Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ON PLANET ARRAKIS, WORM EATS YOU!

OR: THE HERBERT FAMILY SCHISM - SWEET/LAME, VOL. 7


Above: Fuckin' SWEET - Frank Herbert, Master Ecologist and Science Fiction Author, 1920-1986.

Listen, asshole. If you've never read Dune, you need to stop reading this right now. Either go directly to Amazon and buy it immediately, or get it from your local used book store, or steal a copy from the library. I don't care. Just do it. When you're done reading it, then we can talk.
I'm not going to write a post about the vast intertwining plots of this book, or its profound insights on planetary ecology, or even the brutal battle techniques of the Fremen or Sardaukar warriors. I choose not to underestimate the intelligence of my readers. You've ALL read this book, several times, or else you wouldn't be here. Correct? I thought so.
First published in a serialized version in Analog magazine in 1963 and 1965, Dune snatched up both the Hugo AND Nebula Awards immediately following its appearance in novel form. It is widely recognized as one of the great masterpieces of the sci-fi genre, outselling anything by Asimov or Bradbury. When I first read this book at around 19, I saw it as something of an instruction manual for life, basing my actions around the Fremen desert-ninja code of conduct. Maybe that sounds nerdy to you. That means you haven't read it, poser!


Left: Frank Herbert at Octicon, 1978 - Santa Rosa, CA.

Simply put, Dune is an AMAZING fucking book; one of the greatest literary achievements EVER in the sci-fi genre, often compared, in significance, to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy in the fantasy realm. I plan on foisting this book upon my own son (who has shown a voracious appetite for sci-fi in recent years) very soon. It's a great coming-of-age tale for imaginative teenagers, but it's way, WAY more than that, too. It's about war, it's about revenge, and it's about the environment, but what really sets Dune apart from its peers is its focus on humanity rather than technology. Sure, it's got space travel and atomic explosions and lazer beams, but Herbert focuses more on the human elements of the story, making it as much a study in psychology and philosophy as it is a swashbuckling adventure epic.
Although he published many other books and short stories besides Dune (The Destination: Void Quadrilogy, the short story collection Eye, and The White Plague - whose plot was ripped off by the 2006 movie Children of Men - being my favorites), Herbert was best remembered for this colossal epic, and for good reason. Although he followed it up with five sequels (Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune), the book functions best as its own entity, a complete lesson on life, society, power, and ethics all bundled up into one tidy space opera. By all means, if you love the original, read the sequels. But things get pretty goofy around God Emperor.
Just a friendly warning.

For an awesome Australian butt-rock album featuring a song titled "Dune Messiah", click here. To check out a now-defunct grindcore band based primarily on the mythology of Dune, click here.



David Lynch's 1984 movie version of Dune must be mentioned here as well. I have mixed feelings on this one, as I felt that Lynch may have taken one too many artistic liberties with the film. He is, of course, a legendary director, with credentials aplenty under his belt. And while I do enjoy this movie (the "director's cut", of course), I must question certain choices that he made, such as the scene in which Patrick Stewart (as Atreides War Master Gurney Halleck) marches into battle with a poodle cradled in his arm. Obscure, Lynchian nod to off-kilter absurdity or monumental artistic swing-and-a-miss? Who knows?
But one of the film's major highlights (for me, at least) was the uncharacteristically awesome Dune soundtrack, from pathetic soft-rockers Toto. It's actually REALLY good, and you can get it here.


Above: Another point of interest in 1984's Dune was that it was the only David Lynch film to feature a tie-in toy line. Can you imagine action figures for Eraserhead or Blue Velvet? The mind reels.

As I also mentioned here (in a post written on the first day of Illogical Contraption's existence), plans for a Dune movie initially surfaced in the 70's, brainchild of Chilean avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky (creator of, among others, El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre). The film was set to star Salvador Dali (right) as the Emperor, Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen, Jodorowsky's own son as Paul, and Mick Jagger (ugh) as Feyd Rautha. It's sucks that this never happened.

16 years after Lynch's version, we got the Sc-Fi Channel's 2000 mini-series adaptation of Dune, which, despite surpassing my tremendously LOW expectations, was still a flat, boring interpretation of Herbert's work, too "modern/CGI" for my tastes. To make matters worse, word around the campfire is that another film adaptation is on the way in 2010, helmed by director Peter Berg (the guy responsible for Friday Night Lights and Hancock, also a co-star in TV's Entourage, which I have fortunately never seen). So there's that.

But I digress. This was supposed to be a 'Sweet/Lame' post. Let's get to the REAL shit-talking...


Above: Fuckin' LAME - Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, tarnishers of the Dune legacy.

Unfortunately, Frank Herbert's OWN SON decided to come along in the late 90's and, with the help of co-author Kevin J. Anderson, shit all over the reputation of the Dune series. Thirteen books have either been published or are currently being written by this pair of unqualified hacks, which run the gamut from tales of Robot Jox-esque machine battles (remember THAT movie?) to fantasy-tinged love stories. WHY?!? I mean, Paul of Dune?!? Really, guys? REALLY!?!?
In a rare show of utter masochism, I actually slogged through two and a half of these abominations before giving up FOR GOOD. The worst part isn't even that they're tacking on a bunch of half-cooked prequels and sequels to an established classic, it's that these books are just plain POORLY WRITTEN, coming off as some sort of attempted Terminator: Salvation novelization. It's just BAD sci-fi, uninteresting and offensively amateur.

According to the authors, these completely unnecessary chapters were products of Frank's own notes on Dune, which weren't found until ten years after his death. He had planned a Dune 7, but passed away before he could start. It's truly a shame that they were ever discovered, as Anderson and the younger Herbert's treatment of the storyline is tantamount to a couple of infants finger-painting with the brushes and paint of Michaelangelo himself. Yes, they're THAT BAD.
Sorry to be such a dick about it, guys. But I just can't stand by and watch as another cornerstone of my literary upbringing is hacked apart by money-hungry opportunists. You can have The Dosadi Experiment. You can have The Godmakers. You can even have The Green Brain. Consider it your birthright.
But give us back Dune.

Dammit.

3 comments:

jaginguene said...

You work fast Shelby. Cheers for that!
I personaly really enjoy the whole Dune Chronicles, especially the last 2, God Emperor is a bit slow. But no matter what, it's still waaaay better than anything his son and that other hack have come up with. I actually bought 2 of those books. I guess i should have learnt from my mistake that first time...
I didn't know that one of the guys in Entourage was set to direct a new version of Dune, i didn't even know there was to be a new version. I watched 2 episodes of Entourage on the plane a few weeks ago, to me, it's a show about 4 douchebags in LA. It made me angry but then again I did watch the whole thing. My only excuse is that I was on a plane and that I already watched all the Simpsons episodes... and I was badly sunburnt.

Shelby Cobras said...

Yeah, he lost me with that whole "Leto turning himself into a worm" thing... I didn't mean to give the impression that I didn't enjoy the whole series, because I did. I just find the first book leaps and bounds ahead of the others.
As for Entourage, meh. It seems like the kind of show that would REALLY piss me off, sunburn or no...

jaginguene said...

God Emperor is probably the weekest book of the series... But I should really reread them cause it's been awhile and my memory is dodgy at best. I should reread The White Plague too, that's another good one... Last good scifi book I read was Spin by Robert Charles Wilson(!) Check it out if you haven't already