Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review, "Dune"

            A while back I decided to read more classic science fiction novels as I had heard them referenced and discussed on various nerd message boards and... well, I like science fiction and wanted to see what many consider to be the pinnacles of the genre learn from what they wrote and criticize their central themes.  I read "Ringworld" which, as of now, has the coolest artificial thing ever in the Ringworld itself, I can see why the "Halo" series ripped it off as a setting.  I then read "Ender's Game" which is in a four way free for all battle with "the Hobbit", "Life, the Universe, and Everything", and "American Gods" for my favorite book ever.  The last major Sci-fi classic I read is "Dune".  Let me tell you, it's alright.

It is a pretty majestic setting to say the least.
            I actually saw the movie first, I caught a review that explained how the thing was confounding I decided to look it up on the Netflix instant que.  The movie is a disaster.  There are talented genre actors all over the place, and scenes of special effects that I think looked really cool... others that were less so... others that made me sort of frustrated and mad.  But my highest complaint was this, the movie was too long, and not long enough.  I saw multiple points in which the movie could have ended, and they just continued the story in a "Dune: Vol. 2".  People told me that the instances I mentioned were only about 30% of the way through the book... I came to find out they were exactly 30% through the book, "Dune" has three distinct sections, able to transform into three distinct movies with little effort and plenty of breathing room, they just didn't bother to do that.

Some supporting characters, each have some cool traits to them.
            The movie I blame on the director David Lynch, who is a strange man who I think should be forced to work with Sam Neil and Jeff Combs on a "Call of Cthulhu" movie and be made to stay the hell away from anything that has a straightforward narrative like "Dune".  This movie cries out to have been done by someone like Spielberg, who can adapt books "Jaws", modernize adventure "Indiana Jones", or just go with the hardcore science fiction wizardry "Jurassic Park".  In a modern world, and you'll call me crazy, but I would say give it to Zach Snyder, I think that his slow motion fight scenes (Everything he has done) would be great for showing how the Fremen warriors and the central protagonist, Paul fight with fierce and quick movement, and more, Snyder knows how to present bad guys with a sense of creepy and awesome ("300"), which I think would have worked better for the Harkonens and the Emperor (and I think that the Emperor or Duke Leto should be played by Hugh Jackman, and Count Fenring played by Cillian Murphy).

Paul's Mother and Father, Lady Jessica and Duke Leto
            Overall I liked the book.  I like the martial arts and sword fighting, I think the action scenes were well described and tense, since so many central characters are killed or captured or displaced in the first section the possibility of real death hangs in the air.  To emphasize the possibility of the hero, Paul, loosing his final battle, he tells himself visions of the future, that if he wins he will be seen as unconquerable, if he looses he is a martyr that will be the spirit guiding a galactic jihad.

            The villains are interesting, I like Fayd, he does a good job of being a tricky little shit, I like the Baron, he is a bombastic and monstrous rapist who is actually quite stupid when you get down to it.  The Emperor is rarely seen, but his shock troops are given a lot of fanfare, and when he is around he is a strong character.  Count Fenring is a minor role that I liked and could have seen more of.  And the core characters of Paul and his mother are both interesting and deep enough that I don't feel any member of the supporting cast stole their show, which sometimes happens in books.  The book is good at 'showing and not telling' for the most part, but there are major instances which are recounted rather than played out, and they come off cheap in that sense.

            I did have two major complaints.  Firstly, the plot is set off by the emperor, the guild, and the Harkonens working together to wipe out Paul's royal house, and to take control of planet Arrakis.  The Harkonene's do this because they are greedy, the Guild does this because... They're greedy?  Their motivation is somewhat questionable.  And the emperor does this because... I have no idea.  The Emperor fears that Duke Leto will be made the emperor through his popular support and military skill, why doesn't the emperor just have Duke Leto, or Paul, the Duke's son, marry the princess?  Disarms the threat of civil war via the oldest political game in the book, marriage.  So yeah, I had some trouble with the story structure.

Some of the bad guys
            My second issue are the super powers Paul gains later in the novel.  He is the ultimate product of a generations old secret conspiracy to breed the ideal human being.  All of the royal houses are pawns in this conspiracy.  Why is the group responsible doing this?  I don't know, I guess it is because they have always done it and figure that they want to make a Jesus.  The powers he gains are this, he can visualize time as a great landscape, certain sections of that landscape are blocked in shadow, you can take make decisions that lead to the safe well lit path and nothing will ever go wrong, as the shadows are representative of very risky and dangerous instances, which the future beyond can't be seen, but if you never take risks then the galaxy stagnates.  here is my problem, even though that is a cool metaphor, it is magic.  And really the line between sci-fi and fantasy is a random one, but this is an instance in which it crosses my line, and really considering that a lot of technology takes a nontraditional form, this whole book could be turned into a fantasy novel without too much difficulty.  And really that isn't the complaint, the deeper complain is that Paul is magic.  The Guy has training in multiple forms of secret martial arts, he has training in meditation, training to become a human computer, training in political gamesmanship, and he is a super being... It got to be a bit much.

Seriously, bad ass ceases to cover it.
            Overall good book.  Using only whole stars I would give it a 4 out of 5.... Here is another petty complaint.  The cover is boring as hell.  This book has sword fights, giant monsters, spaceships, and a society of women that are breed to be beautiful beyond reason.  Cover is all black with a tiny window that shows a distant aerial shot of two people walking through a desert.  This would be clever if this was a small hint as to the 'walking into shadow' psychic visions Paul later gets, but in actuality it is just boring cover art.

For comparison, here is a typical Conan cover.  You have the hero, a giant monster, a gorgeous woman, and a gem of power.  Not a thing is happening, but there is a hell of a lot of potential. 

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