By Frank Herbert

I’ve read this before and liked it; several portions stick vividly in my mind but I never read the rest of the series. I still don’t expect to read the rest of the series, but my friend just read it and has brought it up a few times in conversation so when they had it on the “Librarians’ Picks” shelf at the–guess where?!–library, I grabbed it.

The book has some odd characteristics of the writing that I am overlooking in favor of the story. I don’t like the rapid jumps of point of view. I also think the “insights” provided by the jump into a character’s thoughts are quite obvious and a poor strategy for alerting the reader of character motivations. It’s actually kind of bad writing. But it gets better as the book progresses and more happens within each chapter to one or two characters only. I’m at Part II and the writing has improved tremendously.

I do think it’s funny how little bits of “I’m writing in 1965” slip into what is a remarkably timeless story. One character consults a wrist watch, and it’s called a wrist watch. They watch instructional films. There’s an evil homosexual in power, which is supposed to be a radical idea the way it’s presented. I am very impressed, however, with the way the powerful Bene Gessirit (sp?) women are presented as just being powerful without any of the “I Am Woman” overtones that appear in 1970s and 1980s post-ERA fiction. Perhaps it matters that a man is writing and lacks the outrage and indignation of the oppressed and does not exaggerate what women could accomplish if given the chance. He just presents them as a sect with influence everywhere that pass knowledge and information through female bloodlines. They are neither earth goddessy nor particularly nurturing nor acting exactly like men. It’s very modern and quite prescient. I’m impressed.

I dunno. The book petered out for me in part three. Maybe I’m just being harsh on books this month, but I couldn’t keep track of it anymore. Nothing happened but you had to just keep reading. I think I got sick of all the telepathy and prescience. The paranormal is fine but everything was explained as known in some psychic way. No one ever did anything except look into future timelines and pick the one where you weren’t dead or someone else was dead and then stuff happened with that result. It was like eating dinner from a pill in Willy Wonka. There’d be these comments from a character along the lines of “let’s go kill all those hundreds of slaves now” and “we just killed six thousand people outside”–huge events mentioned in passing. If you have to mention something like that at all, shouldn’t there be a scene detailing it? That’s excitement, not wisdom gained by psychically uploading the wisdom of ten people older than you.

I remember really liking this book the first time I read it and now I don’t remember why. Maybe it’s because of all the jihad and bourkas and desert nomads in the book. I think we’re Islamed out lately. I really would rather have started with the part where the Fremen were doing real work to transform the planet, but I already got that in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (interestingly, another book/s with direct tributes to Islam).

I guess in the end I don’t care that much about courtly intrigue and want the book to be about something else. That’s not the author’s fault, I suppose.

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