This Christmas…

I ate way too much.

I drank perhaps a little bit less than I could have gotten away with.

I installed Ice Cream Sandwich on my phone (Samsung Galaxy S).

My reading slowed down substantially.

I yearned for, but did not play, Skyrim.

I saw many people that I care about.

I watched Law and Order, but not as much as I really should have.

I did not watch much sports, at all.

I received many fine sweaters as gifts. And some hats.

The Rest of the First Two Books of the Dune Series

I have touched the face of science fiction. Its name is Dune.

Well. That might be pushing it a little. This series is nuts though. I finished Dune Messiah this morning, and decided not to start on Children of Dune until I knew what I wanted to write about the end of the first book and the entirety of the second. However, I find myself completely unprepared to write about the books. I’m here because I don’t want to see my blog fade into oblivion yet again and I really want to start Children of Dune.

Let’s start there actually, with my feeling of anticipation for the third book in the series. Dune Messiah ends ridiculously well, a complete contrast with my feelings at the end of Dune. Not for the first time, I find myself grateful that I’m a latecomer to these series. Much like with the Dark Tower series, I have absolutely no idea how I would have coped sitting around waiting for a sequel that I knew was coming but about which I knew very little. Then again, the first two Dune books did come out in the second half of the 1960s. If I had been alive, I can only assume I would have been doing something awesome.

I didn’t like the ending to Dune, at all. The biggest problem, really, was that around about the time of Paul’s reunion with Gurney Halleck I was getting used to Herbert’s storytelling decisions. The continuing and competing internal monologues had by this stage woven a fascinating story centred on all the characters at once. The protagonist in this case led affairs and did not define them, which is interesting really when the protagonist is hailed as a God by most of the other characters. Most appealing of all, the action had gathered pace at last, after page upon page of Paul experiencing or at least alluding to detailed oracular visions of the future. Halleck gets on board, the emperor shows up with all of the Great Houses, the Fremen have been busy killing all manner of bad guy for several years, and we’re on to a huge showdown.

Then the showdown happens, and Paul says he’s marrying the woman who apparently wrote a bunch of books about him according to the block quotes at the start of most of the book’s chapters, and then I’m reading an appendix on Liet Kynes’ approach to the ecology of Arrakis. I was on the second page before I realized it was an appendix and the story was, in fact, over. All in all, I was a little underwhelmed and slightly annoyed. Herbert did such a wonderful job illustrating this fantastic world and this cast of characters, and then it just… ends. But not before Paul gets naked and fights a dude.

I always thought that the fight between Feyd-Rautha and Paul in David Lynch’s film was an odd concession to cheesy cinematic conventions. It gave Sting something to do, as well as yet another excuse for him to be topless and oddly pre-Fields of Gold intense. Except, for reasons that elude me, they keep him clothed having apparently decided that they’d done enough weird Sting-ogling at the beginning of the film. Wouldn’t you have all the Sting nakedness during the part of the film where the book advocates for Sting nakedness, and not in some arbitrary scene at the start? Why am I talking so much about Sting being naked?

Moving on. Well, actually, wait: did you know that Michael Bolton was in David Lynch’s Dune? Because I didn’t.

 

Anyway. It was a genuine surprise when I got near the end of Dune and, sure enough, Paul whips his top off and challenges Feyd-Rautha to a fight. It was kind of sad, really. I never developed any feelings for Feyd-Rautha nor invested any energy in him whatsoever outside of my interest in the weird Bene Gesserit breeding plans. It also tied into my biggest problem with the series so far, one that would come to completely dominate Dune Messiah: I have a serious issue with everything being preordained, and the author telling us a lot of what’s going to happen but leaving key issues out, while clearly stating that the protagonist knows what’s going to happen. Dune Messiah became incredibly frustrating because of this. Then, however, it became glorious. I love the ending. I think it was fantastic. It was payback after hours of frustration with Paul as a figure completely trapped by time and fate. In a way, the reader imitates the protagonist’s sudden sense of release. I felt freed, finally. Unfortunately I had to get through an entire novel to reach that one moment.

Dune Messiah focuses on court intrigue to an extent that I was never really interested in pursuing. It’s fascinating, it must be heaven for people who like it, but it started to really grate with me. I just didn’t feel that enough was happening. Yes, yes. I am an utter philistine. I kept driving on, however. I needed to see what would happen. Ultimately, Dune Messiah plays a trick on the reader. It’s not about Paul or Alia or even Chani. It’s about the confederacy of uneasy allies seeking to overturn Paul’s rather terrifying fundamentalist regime. Trying to enjoy the book by experiencing the story through Paul’s perspective was my big mistake. This story is about a fictional transposition of the Gang of Four (although the similarities are coincidental) and it’s incredibly exciting when you read it that way. Unfortunately, I realized this with about four pages to go.

What got me there? Well, despite the complaining, I loved both books. Herbert’s writing is fantastic, and if anything I prefer his work in the second book, when a lot of the metaphysical transformations or spiritual/philosophical gymnastics needed to be described just right to be even remotely decipherable. The ghola concept turned me off completely, and yet by the end of the book I accepted the idea and the important role it played in the plot. I’m still not completely at ease with how much of the plot is essentially inevitable, or at least how it’s openly described as inevitable. All fiction is inevitable I suppose, unless you choose to focus solely on Choose Your Own Adventure books, and that’s not a particularly sane choice to make. It’s just so odd that Herbert makes it clear that everything happening at the end of the book could not have happened any other way in this universe… except for one pretty major thing, that he STILL spoils pages and pages ahead of time. It’s nuts. I can’t wait for the third book. Time to go and start reading, I think.

The Flight Home

Flying into Ireland is an odd experience for me. More than any other approach to a runway, I remember the descent home. I always look out the window, over the small pattern fields and the houses isolated amid the green by the roads that cut through and around them. I don’t do this with any other city I’ve lived in. The approach to Taipei is an interesting one, because the west coast of the island is a more or less uninterrupted city. The approach to Dallas/Fort Worth is pretty unimpressive, really. To be fair, most runway approaches are. My descent home is too, if I were to take away the bias that’s there.

That’s the point though. Why take away that bias? I do wonder how much of my experience looking out that window as the plane comes down is the same kind of ego-driven nostalgia we all have, or that I assume we all have, of the world centered on our own personal narrative. Is Ireland mythical in my mind because it’s part of my own personal myth? It was, after all, the setting for my adolescence. Ireland is home to things that shaped me and things that I have left behind, both in happiness and in sorrow. Ireland has always been particularly a land of myth for me personally because I spent so many of my years growing up away from my native country. Now that I live in the United States and live among Americans, Ireland continues to grow and grow in its mythical power for me. Maybe I’m just becoming an American.

It was the same growing up, though. It’s an easy out, when you’re different. We’re all different as teenagers, struggling to get back in line with where we think everybody else is. When you come from a completely different place, that place becomes the reason you’re different, and you find shelter in it, and it becomes a major part of who you are. Basically, I did what a lot of guys my age were doing with Dungeons & Dragons or maybe video games or science fiction literature. You find refuge in this thing on which you are the ultimate authority. For the guy who had seen every Star Trek: OST episode, this authority was based on knowledge, an investment of time. For me, it was a birthright.

Ireland itself is a land of myth. It helps. Irishness is all about exceptionalism, about differentiation from others (the English, in particular). Irish nationalism is about persecution followed by redemption, thwarted and denied complete national harmony at the very last. All of it helps to create this myth of being Irish, that being Irish is somehow naturally a mark of superiority. The Irish representation of national chauvinism, essentially. It’s rendered so much more powerful by the fact that it’s so utterly futile. There aren’t many people out there with a grievance against aggressive exploitation by an expanding Irish state. Well, there aren’t any. There are many people who like an Irish author, or Irish music, or have bought into this remarkably prevalent idea that Irish people are naturally charming and funny.

So, all of this makes me wonder how much of my fascination with coming home, my own participation in the myth by looking out the window of the plane and experiencing something I experience in no other city, comes from the fact that I’ve been experiencing my Irishness outside of Ireland. It’s just a place like any other, of course. Though we do actually drink more. It makes for a good Christmas.

Reading Lists

Books I want to look at over the break…

 

Dune, and the other (Frank) Herbert authored Dune novels.

Awaken, an autobiography by Chinese historian Gu Chang Sheng

The Chaos Walking series

I want to have a look at this Song of Ice and Fire business, which brings me on to:

The Belgariad (I was really into this as a kid)

and

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I was into the Covenant books when there were two trilogies. All I remember is being traumatized. 

 

I’m well into Dune, and I more or less have to read Awaken, for work, so that’s a decent start. 

Things I Have Learned in the Past Few Days

I really, really want to learn piano. Not right now, but at some point in the next couple of years.

I need to start actually learning Korean, and need to stop talking about learning Korean.

A good best man’s speech should have one solid swear word. A real one. The F bomb. It’s a magic number though: only one, just like a PG-13 movie.

A good wedding involves cold beer and a late night. Both of these things must be present.

I am friends with a lot of wonderful people.

Irish people have a chip in their brain that does not permit them to sit still, or even to stay away from the nearest dance floor, when “The Belle of Belfast City” is played at sufficient volume.

National Car Rental doesn’t have much of a problem with their employees stealing your stuff.