. It’s really surprisingly lovely, and every page is full of wonderful descriptive language and whole treasure troves of metaphor and symbolism. It’s a science fiction novel written in the language of fantasy, with a tendency towards an almost mystical aesthetic, in spite of the book’s world being very high technology. My only complaint about the writing so far is that Herbert does seem to repeat phrases in ways that don’t seem particularly deliberate. It’s as if he just really likes certain imagery—such as the Reverend Mother’s “bird-bright eyes” which appear several times in the passages she’s part of. That said, I might not have noticed it if I wasn’t doing a sort of close reading of the text.

While there’s a ton of information packed into these first forty pages of the book, there’s actually not a lot of things actually happening. In fact, there’s essentially only a single actual event in the first five chapters: the boy Paul Atreides’s test with the Reverend Mother. The rest is character introductions, worldbuilding, and set up for the Atreides family’s imminent travel to Arrakis, which still hasn’t actually occurred yet. In a less well-written novel, this could make for a slow start, but Herbert’s style is engaging enough that he pulls off this exposition heavy beginning. I kind of wish already that I had broken the book into smaller sections to write about, but at the same time I didn’t want to stop reading when I got to the end of today’s section. I can already tell that it’s going to be hard to keep from rushing through the whole book in a single sitting.

The sheer lack of women in most of the seminal genre works by men is a major factor in my not reading much of that stuff at this point in my life. Often, if women do appear in these older works, they’re treated poorly in the narrative and written to conform to various sexist (and often downright misogynistic) ideals. It can make for boring (in the absence of women) and/or infuriating (with the presence of sexism) reading. So far, Dune looks as if it may fall into the latter category, though it’s not nearly so bad as some other books of its time period.

To start with, at least, women figure largely in Paul Atreides’s early life, though I have a sneaking suspicion that they won’t continue to appear so prominently in the story. His mother, Jessica, is a sort of nun or priestess, part of the Bene Gesserit, a school of politics and eugenics that I guess plays a large part in the administration of order in the Dune universe. Jessica was actually supposed to have a daughter who could have been married to the heir of the Atreides’s rivals, the Harkonnens, but she instead chose to give birth to a son, Paul, who she believes could be the “Kwisatz Haderach,” a sort of prophesied Chosen One. She’s raised Paul and provided him with special training in order to prepare him for the test he faces in the opening chapter. So far, Jessica is also a staunch advocate for her son, to the point where it’s even suggested that if he failed the test she might have killed herself, which about made my eyes roll right out of my head, but that’s not the most groan-worthy part of what I’ve read so far.

The second woman of importance so far is the Reverend Mother who administers a test to Paul in order to determine if he’s human or not, because apparently in the far future of Dune not all people are human. The Reverend Mother is elderly and wise, but also faintly cruel and rather sinister. Her interactions with Paul Atreides are mostly about establishing his status in the narrative (though not in the Reverend Mother’s eyes) as a Chosen One sort of character, and it also sets up what seems like a potentially adversarial relationship between Paul and the Bene Gesserit, or perhaps even between Paul and powerful women depending on how you choose to interpret all this set-up. Essentially, while the Reverend Mother is doubtful, Paul obviously totally is this Kwisatz Haderach figure of prophecy who is supposed to be the only man who can survive a Truthsayer drug, which will grant him powers that set him above all the women who currently hold some portion of similar powers as part of their Bene Gesserit training. I’m not sure how much the book is going to get into all this stuff at this rate, but gender definitely figures largely in the narrative Herbert is crafting here.

So far, Dune feels like a fairly straightforward Chosen One story, albeit heavy on politics so far. Paul Atreides isn’t a simple farm boy, but he does seem to have a grand destiny ahead of him and he’s introduced in much the same fashion as most other Gary Stu characters. He’s only fifteen, but he’s got a prophecy about him and he’s remarkably good at literally everything he’s done so far, which is a pretty good start for this sort of character. Still, it’s hard to mock Paul. So much of this early part of the book isn’t about him at all, and we spend most of our time with other characters and just learning about the Dune universe. I’d hate to pick on the protagonist this early in the book when there’s so much else going on that’s fascinating. While I’m not entirely sold on the whole prophesy thing, where Paul is supposed to be this great man who is marked, at least in part, by being better than a bunch of women at everything those women have been doing for I guess centuries, there’s a ton of other cool stuff in Dune so far.

The Harkonnen family, who I guess are supposed to be the Atreides family’s biggest social, political and business rivals, are introduced in the second chapter of the book, and they are so far much more interesting than anything Paul is up to. The Baron is a legitimately creepy dude, and the Mentat assassin Piter is sinister as hell. Even Feyd-Rautha, the Baron’s nephew/heir/lover, is an interesting sort of tertiary villain, though he isn’t particularly well-described, at least in comparison the Baron and Piter, who are both introduced at some length and have such distinct personalities that Feyd-Rautha’s relative taciturnity makes him more part of the background than anything else. The repeated descriptions of Baron Harkonnen’s fatness, greed and gluttony are perhaps very heavy-handed especially in light of modern trends towards less overtly and stereotypically negative portrayals of fatness, but the imagery of a man so fat that he uses an apparatus to prevent his having to carry his own weight is still a powerful symbol that sheds a good deal of light on what kind of man the Baron is.

The fifth chapter of Dune finally introduces us to the planet of Arrakis itself, although Paul and his family still haven’t started their journey to their new home. Instead of showing Arrakis to us right away, Herbert prepares the reader the same way Paul Atreides is prepared by his teacher, Dr. Yueh. It might seem like a bit too much telling rather than showing for modern readers, but Herbert’s descriptions of the planet’s environment, people, and GIANT FUCKING SAND WORMS are so vivid that you still kind of feel like you’re there. This type of exposition may be somewhat out of fashion, but it still gets the job done, and Dune isn’t old enough to feel truly archaic. Instead, it’s a novel that, at least in the first five chapters, feels distinctly ahead of its time.

That said, I’m ready to get to Arrakis already. I understand this is a politics-heavy novel, but there is some adventure, right?

Let’s Read! Dune by Frank Herbert

Last week I polled the SF Bluestocking readership to see what my Let’s Read! Project would be for the month of May, and Frank Herbert’s Dune is the book that came out on top, and pretty handily.

Dune is a novel that has been on my to-read list for literally years, but it’s also a book that I know very little about outside of the expected nerd culture references that it’s impossible to be into SFF and not have come across. I know it’s a book that has been heavily influential for both sci-fi and fantasy; I know that it takes place on a desert planet; I know that David Lynch did the movie back in 1984 (though I’ve never seen it in spite of having seen most of Lynch’s other work); and I know that it has sand worms in it, but only because I looked it up when it was referenced in that Fatboy Slim song that came out when I was in high school. I haven’t read any reviews of the book or movie, and having not read the book, I also haven’t done more than skim any of the many pieces about the book and its legacy that were published in the year of its 50th anniversary.

All in all, I’d say I’m coming into this about as entirely unspoiled as one can for a highly popular and widely read and referenced book that’s over half a century old. Which is kind of cool. I’m usually not even this unspoiled when I read new releases, just because of the sheer amount of advance reviews and promotion that is the standard these days.

If you are reading along with me:

  • My copy of Dune is the 1984 movie tie-in mass market (ISBN: 0425080021), if you care about reading the exact same edition. There are no extras that I know of, though it does have several appendices that look like they will be useful.
  • The text of this edition, not including the appendices, is 489 pages long. There don’t seem to be actual chapters, though there are often breaks in text with epigraphs that break things up (I’m guessing) like chapters. I plan to finish reading and writing about Dune by the end of the month, so I have broken it up into twelve sections, each one approximately 40 pages, though a couple are longer or shorter. I will be sure to include in each post the exact pages of what I’m covering.
  • As of right now, my goal is to get through three to four sections each week, with the first post appearing tomorrow, May 5.
  • Finally, I’m going to cap off the project with a Dune movie night on Saturday, May 25, with cheap wine and livetweeting and a blog post about the film the next day.
  • Updated to add: I may do a double movie night and watch the 1984 film and 2000 TV mini-series back to back, or perhaps do one on Friday and one on Saturday. I’ve been advised that I should actually watch the later adaptation first either way, however. In any case, I will have more details on that closer to the end of the project, and I’m open to suggestions for how I should do this thing.

I’m pretty excited about this book. I’ve been sort of systematically (albeit slowly) working through some SFF classics over the last couple of years, and this one is obviously pretty essential reading, if only for academic reasons. In any case, I’m finally going to find out what I’ve been missing out on all these years.


Let’s Read! What’s coming next? (Well, first a POLL!)

Last year I blogged my reread of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell ahead of the US airing of the BBC miniseries based on the book, but a broken foot and a resurgence of major depression sort of derailed a lot of other plans I had then. This year, I’ve already blogged my way through the 1.1 million words of short fiction in Up and Coming: Stories from the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Writers, which was a sort of last minute idea I had just three weeks before Hugo nominations were due. I will be doing some Hugo blogging once the finalists are announced next week–surely there will be a few things I haven’t read–but I’m also going to be making Let’s Read! into a regular feature at SF Bluestocking.

Probably it will be three posts a week, though it could be more depending on how much time I’m ultimately able to dedicate to the project. My plan right now is that, at least until about July, I’ll be recapping Game of Thrones every Monday, publishing regular book reviews twice a week, Weekend Links on Saturdays, and then three Let’s Read! posts mixed in there somehow. First, though, I need to figure out what to read next. Because I’m indecisive and can write about pretty much anything (I’m very opinionated, obv), I feel like the only thing to do is to leave it up to my few readers.

So. Here are the options, with short pros and cons:

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
    I’ve heard a lot about this book/series, but it’s always struck me as fantasy for people who hate fantasy. I couldn’t get that into the show, partly because the characters are all pretty insufferable, but this could make the book really entertaining to read, and my hope is that reading the books would help me appreciate the show more.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
    I know, I know, it’s a classic, but I’ve just never gotten around to reading it. However, I’ve been making a concerted effort in the last couple of years to read more classic SF works, and this is one that I’m practically unspoiled on. I’ve never even seen the movie. Just that music video with Christopher Walken in it for that song with the Dune reference.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    I’ve recently started watching season one of the show, and I am in love with it. Maybe I would like the book?
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
    I haven’t been reading much YA stuff in the last year and a half or so, but this series is really popular and well-reviewed. Plus, since it’s YA, I don’t expect it to be terribly challenging. It might be a nice break from the more literary stuff I’ve been focusing on more recently.
  • Armada by Ernest Cline
    This book generated one of my favorite scathing reviews of the last year, and it has basically the same plot as The Last Starfighter. I’m almost certain that I’ll hate it, but it could be fun to mock.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
    I know almost nothing about this series except that it’s extremely popular in r/Fantasy. I know there’s been a Tor.com reread of it going on, but I haven’t read any of that, so it’s another series that I pretty much have no preconceived ideas about.
  • The Apex Book of World SF
    I bought the bundle of all four volumes of this ages ago and have never gotten around to reading much of it. However, I think it could be a great way to broaden my horizons, and I’ve been really enjoying reading more short fiction recently. However, I’ve also got an ARC of The Big Book of Science Fiction that’s coming out in a couple of months to get through, and I worry about getting completely burnt out on short stories.
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
    I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Sanderson’s short stories, but this is another very popular fantasy series that I haven’t touched and feel a little like I ought to give it a try.

So. Lots of options, and they’re all things I’d like to get around to eventually. What do you think?