Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tobias on Dune: (1) An Introduction

Frank Herbert published his wonderful Science Fiction novel, Dune, in 1965. At that time, Ecology – central to the plot of this novel – was a new field, unknown to most people. I picked up the first edition at my local ibrary. The book was big. It started with a long glossary. (Yes! The glossary came first, for good reasons.) I needed just a page or two to realize I was beginning a fine, original, inventive adventure.

I later read a lot more Frank Herbert. He was wonderfully inventive, one remarkable sci-fi idea after another. But his characters had no life. We readers were fortunate that for once, in Dune, Frank Herbert created memorable characters, a whole bunch of them.

Dune influenced my thinking a lot, more than I realized until now. In particular, I remembered the thrilling, gradual revelation of the ecology of Dune, and how understanding that ecology enabled Paul Muad’Dib to win his war. And I remembered the thrilling intrigue, plots-within-plots, that drove this novel.

Has Dune stood up to the passage of time? I recently decided to revisit this novel, and I listened to the Audio book. Frank Herbert’s writing technique is barely serviceable, but the novel did not let me down; although near the end, I kept telling the narrator to “get on with it.” But the passage of time has revealed many quibbles, which I shall share with you in the next few days. For starters, here’s a teaser: I can never be sure, but I believe Herbert wrote the end of the book first (about the last 10%). Then he wrote the beginning. Then, after a lot of research and invention, he wrote the rest, making minor edits to what he had already written, to achieve a seamless whole.

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