A sandy-haired teenage boy told a very naive girl about his favourite book.
“I will not like it,” she said. “I do not like sci-fi or fantasy or other worlds or names I can’t remember…”
“But you will!” he said. “It’s so clever. So well-written. Not like other sci-fi. I re-read it all the time.”
The boy had read Pride and Prejudice of his own accord. He read Bridget Jones’ Diary when the girl thought he needed some help getting over another girl (“I am a cool, unavailable ice queen…”). The girl probably ought to have listened to him.
“No,” she said. “It just isn’t my thing”.
I have a reflexive distrust of book recommendations. With the exception of a few very close friends, no-one can move me to read something on a first attempt. You will learn this about me. And every so often, I have to eat my words and admit that someone else was right. The peculiar part, is the assortment of anecdotes that come together to change my mind.
Dune would have remained an unknown quantity to me had not Miss Bluebird given it this particular wrap in her beautiful POV post a few weeks ago,
“You are going to love Dune— it’s one of the big go-to books I hand to people when they are trying to figure out how to write a long narrative. It’s lyrical and technical and full of surprising and lovely tensions. (I can’t think about Dune without getting excited! And I can’t say any more about it, or I’ll blow my premise!)” See the full discussion here.
I have respect for this kind of enthusiasm. I recognise it, even from a stranger. After all, I have dished out a great deal of it myself – perhaps even frightened a customer or two away with my enthusiasm. And so, the reading contract was sealed.
Dune does incredibly well what Science Fiction does best. It explores potentials in time, space, religion, spirituality and politics in stunningly fluid prose and scintillating action sequences. Miss Bluebird has spent many more years reading it than I, so I will not digress too far into a discussion of techniques I have only just encountered. I understand she plans to do that in the coming weeks. I will however discuss a few of the quirks that had me turning the pages.
First of all. Kudos to Mr Herbert. He has created an endearing hero and an omniscient messiah of a future universe. And he has named him Paul. He doesn’t sound powerful. But he is. For a child with such an innocuous name, Paul carries a lot of religious and secular allegory on his shoulders. I haven’t been this excited about satire since I read Animal Farm. It feels good.
My favourite part? The doctrines of Bene Gesserit. If you combined catholicism with ‘the force’ you might be approaching the right ballpark. I love that it’s religion based on educating women. I love most of all that weilding power in Bene Gesserit is dependent on being able to achieve and maintain a state of mindfulness. Never more so than in times of high stress. From the pages of strange worlds and beings that my very human imagination struggles to recognise, comes the resounding clash of a reality I know. Couldn’t we all rule the world if we’d had a lifetime in training to master our anxieties? Add to that a bit of dastardly indoctrination called the Missionaria Protectiva – emissaries sent out into the universe to lay down a pre-orchestrated folklore so that stranded Bene Gesserit women will be recognised, worshipped and unharmed – and I’m hooked. Well-played satirist. Well-played.
In short. This is a rollicking adventure with some nifty, if a tad maudlin, ideas about the future. But oh, so many rich rich layers to divest. If you are like me and struggle to keep track of characters and concepts with unfamiliar names, try reading the appendices first. They’ll give you some very handy context.
Many books later…
The boy and the girl are older now. It’s difficult to say whether they are different. Older? Wiser?
The girl wonders what he’s doing. Wishes they could talk through the night like they used to. Wishes they could drink hot chocolate and agree on something. Anything. Knows the boy is content and no longer in need of her friendship or left-of-field lessons in self-esteem. What about her?
She’s about to start a reading tangent into other peoples’ favourites. Next up, Hemingway.
- Do you have a book that turns you into a gushing, enthusiastic mess?
- Ever had to eat literature-flavoured humble pie?
- Ever found your reality summed up in a neat fictional package?