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.