So… I for some reason thought it would be clever to read Dune. Over the years I’ve heard a lot about it. Supposedly one of the best Sci-Fi books ever, a masterpiece, a magnificent… something.
Lets get it out of the way. I liked it, I did. It’s well-written, it’s well-built, the world feels like one I’ve known for ages. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s almost like this is just a small story in a universe that has much that came before and after it. I’ve read a lot of novels in the Warcraft universe, and I’ve played all those games since I was little, and this feels a little like that. Like a novel set in the middle of something I’m familiar with.
But at the same time, this was incredibly boring. There’s lots of stuff going on, don’t get me wrong, but hardly any of it was even remotely interesting. I felt like I was being fed lore or background history, waiting for the real story to start.
I’m not sure why, I liked most of the characters (even though there are far too many of them. Took me ages before I could start making sense of who was who), I just wasn’t interested in what they did. And the few scenes that were supposed to be interesting died away with over-explained over-detailed descriptions. like the fight scenes. They read like an instruction manual, not an action scene.
Also, Frank Herbert really loved the word presently. (He said, presently).
But I figure I could use Dune as an example, to talk about something else. Because by now you’re probably wondering why I finished the book. Why I even bothered? Well, first of all, I kind of liked it, even though it was boring. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it’s just not super… exciting and gripping. Not all books need to be action-packed, I’ve read the Silmarillion as well, and that’s about as fast-paced as a dictionary.
I very rarely not finish books. They have to be properly unreadable before I put them away. That’s both because I’m slightly OCD (I don’t like to leave things unfinished), and because I take a while to make up my mind. People often say that the first page has to hook the reader, and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been hooked by the first page. Sometimes I’m halfway through a book before I even know what to think of it. Sometimes the ending can reveal things, or turn things around that makes me love it, even though I wasn’t super into it to begin with. (Or that can happen the other way around, I can hate it by the end).
Maybe it has to do with me loving thrillers, mystery, and horror. Imagine you put on a movie, a thriller that’s really slow and weird on the uptake. If you stop it after twenty minutes because ‘nothing’s happened’, you really don’t get the point of thrillers and mysteries. I played a video game called Bioshock recently. It’s talked about as one of the best games ever in the last decade. I didn’t think much of it, I actually thought it was really boring… until the end, when it got really good.
And I’m not saying you shouldn’t put down books if you’re bored. By all means, find something that excites you. I’m just explaining why I am the way I am, maybe reading a book all the way till the end, before I decide. I like to hold all the cards before I make up my mind. That’s all.
Anyway, I’m giving Dune some credit, seeing as it’s written in the ’60s. And in one sense, I do still like it. I think maybe I’ll read it again in a few years (even though I rarely do that), and we’ll see. But if you’re looking for a grand, well-written Sci-Fi adventure, with massive world-building and cool characters, maybe give this a go. Hopefully you’ll be less bored than I was.
I guess the thing about reading the 1965 Dune in 2019 is the modern reader wouldn’t know the concepts and extent of world-building were revolutionary. It seems so familiar now. So much—from WoW to Tremors to GoT—was inspired by Dune. Which wasn’t really sci-fi as much as it was about ecology and global politics.
Global politics was also the subject of the Foundation series. Ecology and politics was also the subject of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. These are the books, along with Stranger in a Strange Land, that sparked the counterculture, aka “hippie movement.” Not that Abbie Hoffman and Viet Nam didn’t help, but politics is boring to read and sentient robots are not. And that time was about saving the planet and the bald eagle and civil rights as much as ending the war.
That said, I never read Dune because I wouldn’t slog through the prose. I think I got about 30 pages in. That was the great thing about Asimov – always a fast, engaging read.
Anyway – none of this is what I started to say when I found the Reply box. I wanted to tell you about “skipibus” which was Charles Darwin’s family’s name for just skipping over the boring descriptive passages to get back to the story. Without radio or TV, families would read aloud to each other in the evenings. Writers, paid by the word as some still are, padded the prose. I figure if Darwin can skipibus, by golly, it’s good enough for me. And you, if you want.
You could probably do it with this post.
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The thing I found both fascinating and longwinded at the same time about Dune is all the political/nobility intrigue. I have yet to find an author who can do it so well. Yet, at the same time, it takes a lot of set-up and cerebral thinking and careful writing that can, quite frankly, get a bit taxing at times.
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I’ve personally never read Dune because it’s not a genre I read a lot of, but I admire your ability to finish a book and give it more of a chance regardless of the beginning, or even the middle. I try to do the same when I can, and I’ve always hated the rule, ‘hook them in the beginning or it’s a no-go!’ It stifles so many different ways of telling a good story, and even building the reader up for something greater. I was once told to put a later scene of action as the opening and then lead back up to the vague action to draw in attention, but what’s the point of giving a major scene away in the beginning? I get that people will want to read more to see how it happened, or to learn more about it, but I really dislike that bit of advice too. I like books that can draw me in with style and mystery. It makes the end that much more satisfying and worth it. (I also love Gothic fiction and literature, which disregards the ‘hook ’em’ advice for the most part.)
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I agree. We have way too many people who think a “hook” is the opening of Breaking Bad. Probably because they’ve never read “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Or even “When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” I’m a fan of just telling the story.
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Exactly! A good story outweighs all else.
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