Dune: Warts and All
I read Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time during university and loved it. It was pretty obvious why it had won the 1965 Hugo and Nebula awards. When I was in my late 30s, I went back to it, and couldn’t get through even a few chapters before the crash-and-burn. What happened?
Bad writing to start with, mostly bad dialogue. The first bunch of chapters intercuts a lot between interesting things, like the Bene Gesserit and prescient memories, and Paul’s adventures, and cartoony super-villainy spouting Republic Serial Villain dialogue.
“I’m going to get you!”
This execrable dialogue doesn’t even contain itself to the quotation marks. In-narrative close-third person dips into character’s thoughts spread the pain into the narrative and make George Lucas look like Hemingway.
We spend so much time with the villains in their self-congratulatory soliloquies at the beginning that I just stopped, scratching my head at how I could have enjoyed this.
Was I just a naive reading at 20, or had the style of writing changed so much between 1990 and 2010s that I’d gotten accustomed to different styles and aesthetics? I think probably it’s a bit of both.
But finally, in 2018, I finally tried again and pressed through and it turns out that after Paul and his mother are in the desert, the villains take a back seat. Then we get into the good stuff like the Fremen culture, some of the implications of the Bene Gesserit missionary work, the prescient memories as perceptions through time, and the sand worms.