Vintage Science Fiction Month: Dune Reread Report

I read Dune for the first time one summer while I was in college way back when.  Bounced off of it hard.  So hard I never bothered to read the copy of Dune Messiah I picked up at the same time.  It was my first attempted foray into science fiction.  Years later I would realize that I do like science fiction.  Well, at least some science fiction.  I discovered I like the hard stuff, and the crazy science fantasy and planetary romance.  It’s the soft space opera middle that I don’t care for.

Which makes it a bit of a mystery why I didn’t go for Dune in the first place.  So when Dune got picked for a Vintage Science Fiction Month group read, I knew I had to embark on a re-read.  The results were . . . not great.

Why do I like hard science fiction and science fantasy?  The same reason I always liked epic fantasy—worldbuilding.  Which Dune has in spades.  But there are a couple problems.  One, after years of exposure by osmosis, big reveals like the role of the Makers weren’t so big.  Two, Herbert’s writing is . . . not great.

Herbert dumps a bunch of key info on us right from the get-go.  For example, we are immediately told who the traitor is.  Other big reveals are perhaps held too long (several of which the movie reveals in the opening monologue).  Generally, the pacing is all over the place.  Most egregious is the jump between Paul’s time with the Fremen and the battles at the end.

The Fremen, like the Makers, didn’t have quite the impact they should have had.  For all he drew from several other disparate sources, Robert Jordan’s Aiel really do owe a lot to the Fremen.  I would have appreciated Dune more if I had read it before the first several Wheel of Time books.  But the Fremen are still awesome.  Their desert tech makes me wish more post-apocalyptic works thought more about technology.  Sure, I get the nobody-to-make-the-tools-to-make-the-tools-to-make-the-tools problem, and that “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make” a pencil.  But plenty of people know plenty, and necessity is the mother of invention.  So maybe we don’t recreate the iPhone, but we do come up with something like a stillsuit.

I can see why so many publishers passed on Dune.  It is undoubtedly something special, but it also breaks many, many rules, and most of them not to its benefit.  It isn’t quite to the level of the original Dragonlance trilogy.  But it is certainly a great story that suffers from poor execution, really great worldbuilding notwithstanding.

What Dune is, though, and its saving grace?  Immensely quotable.

I love the invented words and terms in Dune—gom jabbar, Kwisatz Haderach, the spice melange.

“Most of the Houses have grown fat by taking few risks.  One cannot truly blame them for this; one can only despise them.” – Duke Leto

“Law is the ultimate science.”

“Out here, woman, we carry no paper for contracts.  We make no evening promises to be broken at dawn.  When a man says a thing, that’s the contract.  As leader of my people, I’ve put them in bond to my word.” – Stilgar

“A leader, you see, is one of the things that distinguishes a mob from a people.  He maintains the level of individuals.  Too few individuals, and a people reverts to a mob.”

The 1984 movie, though?  The 1984 movie is a thing of beauty.


4 of 5 Stars.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
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15 Responses to Vintage Science Fiction Month: Dune Reread Report

  1. Off The TBR says:

    Seems we had similar reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pcbushi says:

    I love the book and I love the Lynch film, separate as they are. The book is one of my favorites, actually!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. danielshumphreys says:

    Ah, but which version of the movie?

    They played a longer cut on broadcast television when I was a teenager. I found it much better than the shorter cut.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bormgans says:

    I like the movie immensly, but it only makes sense if you’ve read the book. I’m looking forward to my own reread somewhere later this year I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Eh, I don’t know if that is true. The movie comes right out and tells you a large part of what is happening. I think they probably could’ve gotten away with less exposition. (But then I only watched the movie right after reading the book.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t read Dune, but I have thought about it. What keeps me most from reading it is other SF/F fans my age (late-20’s) who all say they didn’t like it because of it’s writing. Even my father, who tried to read, had the same main complaint.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Redhead says:

    I’ll grant you that the pacing is off, and Herbert’s world building and writing style is very, very different from what’s been popular the last 10-15 years. Dune reads very different from a contemporary epic sci-fi, and if you’re expecting something that’s like James S.A. Corey, or Ann Leckie or Alastair Reynolds, you’re going to be disappointed. I first read Dune when I was in high school, it was one of the first “grown up” science fiction novels I read. I’d read some scifi before reading Dune, but I didn’t realize I liked scifi until I read Dune.

    And YES, the 1984 movie is a thing a of beauty! Hasn’t got much to do with the book, but such a fun movie!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Vintage Science Fiction Month: David Lynch’s Dune is gorgeous and weird and epic and I love it | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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