Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, December 31, 2009

righting an old wrong?

When I was six or seven years old I started reading my father’s books, all of which were paperback novels, and almost all of those Westerns and science fiction. I read every novel Louis L’Amour had written before I was ten, and nearly everything by Robert A. Heinlein (I’m not sure I made it through Stranger in a Strange Land). And then one day I started on Frank Herbert’s Dune.

I was wandering through the house with the book tucked under my arm and saw on the kitchen counter a big bowl of strawberries macerating in sugar. Since strawberries were my favorite food, I decided those were for me. I took them back to my room and spooned sweet fruit into my mouth as I simultaneously devoured the first hundred pages or so of Dune.

But I ate too many of those strawberries. I became miserably sick and threw everything up. And then I discovered that the nausea returned if I so much as thought about . . . Dune. Yes, oddly, my mind linked profound queasiness not with the strawberries, which were at fault, but with Frank Herbert’s novel. I guess I loved strawberries too much to be revolted by them, so Dune took the hit instead. Every time I picked it up my stomach lurched. I set it aside and never got back to it.

Until now. My son Wes read it not long ago, so his copy has been lying around the house. I looked at it — picked it up — experienced no nausea — and thought, what the hell, maybe it’s time. Maybe I should make it up to old Frank for my inappropriately negative reaction to his book. So I started in, and . . .

It’s terrible. The writing is unbearably stilted, every scene (so far) contrived and clichéd. I know it must get better, and in any case you don't read a book like this for its style but rather for its world-making — but good heavens, Herbert writes like a fifteen-year-old. I bet I would have adored it at age ten, but forty years later I don't know whether I’m going to be able to persist. Maybe I’ll watch the movie instead.


  • Watch the movie. Sting and Captain Picard!

  • Don't watch the movie. Please, don't watch the movie.

  • When I tried to get through DUNE, my feelings were exactly the same as yours. Maybe I'm just too much of a curmudgeon to appreciate DUNE's merits, but I found the book so off-puttingly terrible that I couldn't continue with it. My brother, on the other hand, received the book as a Christmas gift and subsequently devoured it (he's now tearing through DUNE MESSIAH, and will then move on to CHILDREN OF DUNE).

    My loathing for DUNE aside, I would give my right arm to see the never-made film adaptation of DUNE by Alejandro Jodorowsky, with production design by H. R. Giger and Salvador Dali--yes, Salvador Dali--in the role of the Emperor. Sadly, that project was never made, and instead David Lynch got ahold of it and gave us . . . something.

  • DO NOT watch the movie. If you MUST watch something, watch the Sci-fi (SyFy... sigh) miniseries from 2000.

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