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.