Reading List #1 — DUNE

All right. The semester is over (has been for a while, actually) and I survived. Now it’s time to get reading. Thus begins studying in earnest to acquire my degree. Are you, avid Readers, ready? Because I’m not.

Here we go anyway.

The first book I’m focusing on from my reading list is one that I’ve wanted to read for a long time — Dune, by Frank Herbert. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, and, coincidentally, it took me a long time to read it. The draft of this blog post has been sitting here since October. There are probably a few reasons for that, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Here’s a list of things I liked and found intriguing about this book, along with some notes that occurred to me as I read. I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but since the goal is to use these blog posts as study material in a few months, I figured writing as much as I can will help me in the long run.

Things to note about Dune

1. The world is so damn intricate. At first I had a hard time getting immersed into the world of Dune, because there are so many things to learn and re-learn in just the first few pages. Let’s see, just on the first two pages, we get introduced to these terms: Bene Gesserit; Muad’Dib; Arrakis; Caladan; Dune; Atreides; suspensor lamp; baliset; Kwisatz Haderach; gom jabbar; CHOAM; Great Houses of the Landsraad. We’re also introduced to these characters: Princess Irulan;  Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV; Paul; the Reverend Mother; Thufir Hawat; Jessica; Duke Leto. And that is just the first two pages. This is part of the reason it took me so long to get into the book. I had no idea what was going on! But the world of Dune is fascinatingly huge — Herbert created a fully-contained universe with planets and races and species and all kinds of intricacies. I admire the immensity of this project.

2. The language used, more often than not, is astounding. For instance, when Duke Leto realizes that his son Paul has almost been assassinated: “He breathed a sigh of relief when the lift swallowed him and he could turn and face the impersonal doors. They have tried to take the life of my son!

3. Frank writes political intrigue like a fucking boss. The main plot of Dune revolves around the planet Arrakis (the planet of dunes) and its main export: spice. Spice is a drug that can give its users some sort of future-sense or “prescience” as they call it, a connection of minds to other people who use the drug. So of course that’s going to be popular among the upper classes — and damn expensive. Control of Arrakis is the main thing contested in Dune, because whoever controls the spice controls the universe and the throne, it seems. There are so many ins and outs of the politics in this book that even though I just finished the book yesterday, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

4. I could definitely see today’s science fiction in this book. Since Dune was published in 1965, it was more than likely a trailblazer when it comes to the kinds of structures we see today. He uses the “chosen one” structure that I’ll be reading about this week when I finally tackle The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Paul is the chosen one of a thousand different things, it seems: he’s the Fremen Lisan al’Gaib; he’s the Bene Gesserit Kwisatz Haderach; he’s the Duke Atreides (I know none of those things make sense to those of you who haven’t read it). So he’s the chosen one/Christ figure, and man is he a badass. He’s got all kinds of strengths no one else has; there never is really a question that he can’t overcome whatever is in front of him.

There’s also the use of prophecy where it concerns the chosen one. This is where it gets interesting, because instead of prophecy being something divine and magical like in other fantasy stories, this prophecy is one that has been planted in the pliable minds of the Fremen people (the natives of Arrakis whom Paul leads into battle) over hundreds of years. The way it worked was that the Bene Gesserit (a league of powerful, mind-controlling women) planted the seed of this prophecy in their minds, saying that a man will come who will do this, this, and this, and he’ll be like the chosen one and stuff; the seed was planted as a safety valve in case the man in question (who the BG had other plans for) made it to the Fremen stronghold, he would be treated as a leader/king/Jesus (and the Fremen wouldn’t kill him). Kind of like a religious flotation device.

5. Something I noticed while reading (and this factors into why it took me forever to finish it) is that I never felt real tension in the main character’s comings and goings. There was never really any doubt that he was going to defeat the Huns and reclaim his rightful place on the throne (or something . . . spoilers?). There was one time where his future-sense told him that he may end up dead, and that was tense for a couple pages, and then he didn’t die and everything was just peachy again.

How does reading this affect my current project?

Well, I learned a few things. One: tension is so so so so important. I don’t want my readers to feel like they have to read my book (in a boring, ugh-gotta-read-this-for-class way) — I want them to want to read my book. So I’ve got to keep things interesting. Nothing I didn’t already know, but it’s good to see the rule in action.

Another thing that was reaffirmed for me is that a lot of fantasy and science fiction books borrow from one another. There are plenty of tropes and conventions to go around. For one, the chosen one and prophecy bit. For another, it seems like it’s popular to have a group of magic-wielding “witch” women to pit the characters against. In any case, my favorite series, The Wheel of Time, uses this idea, so maybe it was borrowed from Dune.

Well I think that’s it for now. Next up: The Hero With a Thousand Faces. I will probably read that one concurrently with several others, but I think it’s important to familiarize myself with Campbell’s hero and the cloaks he wears.

Onward!

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