A Certain Lack of Focus

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sorta like a Review(s)

In the last couple of weeks I have read: Dune by Frank Herbert, Fledgling by Octavia Butler, and The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.
Now, I'm sure it's astonishing that, as someone who claims to be a fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and furthermore, wants to write in that genre, I have never read Dune. I should explain an oddity of my personality: When someone recommends a book to me, I will avoid it for years and years and years. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I usually blame it on my mother, who told me I should read Gone with the Wind, and my dismay when I actually followed her advice. Anyway, this explains why I didn't read The Lord of the Rings until college and why I only picked up Dune a couple weeks ago. I don't think Dune really needs my support, but I should say that I was happily surprised.
I have always been intimidated by Sci Fi because of the harder science parts which usually just bore me. In an effort of... I dunno self improvement I guess, I've been trying to get over the fear by reading some of the best books in the field. I've been going through the Nebula and Hugo winners. Now, while I've so far enjoyed every book I've read on the list, I've noticed that sometimes the stories don't seem to be quite as good as I'd expect. Often the endings are unsatisfying... and not in that literary ambiguous way, more in the way that indicates that the author didn't really even notice that he/she had neglected to end the book. I get the feeling that the standards are slightly different for story construction in Sci-Fi. I'm ok with this... the stories ARE still entertaining after all... and I don't have enough of an English background to truly believe that there need be any greater purpose to a story than entertainment.
But on top of this, I'd been warned, several times, about how SLOW Dune is. I am not a patient reader. I want to be hooked right away.
Now, while there are sections in Dune that have a great deal of descriptive detail and political explanation, I'm not sure where it could be called slow. I thought Dune was as well paced as anything I've read. The characters were strong and sympathetic, even when you wanted to slap them (mostly Jessica). Paul, is essentially... what? A god? A superhero? Well Herbert calls him a prophet, but the character does reach supernatural levels, and yet the story never gets unbelievable. I also loved how present the desert was, it was really a separate character.
The only criticism I can offer is that I was often confused by the number of different characters. Mostly, I was trying to figure out who was supposed to be alive, (who was actually alive), who was really dead and who was only supposed to be dead. In all fairness, there is an extensive (and apparently famous) appendix. Unfortunately I have hated appendixes ever since I got to the end of Fellowship of the Ring, with a good 50 pages remaining and turned to page to find: "Maps." I nearly screamed, "you've got to be f*cking kidding me, that's it?" Anyway, I ignore them on principle now. However, in Dune the confusion never reached the point of annoyance, if I wanted to know badly enough who was being spoken of, I'd flip back until I found out. For the most part though, I was able to accept the confusion as part of the story.
I think the best indication of how well written the story was is that when I came to the ending, I really couldn't guess whether Herbert was willing to kill off Paul or not. I always count it as a mark of success when I'm not sure whether the main character will live or die.

So, for what it's worth, that's what I thought of Dune, reading it for the first time at the age of 25. Tomorrow, if I get the chance, I'll review Fledgling and The Looking Glass Wars, both of which are far more recent releases than Dune.

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