Frank Herbert Readalong: Dune (1965) Book I Dune

It’s time for the first Dune readalong post. The readalong is hosted by Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings, Kailana from The Written World and The Little Red Reviewer.

It’s a bit different from other readalongs I have participated in so far, as we are all sent questions to answer. I like this different approach and will dedicate the whole post to those questions and not summarize anything at all. I think some of the answers should suffice to help potential readers decide whether or not they want to embark on the Dune journey as well. This week’s questions have been sent by Carl V. Don’t forget to head over to his site and check out the links for the answers of the others.

1.  What, if any, preconceived ideas did you have before you started reading Dune and how has the first section measured up to those preconceptions?

I will keep this answer quite short as part of this question will be answered when I answer question 5.

I had not a lot of preconceived ideas regarding the story. I knew that it was called an epic but I had never read a summary and so pretty much the whole story came as a surprise. I had preconceived ideas regarding the form. I had read that it was compared to Lord of the Rings, I never thought this meant that the story was similar but that I would find engaging, fluent writing. That is not what Dune is like at all. I found it very unwieldy so far.

2.  What did you think about the plot device of the early revelation that Yueh was to be the traitor?

This type of revelation doesn’t always work well but here it added to the feeling of threat. Knowing more than the main protagonists made me feel closer to them. A bit as if you knew friends are in danger and you wanted to warn them. Despite the fact that we know he is a traitor, we do not know everything yet and the outcome of the whole episode remains surprising.

3.  What was your favorite part of this first section?  Which character(s) do you find most interesting and why?

I really liked the description of the planet and the over-importance of water. I couldn’t help and find it prophetic. When Herbert wrote this, our planet wasn’t as polluted as it is now and, if we believe what certain experts say, the importance of water might sooner look like it is described in Dune, than we would like.

Another uncanny element is the use of Arabic sounding or genuinely Arabic names and concepts. There is talk of a jihad and the emperor’s name is Shaddam…

The scene in the wet-plant conservatory was one of my favourite ones. I liked the description a lot and also the way lady Jessica finds a hidden message. It is one of the rare scenes in the book with hardly any dialogue (see answer 5).

I find all the Bene Gesserit characters extremely interesting. The mental training they undergo, how they master themselves and others is fascinating. The Lady Jessica is a favourite but I also like Paul, her son, a great deal.

I also liked the idea of “spice” a lot. Something that enlightens and can make you dependent at the same time.

There were a few almost scary elements which I appreciated as well. Those sandworms could also be used in a horror story to great effect.

4.  Did the revelation about the Harkonnen surprise you? Why or why not? Thoughts.

It did surprise me to a certain extent but I wasn’t sufficiently interested in that part. The conspiracy, the treachery, that was not what interested me the most. I liked other elements better. I am not often reading for suspense, I like well-drawn characters, descriptions, settings and scenes.

5.  Finally, please share some overall thoughts on this first section of the book.  Are you finding it difficult to follow? Easy to understand? Engaging? Boring?  Just share what you are thinking thus far.

The writing in Dune is as dry as the planet Arrakis. I did find the beginning extremely difficult to follow because of the concepts and words that you had to look up constantly in the glossary at the back of the book. It gets easier after a few pages.

The biggest problem I had was the story telling itself. I’m sorry to have to say this but I think Frank Herbert cannot write. I don’t think “show but don’t tell” is something you have to follow religiously when writing literary fiction but it is needed in genre fiction. Dune is probably the most extreme example of genre fiction to disregard this advice. This is all tell and hardly any show. The first part consist to 80% of dialogue. And even the thoughts are rendered in “direct speech mode”. Whenever he described something, I came up for air and also enjoyed parts of it. More scenes and less dialogue would have made me like it more.

I am very honestly, disappointed in this book so far. If the story telling was half as good as the concepts, ideas and characters, this could have been terrific. I will still go on reading, hoping for a change of style in part II. So far… It’s a bit of a chore.