Dune – Why Is It Still Going Strong?


I was eighteen when I first read Dune by Frank Herbert. The year was 1983. It was summer then and a most fitting time to be reading a novel of gigantic proportions. I loved its immense scope, its politics, but most of all, its writing. Over the course of the last 27 years, I have come to read all the original novels, seen a movie, two mini-series, played video games, role playing games, and suffered through some good and bad times. This past summer, I bought the book Paul of Dune hoping to rekindle the Dune universe in my mind. Maybe today I will pick it up and finish it. Maybe today, I will once again fold space,  bask in melange, politics and the environment.  But what is it that Dune has that has not only produced religious fervor about the series, both for and against it? Why is there a legion of fans who call for its continuation, and at the same time, its end?

What is Dune?
Dune is a book written in 1965 by Frank Herbert. It is a science fiction classic and is routinely in lists of the greatest science fiction books of all time. The book centers around the metamorphosis of Paul Atreides from a young boy to Emperor. His ascension is fraught with tension, chaos, plans within plans, treachery, assassination, betrayal, rebellion, revolution, economics, money, drugs, subjugation, you know, your basic run-of-the-mill science fiction masterpiece. The book unfolds in the future when human beings have colonized space and have formed Houses – much like medieval feudal systems. These houses compete for power across the galaxy through the control of a substance called melange. Also known as the spice, Melange can only be found on one planet, Arrakis. Behind the scenes are economic organizations, transportation guilds, and religious zealots, all competing and trying to manipulate the Houses to control the flow of spice. The Emperor determines the fiefdom for who controls the spice. When Dune opens, House Harkonnen is in the midst of losing control of Arrakis and House Atreides is getting ready to assume control of Arrakis per the Emperor’s command. Arrakis itself is a desert planet filled with a mysterious people called the Fremen and a race of giant sand worms for whom there is a mystical connection to the spice. It is in this exposition that Dune takes place. All these forces competing against, with, and for the control of the spice.

To unravel Dune is like peeling an onion. There are many different layers and even layers within layers. First published in 1965, the sequel, Dune Messiah arrived in 1969. Children of Dune would follow in the mid 1970s. God Emperor of Dune arrived in 1981. Many fans thought this was the end of Dune. In 1984, a film by David Lynch arrived on the scene. Herbert wrote two more books – The Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse Dune (1985). The latter ended on a cliffhanger. Fans were expecting the series to conclude in a seventh book. However, Frank Herbert passed away in early 1986 leaving fans to finish the series in their own mind. Over the next ten years, the Dune universe lived on for fans in role playing games, video games, and the original six books.

What is so appealing about Dune?
Dune
has many qualities that appeal to a lot of different types of people. Within the book are the many factions or houses vying for power. Each house is unique in its home world, resources, beliefs, and characteristics. This medieval quality is unique for  a book set 10,000 years in the future. There are religious connotations not only among the Bene Gesserit, a woman’s religious order who is trying to selectively breed a super human messiah, but also amongst the Fremen who have foreseen the rise of the messiah on their world and in their prophecies. There is the drug culture of the spice. Not only is it for the ruling class but the Fremen as well. By living on Arrakis and breathing in the spice, it has turned Fremen’s eyes blue within blue. There is the environmental aspect of destroying a planet and its animals for its resources. There are the economic aspects of one substance/resource controlling the entire economy. “The spice must flow” is the mantra of one association in the book. Then throw in all these forces at play to control the spice and you have what makes Dune so interesting.

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.

What has changed about Dune in the last ten years? Why do some call for its end?
In 1999, thirteen years after his father’s death, Brian Herbert, along with Kevin Anderson, began writing a prequel trilogy based on upon his father’s notes. Starting in 1999 and concluding in 2001, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Corrino were published one year apart. The trilogy, though written in the Dune universe, does not have the prose of Frank Herbert. It is more of an action-adventure style that tells the formation of many of the major characters in Dune. Some saw the prequel as blasphemy, others saw it as it good storytelling that filled in some blanks in the Dune Universe.

Had it ended there, everything would have been fine. Hebert and Anderson wrote  another prequel trilogy focusing on one event in Dune that created the Houses called the Butlerian Jihad where man rebelled against machines. The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin followed one year after another from 2002-2004. The novels were seen by many as cartoonish and not fitting with the Dune canon. Characters did what they did without any moral dilemmas or qualms.

Anderson and Brian Herbert did not leave it at that. In interviews, Herbert and Brian Anderson both stated that….:

Frank Herbert left in his original notes sealed in a safe deposit box … after we’d already decided what we wanted to write … They opened up the safe deposit box and found inside the full and complete outline for Dune 7 … Later, when Brian was cleaning out his garage, in the back he found … over three thousand pages of Frank Herbert’s other notes, background material, and character sketches.

As a result, rather than do the prequels, Herbert and Anderson would conclude the Dune series. According to Herbert, this had been the plan all along. Anderson had wanted to do Dune 7 first, but Herbert wanted to pen the prequels.  In 2006 and 2007, Dune 7 was split into two parts: Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. The reviews were not kind. The New York Times said of Hunters:

As hard as they try, the authors of ”Hunters of Dune” cannot overcome the burdens of history, either. Frank Herbert’s novels may have been full of neologisms that sounded like Mad magazine sound effects, but at least the author took some chances — he wasn’t afraid to strike his hero blind or turn him into a half-human, half-sandworm creature, or annihilate the entire planet of Arrakis when it suited his purposes, and he never gave his reader cause to believe that what he was writing was potentially ridiculous. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson go through the motions, but they don’t often seem to be having much fun with their material: there are factional battles between rival squads of Bene Gesserits and Honored Matres, the Lost Tleilaxu and the Face Dancers, and an ominous, unnamed ”Outside Enemy” hovering above it all, yet by the end of ”Hunters,” they have done little more than set the table for ”Sandworms of Dune”.

Ouch! I too, bought Hunters of Dune but it has only sat in my office for two years. I still can not even bring myself to buy the hard copy, only the paperback. When Sandworms of Dune came out, I did not buy it at all; not even out of a sense of obligation as a fan.

Over the last two and a half years, I turned an deaf ear and a blind eye to the Dune universe. One day this past summer, I was looking for a Philip K. Dick book at Barnes and Noble in DeKalb. They had done some remodeling and PKD was not in his rightful place. As I was walking down the aisles, I caught a glimpse of the Herbert section of Dune and lo and behold there was a new Dune paper back book; Paul of Dune. Then there was a hardcover Winds of Dune….It appears it never ends. But much to my surprise, I bought Paul. And even more to my surprise, I actually liked it. It seems as if Anderson and Herbert finally figured it out – after 8 novels, a collection of short stories, and pissing off every Dune fan from here to Katmandu, they finally figured out their own style and placed the dilemmas of the choices made by the characters at the heart of the story. That is the way it should be.

Eventually, I went to the Dune Novels Website to find there are more books coming – 2 more in the what is now the Heroes of Dune series and in an Interview, Herbert states there will be three other books – The Sisterhood of Dune; The Mentats of Dune and The Swordmasters of Dune. Sometimes I wonder if it never ends.

In the end, there are plans for a new Dune Movie and more books. But what is promising is the praise Herbert and Anderson are getting for Paul of Dune, Winds of Dune, and maybe, the soon to be forthcoming The Throne of Dune and Leto of Dune. I am hopeful that the great writing found in Paul will continue. As a fan, I don’t see how fans can have a problem with that. The other prequels deservedly got their just due. Now the sequels to Dune are garnering as much good attention as the original. It’s about time.

For Further Reading
Dune Novels – The Official Web Site
The Dune Universe – The Wiki

Advertisements

10 comments

  1. The writing in the “McDune” books is barely even adequate, but it’s the attitude of the “authors” with regard to the original novels that is the main source of contention.

    Or did you completely miss the part where the original Dune novels are reduced to in-universe texts penned by Irulan?

    And it just gets worse in Winds, because Anderson now seems to believe he owns Dune and can just write it like another of his terrible Star Wars books.

  2. Well my problem is I read the first three House prequels and then the other prequels as well. I have not been able to bring myself to read Hunters and Sandworms yet. So, the past week I have been rereading the original Dune. It is much more calming just knowing that it still exists and why it was it was written in the first place.

  3. Excellent synopsis! I have not been able to bring myself to read Brian Herbert’s (et al) Dune books. I am too scared that they will cast a dark shadow over Frank’s work which consumed me with pleasure, and perhaps take away from or taint my original pleasure in some way. Part of me doesnt really feel i need answers or more endings, and yet part of me is curious…

  4. As a ‘Dune’ fan since my teen years, I diligently read the two trilogies of prequel books and struggled through the two ridiculous sequels. After I set down ‘Sandworms’, I realized the bile had risen all the way to the very back of my mouth. The book was bad – there is little else that can be said about it. I was distraught – and I realized that all along I had never been satisfied with this new ‘Dune’.

    In a last ditch effort to appease a longing I had for a authentic new ‘Dune’ book I picked up ‘Paul’ and made it about 100 pages or so and stopped. Surprisingly, I did not vomit – in fact I didn’t do anything. The bile was gone from my throat, replaced by a rock solid sense of apathy. I cared nothing for this new ‘Dune’ – all sense of connection to the original and wonder books was finally severed. These new books are ‘Dune’ in name only, they are mimics – trashy formula fiction with a shiny ‘Dune’ cover.

    The ‘Dune’ I loved still exists, it just has nothing, I repeat nothing to do with this new shadowy version. At about the 105th page, I set the ‘Paul’ down and never looked back. In nearly two years since that fateful day, I have not thought one bit about what SandChigger has so colorfully nicknamed ‘McDune’. The two universes ‘Dune’ and ‘new Dune’ exist on separate planes of existence – I see that now, finally I can make that distinction and am the happier for it.

    I have nothing directly against Brian Herbert or Kevin J. Anderson – I just am very clear where the line is drawn. Brian is not his father and Kevin formula writer – neither man seems to have real passion for either the ‘Dune’ universe or any of their own works. I wish them all the luck in there simpler, softer version of ‘Dune’, but it will never be my ‘Dune’.

    The original ‘Dune’ novels are beautiful and cruel, passionate and brutal – there are no ‘good’ guys or ‘bad’ guys. In Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, the vilest characters are not melodrama villains and the heroes are corruptible – they are real people who have to deal with consequences to their actions. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson seemed to have forgotten this when that sat down to write their ‘Dune’ – at the best of times their books are like watching a slickly produced but ultimately empty summer blockbuster, at the worst of times it is like watching silent film actors mugging at the camera to get emotion across. They have filled a lot of pages with pretty but insubstantial prose.

    Sorry for the long post, I hope it is enlightening to see another viewpoint. Thanks.

    Tyrell M. Tinnin

  5. The original DUNE is the only novel I have ever read more than once. Keeping that little tid-bit in mind, I read Frank Herbert’s sequels only after Brian and Kevin rekindled my passion for spice and space travel. The Dune Universe is like any well crafted work, it takes on a life of its own. There are fertile worlds of imagination conjured up in Star Wars or Star Trek. A host of authors play in those “sandboxes”. Why not embrace the new Dune worlds opened up by Brian and Kevin. This writing duo has commendably continued to flesh out worlds of exotic people in a familiar setting. They have produced some entertaining novels along the way.
    Those “bloggers from hell” who harangue the works of Herbert and Anderson efforts, behave like the kid who gets a car for Christmas but bitches about the color. Those highly negative critiques come from the snob, the purist, the dogmatic whiner, people who we tolerate but never genuinely like. Since all of the bitter and negative comments are from individuals who have NEVER published themselves, they should be dismissed.
    Frank Herbert had his voice; his son Brian has his own voice. I never expected them to be identical or weave a tale the same way. I appreciate them collectively. The addition of Kevin Anderson insures that the Dune saga can be enjoyed as a solo performance or as a choir. The original series created by Frank Herbert is wonderful, but those books are not holy relics.

  6. In answer to JFK:

    There are things that are not worth being a snob about.

    Then there are things that need to be defended from the grubby unwashed fingers of the philistine.

    Dune is in the second category. Frank’s Legacy deserves to be treated better than simply being a cash cow for the biggest hack in published history. Anderson’s care with the series shows that he considers it his property and considers himself by association to be the equal of writers like Frank.

    The new books are trash, manufactured quickly and without a care, for the sole purpose of profit and self promotion.

    Maybe if you read the ‘highly negative’ critiques you’d see that they go into depth at to why the new books are trash rather than just hating on them.

    Oh, and nice try with the no-published, no-worthy critique argument. If that was true, your opinion would matter as little as ours.

    As it is, the consumer gets to critique the value of what they consume. Having read most of KJA’s trash, and pointing out the good (when I find it) along with as much of the bad as I can post in one review, then my critique counts as much as anyone’s.

  7. Well I come at this from a very different angle.
    I probably would never have read Frank’s novels if it wasn’t for Brian and Kevin. The first book I read form the series was House Atreides. It captured my attention and I talked about it and the following two books so much that my family bought all of Franks books and gave them to me one Christmas. While I really liked Franks books, I found that there were a lot of gaps that just seamed to be assumed. I will probably get crucified by this but I find that the pace of Franks books are sometimes a little slow. I actually enjoy Brian and Kevins books slightly more. Probably because started with their books. I know that the plots have often stretched the cannon and I see why that angers some hardcore Dune fans but if you don’t like the new books don’t read them.

  8. The one thing I love about Brian Herbert’s books is that it rubs so many “true fans” the wrong way. I can see all those guys and girls sitting in their rocking chair peering through the yellowed curtains and shaking hteir collective fists at those darndest kids in the street with their iPods and their videogames. They take Frank Herbert’s books more serious than the Pope does the bible. Truth is, this is the 21st century and Herbert the Younger is doing his dad a great favor by keeping the books relevant. I was 12 when I first read Dune and it was tougher to get through then Lord of the Rings. That was 31 years ago and I have read the original Dune saga many times since. I do however love the new books. Who cares what is canon or what is not? They are action filled, horrific and gritty sometimes but most of all place the whole Duniverse in a contemporary context. It took me less time to read all of them then it did to read the original Dune. Different? Yes. Bad? Certainly not. Now can somebody make a TV series oout of this please?

  9. I enjoyed your post. I’ve love Dune since finding it tucked away at my school library, a small hardback version. The glossary and appendices really grabbed me. But I too have foundered on the books since FH’s death. I’ve yet to read ‘Dune 7’, but fear it be an exercise in panning for nuggets of the original tale. D Curtis, of Deep Space from the Deep South (https://deepspacedeepsouth.wordpress.com)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s