Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Bwog Must Flow (Dune Book Review)

It's been a busy week for BW but I assure you it's worth the wait. Behold: BWS2K reviews the science fiction masterpiece Dune by Frank Herbert.

I suppose the picture above should be addressed first - it's from the classic film adaptation by David Lynch. That is, of course, Sting in the role of Feyd-Rautha and it's not the weirdest thing about the movie at all. If you could ever watch a two-hour movie based on a trillion page book (different counts vary but I'm going to say that five-hundred is a good minimum starting point for this lovely literary monstrosity) that begins by sharing some of the same character names and then ends in an entirely original, yet somehow completely alternate, conclusion... that's the 1984 Dune film. The Sci Fi channel (which will never be spelled "SyFy" by these hands) did a version in 2000, and then a sequel in 2003 incorporating the next two titles in the series (Dune Messiah and Children of Dune) which was not only substantially longer but closer to the original plot. And when I use the term "closer" here I mean it in the "that was a lot like the book but still left out major elements and characters almost entirely" way. Let me say it like this: I watched the Sci Fi series a couple times first, then read the book a few years ago, watched the series some more (it doesn't take long to find them on  YouTube), watched the 1984 film a few weeks ago (it was a Christmas gift from Mrs. BW, along with the books) and I'm currently about 3/4 of the way through the first book again (page 663 of 883) - and I'm still finding new things.

Imagine, then, something like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings but lesser known and significantly more... human. I won't give any spoilers here, though I totally will at some point in a future Bwog (with plenty of warning). It's gritty - and I don't just mean it has a lot of sand. It takes place on Arrakis - a desert planet with large worm-like creatures that live in the sand and have giant gaping deathtraps for faces (not Tatooine, where they have the Sarlacc - that's completely different). It's the only place in the universe to get spice - a sort of hallucinogenic drug that keeps you young, turns your eyes blue, and somehow let's you see the future... or... something. I still don't quite get it.

I think what I enjoy most about Dune is that it takes it's time introducing characters and plot points. You don't feel at all rushed into the story or like you're being cheated out of someone's motivations just for the sake of writers' block - everything is explained in great detail. There's no one thread that begins neatly and wraps up nicely and then you're done. Rather, it's really like some sort of soap opera where you watch the show for about a month and understand the whole series for the last couple decades through clever references to backstory. Unlike a soap opera, however, it's something you actually want to watch (I'm assuming no one ever intends to watch them on purpose, it just sort of happens when you flip through the channels and your remote runs out of batteries and you stick around for a few years to catch the reason for that one little thing). Dune is a snapshot of Humanity in about eight-thousand years and explains how what we're doing now affects things then, and goes on for several more generations of characters into the future. That's a fairly terrible description though, because it's so much bigger than any one sentence could capture. It's not dark, exactly, or really even what I would call dystopian (despite Sting's wardrobe). It's not terribly happy go-lucky either though (there's no Federation of Do-Gooders here) - and that's what makes it so believable. I can imagine this is about what we might look like if we last that long (BW doesn't give human beings that much credit though, he suspects we have another hundred years tops). Each chapter is preceded by a little quote from otherwise un-referenced sources written by one of the main characters, as though the entire series isn't something from Frank Herbert's hand as much as a retrospective from those that actually lived it and chronicled everything for those that would come later, and I love that. Anytime you can give life to the characters outside of their immediate sphere of influence (whether through a dynastic sort of approach, butterfly effect, or authorship of the tale, like here) is just awesome.

I could go on and on about how great Dune is but without spoiling it I would just sound like the extras on the Collector's Edition of Lord of the Rings ("Peter Jackson is amazing, Tolkien is a genius... Peter Jackson is a genius, Tolkien is amazing...").  There are some critics who say the story is sexist or boring or too religious but I'll shut them all up in a spoiler-incorporated bwog later on.

Because they should shut up.

Because they're wrong.

With Brightest of (House Atreides) Greens,

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