Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dune


   As far as I know, this is the first book I've ever reviewed on here. This is mainly a movie review blog (obviously), but in whatever description I've ever written about it, I've stated movies "and stuff", freeing myself to write about, well... stuff. Specifically, stuff other than movies, and last I checked, books fit that description. I don't fancy myself a book critic, but definitely a reader. Anyhow, this book has had such an effect on me that I couldn't help but share.

  I'm not an overly analytical person when it comes to books. I take things at face value. I don't read into subtext, allegory is woefully lost on me as well. I can grasp larger themes and inspirations only if I really try to, so understand that I was engaging Dune on the most basic of terms. It was touted as a sci-fi adventure and I was going into it expecting just that. Mind you, I'd already been long familiar with the characters and the basic story thanks largely to the 1984 movie, and subsequently the Sci-fi channel mini-series from 2000. I knew about Paul, Arrakis, the Harkonnens, the weirding way and all of it. I always knew there was so much more to know though.

  The 1984 movie captured my imagination at a very young age. At no older than 13 I was immersed in this strange universe featuring the most far-out and weirdest science fiction concepts I'd ever been exposed to at that point. Sci-fi to me, at 13, was Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Terminator. I was not prepared for the world that Frank Herbert had created, but I knew I wanted more. The book was surprisingly hard to find for me where I was living at the time, and I had heard about how daunting of a read it was, what with it's 100 page glossary in the back, just defining words and such so the reader won't get confused. Holy hell. Even after finally landing a copy, I put off reading it almost indefinitely and stuck to the movie-.

  Fast forward many many years later and I'm after finishing reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I needed something else to dig into. Of course, I went on to read the last three books of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series first, but THEN, I dusted off my little paperback copy of Dune... and dug in. Color me surprised to find out how accessible the book is. Right away Herbert pulls us into this vividly realized world, involves us with these wonderfully written characters, and starts engrossing us in razor sharp politics, deception, and palace intrigue. This is all just the first act of the book, it's not long before the protagonists are cast into mortal danger, setting a tone and pace for the rest of the story.

  Dune also is so much more than just an action packed read though, somehow Herbert manages to make something as simple as a mere conversation between two people as tense and thrilling as the sprawling battle scenes that highlight the book. The political maneuvering of great royal houses, complete with espionage, lies, deceit, betrayal and murder, are all just as engaging and exciting in Dune, as is it's swashbuckling adventure elements. But even under all of that, there's a real heart to the story. The characters aren't flat stereotypes, not that I expected them to be, but they're far more complex and emotional beasts than I would've imagined.

  Herbert pays as much attention to the individual growth and development of his characters as he does to the numerous plot lines he unravels throughout the story. This is no news to anyone really, the book was published in 1965, and generations of people have read and loved it before I have. It's been adapted into movies, board games, comic books, video games, card games, and more stuff I've no doubt. All of those things invariably lead back to the original book. It has endured time, and the word of mouth about it is as strong now as it was then. It's a timely and relevant book, possibly even more now than it was in the 60's. If there's any generation which should pay close mind to the eco-political themes in Dune, it's this one.

  The book generates an awareness of politics, religion, government, and ecology all within the context of science fiction adventure, and manages to be an enthralling read- never dull. As Wikipedia succinctly puts it, "Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the "spice" melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking." Indeed.

  Furthermore, the imagery that Herbert commands in the pages of this book is beyond immense. It's nothing short of masterful. There are settings, creatures, and scenes in Dune could only be limited by the attempt to adapt them to another form of media. The sandworms will never look as gigantic, monstrous or majestic on screen as they do in my imagination. Despite my enduring love for the visuals and characters brought to life in the movie, they pale in comparison to the book. Oddly enough, I think the claims that Dune is 'un-adaptable' is nonsense. This book seems tailor made for high-adventure and intrigue on the silver screen.

  "But, why even bother if the book is so good on it's own?" you might ask, I know many do. Because... people have a desire to see things 'brought to life'. Whether it's comic books, cartoons, or books. When done right, we get something like The Lord of the Rings or Watchmen. Done wrong... well, that's the risk we run when clamoring for movie adaptations. The thing few people get is that, you'll never have a perfect adaptation. Even Watchmen which is considered one of the most faithful adaptations ever changes a few things in the translation to the silver screen. Dune will (and has) inevitably have to follow suit- but that's just it, any movie adaptation whatsoever will only ever be a companion piece because it's about the visuals.

  Which is why I bear no ill will to the 1984 movie but harbor a major grudge towards the 2000 mini-series. The whole point of bringing a book to the big screen is to see it. Granted, we all want to see everything we enjoyed from the book directly show up on the screen, but that's not gonna happen. Ever. The movies at best will give you a visual reference point, showing you what it might look like "for real". When it works out, the images on the screen marry the ones in our heads, and it's great. But so often, audiences feel betrayed when so much is lost in the translation. All I can say is, read the book. Damn. The existence of movie adaptations will never change the words on the pages in the book. Dune is still a fantastic read. It will always be a fantastic read.

  The next ten generations of David Lynchs and Alejandro Jodorowskys couldn't change that if they tried. All they could ever do, in a best case scenario, is create something that compliments the book.
If one of their efforts turns out to be popular, guess what it brings back into the spotlight? The book. The Watchmen movie led me to the graphic novel, and the 1984 Dune movie led me to this wonderful book. What fan could possibly object to a massive public reminder like that? Especially one that will introduce a whole new generation of minds to the material, and lead them right back to the book. Isn't that also the point?

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