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.

38 thoughts on “Frank Herbert Readalong: Dune (1965) Book I Dune

  1. Sorry that you are finding it to be such a chore. It always interests me to see how people react to different books. I don’t find it to be dry at all. I think I’ve heard it compared to LOTR before as well, but it must be because of its long time impact on a genre as they certainly don’t read anything alike to me at all, so I don’t see that either.

    I like the water elements of the story too. The suits are a very interesting concept and I found the part where the Fremen man spit on the table to be interesting, the idea that to give up even a little of one’s own water is a sign of respect.

    The Bene Gesserit are very interesting, that is for sure.

    I too liked that scene in the water conservatory. Before Lady Jessica revealed the plans for it at the dinner I found myself wondering if I would want to destroy it or would be tempted to keep it as an oasis in that dry and desert land.

    • I seriously hope I do not spoil anyone’s fun by writing such a critical comment.
      I know there are far more people who like it. Intellectually like it a lot but it’s not smooth enjoyable reading for me. Maybe being more familiar with the story would have helped.
      The scene with the Fremen man spitting is powerful, it is true.
      One thing I was thinking, funny enough is, that this book will prove better when I will think back on it. Some books are forgotten, the moment you close them, I am sure, this isn’t one of them. The world he created is impressive.
      Maybe this heavy use of dialogue will stop in part II. I hope so.
      I love the conservatory and would have wanted to preserve it.
      It must be so hard for those born on that planet to live there but how much harder would it be if you had left a green planet for such a dry one.
      I’m really curious to see what others thought.

      • I don’t think you will at all, honest evaluation of the books we read is what is really fun, so please don’t feel bad about having an honest reaction to it. No books are for everyone and classic science fiction is even less so, in my experience.

        I can’t truly look at the work just as its own separate thing because I know a lot of the story, though not a completely accurate version, from watching the film so many times. Your thoughts are very interesting to me because one of the things I wondered when we started this is if anyone would have difficulty connecting to the book without having a knowledge of the story. One thing I’m glad about is that having seen the film I know how the various names and phrases should be pronounced, and that alone I believe helps make it a more smooth read.

        I would love to have you continue reading with us, but if you find it a chore still as you get into part two and don’t want to continue you really shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. I don’t read books I don’t like. If I can’t really get into a book and enjoy it I pick up something else.

        I know what you mean about books sticking with you. I’ve read a few books that were very flawed but something about the story stuck with me and recalls the book to mind every so often. One example I can think of is Fritz Leiber’s novek, The Big Time. It is odd and strange and not the best written novel in my opinion but I just can’t forget it.

        • Thanks, Carl, I’m glad to hear that.
          The vocabulary was a bit of a surprise and it took a while until I did not have to look up things anymore. I tried not looking them up but that didn’t work either. I think all the expressions and the epitaphs before every chapter are part of what makes Dune unique. It should read like a myth. Myths are quite unwieldy too, not smooth at all often.
          Maybe this is one of the rare cases where watching the movie before starting to read would be a good choice.
          People who did it the other way around are often disappointed in the movie.
          I don’t think I will stop reading it despite the chore feeling. I really think it is one of those books I will not forget. The world he imagined is powerful.
          I’m also curious and would like to read more about the desert. Now that they are really in it, that’s is going to change quite a few things.

          • I understand people’s disappointment with the film, too. It is very strange for one thing and it does take some liberties, at least with what I’ve read thus far. That being said there are many parts of his book that the movie faithfully adapted.

            I thought the movie was terrible the first time I saw it, but I was a teenager and was looking for more Star Wars. I watched it again years later as an adult and I “got it” and liked it much better and have watched it several times since.

            I also watched the mini-series when it first came out and was less thrilled with it, but once this read is done I’m going to want to watch it again to see if my opinion of it has changed.

            • I tried watching the movie with someone who hated it and I didn’t like it either, so we stopped. Guess we were too young as well. I never tried again. On the other hand I like all of Lynch’s movies, it seems hard to imagine that he did something that is really not good. Someone left a comment on my introductory post to this readalong sying he loved the book and the mini-series.
              You convinced me that I need to watch the movie. Maybe even before finishing the book.

              • It might not be a bad idea to at least watch the film up to where you are at in the book as it may give you a different perspective. I’m hoping the mini-series in on Netflix watch instantly so I can go ahead and watch it in a few weeks.

                • It is even on YouTube as I saw yesterday. I watched the very first part, before they even go to Arrakis. If I can get the Lynch I’m tempted to watch it as well.

  2. Through this read along is the first time I’ve ever heard Dune compared to LoTR!

    Caroline, the beginning isn’t the easiest to get into, and for one, I’m thankful there is a glossary in the back. I’ve read a lot of SF that throws you in at the deep end with weird words and acronyms and such, and no glossary or anything to give you any clue.

    if you’re interested in a movie version, altho the Lynch movie is big and epic and has a good budget, it is not very loyal to the books. Syfy channel did a miniseries and although it was low budget, it’s much more faithful to the story.

    • Hi Redhead. I was surprised to read a review on the copy of my book comparing this work to LoTR. Like you I had never heard that comparison before. I was a little taken aback by it to be honest. Do you think they are referring to the accomplishment of creating such stories, even though they are completely different types of stories? Middle Earth…space.

      • This isn’t the first time I’ve seen that comparison, but it is not exactly uncommon for anything that is considered ‘classic’ or ‘epic’ to be compared somehow to Tolkien. I imagine this would be in part because of Herbert’s world building, especially given that this turned into a series of novels that expanded on the story, the universe, etc.

        And as was pointed out there is some basic fantasy structure here despite this being ‘science fiction’.

        I personally get tired of things being compared to Tolkien. No matter what anyone else does, what Tolkien did was unique. His deep and lifelong study of ancient languages and their folklore and mythology influenced everything he did in a way that no other author has been influenced or perhaps never will. Or at least no author who has then went on to write a complex and beloved literary series.

        Even Martin is now being compared and I think that is as much a disservice to Martin as it is to Tolkien. Just because you can lump both (many) authors into the category of “fantasy” does not mean they need to be held up to or compared to Tolkien. Cannot Martin be appreciated in his own right and not as someone who is standing looking into the mirror of Tolkien?

        • I couldn’t agree more. I love Tolkien and reading something with the expectiation of being like him can only be to the disadvantage of the other one. Regarding Dune I never thought that I would find the elements I like in Tolkien.
          I’m glad you mention the fanatsy sructure. At a certain poijnt, while reading I thought that Dune isn’t even the most typical SF I have read so far. It has fanatsy elements.

    • Thanks, that’s good to know, I’l try either the one or the other.
      It’s quite challenging still but it keeps on getting better. I really had absolutely no idea what I was going to read, knew none of the names…
      I have read much more Fantasy than SF but those I read were quite different.
      I did see it compared to Lord of the Rings more than once even on one of the biggest German SF/Fantasy forums. But they were really only referring to the epic dimension. Bit silly.

        • There can’t be any other reason. the wrting style is different, the story is, the characters. These comparisons are silly and they don’t really say anything. Both seem to have been influential, yes.

          • One of the things that I thought immediately when I started reading was that the writing style reminded me a lot of epic fantasy. I can definitely see where the LotR comparison comes from, and at the same time, I’m glad that it wasn’t just a sci-fi version of Tolkein.

            • I’m in the middle of part II by now and think I can see as well where those who compared them came from but on the other hand you culd compare any epic sci-fi or fantasy book with The Lord of the Rings. The style is quite different.

  3. Hi Caroline! I’m sorry that you aren’t enjoying the novel but I don’t think you need to feel bad about being honest. That is what makes reading discussions so fun since it is entertaining to hear how others thought about a novel. Not everyone can have the same opinion. And it is good to hear everyone’s opinion no matter what. Also, it is great to hear someone express such an honest opinion. I appreciate your thoughts.

    • Thanks TBM. I just thought I’ll end up feeling like the odd one out but it seesm as if Kailana also had some problems to get into it.
      I’ll pop over and see what you and Redhead thought next.

  4. I’ve never really known what this book was about though I know it is a classic, so this is really interesting to hear your response. Maybe it is a good book to read in a group and get different perspectives since some readers have read it before. It sounds as though some elements work better than others–something to keep in mind if I decide to pick it up sometime later myself. I do like the Q&A set up of your readalong, though!

    • I liked the Q&A as well. It’s a great change and I still think that those who have not read it get a feeling for the whole thing. It’s also more interactive than when everybody just posts a review. It needs quite some preparation from the hosts.
      Blade Runner (or rather Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) is another classic I’d like to read and so is Solaris. I think they are easier. I’ve read Lem’s short stories and a lot of Ray Bradbury, Frederic Brown… None of them quite prepared me for this.
      The problem I had with the dialogue isn’t something that bothered others.
      I will keep on reading but in smaller doses.

  5. I was wondering how you’d find it. As painful as me, it seems. (I’ve seen the film too, a real chore as well).

    I hope you’ll like it better in the next volume, it’s never nice to read something we don’t enjoy.

    • It’s a bit sad actually as I think it had a lot of potential and the images he creates are powerful. But to rely on dialogue like this… According to Redhead it will get much better… So I’m still looking forward to go on.

  6. I read this years ago and like it at time but was young and in hindsight it amybe wasn’t so good ,the film to it was dire lynch’s worst film by a mile ,all the best stu

  7. “A bit as if you knew friends are in danger and you wanted to warn them.”–that describes just how I felt about that situation.
    I have read this before, and one of the things that has stayed with me is their lack of water, and the lengths they go to to not waste it. Maybe it’s because I live in a desert area, but I’m always trying to conserve water somehow.
    I noticed the Arabic sounding names, but then he includes others that seem to come from other origins, and I’m always wondering what makes him choose which ones to use where?
    I hope you enjoy part 2 more. But if not, life is too short to read something that feels like a chore. I enjoyed reading your thoughts even thought you aren’t loving it. That’s what makes these readalongs so interesting.

    • Hi Shelley. I grew up in Southern California and I still remember all the lectures we sat through about water conservation. Even today, I cannot leave the water running while I brush my teeth. When I change my dog’s water, I empty his yucky water into a houseplant. Saving water is ingrained in me as well. And it’s a good thing. And I do my best not to yell at people who are so wasteful.

    • Thanks Shelley. IYou are right, not all the names are of Arabic origin but many are or are at least somehow dervied. Makes sense considering th,e desert setting. There could be some of Persian origin as well. I’ll have to pay more attentiion and maybe it isn’t important.
      The lack of water is something that will sty with me and I can see how you would relate to that if you live in a similar environment. I guess here, in central Europe, we are more concerned about floods, still I like that Dune makes you aware of how precious water is. It is one of its strong points.

  8. Hi Caroline! I am so happy, we worded it a bit differently and not everything was exactly the same, but we had a lot of the same problems with this book. I wish I had thought to use the comparison of dry writing verses the desert it is set on! lol

    I am finding this book a bit of chore, but at least you managed to have your post up on time. I am reading other people’s thoughts instead of tweaking mine. 🙂

    • Hi Kailana, I must admit I was relieved when I saw on Carl’s site yesterday that I wasn’t the only one with a problem. Thanks for apprecaiating the comparison, I enjoyed writing it. I wil always rember Dune as the book in which writing style and setting matched to perfection. Maybe he was a real genius and did it on purpose?
      I worked hard on finishing in time. Very hard. I’m still thirsty. 🙂 I hope you manage to write your post, I’ interested to see how you word it.

    • I wasn’t aware you liked it. I have a feeling your thoughts on the book wouldn’t be too far from mine. This is not noir dialogue. I do usually like dialogue, when it is crisp and to the point but not when all the infomation you need is given like this.

  9. Hmmm…sounds like a book I better avoid. It’s amazing that you still manage to read it…you know I am the kind of person who will drop a book when I don’t enjoy it.

    The comments are as interesting as your review 😉

    I really hate it when a certain book is being compared to something I like and doesn’t live up to the expectation. i remember a book by Peter Straub, the blurb said he was better than King…I bought the book out of curiosity…but the book was terrible.The saying he was better than King really pissed me off. I guess I would be to if I read this book being compare to TLOTR and yet so different.

    • I enjoy the readalong a great deal anyway because the discussion is great. Part II is much better. You would like the second part as well. The comparison is so silly. I really don’t see anything that reminds me of Lord of the Rings in it. Maybe it was the first epic sci-fi book? I’m not sure but it could be.

  10. Pingback: Dune group read- Round 1 – Susan Hated Literature

  11. I’m late in joining in the discussion.

    it is interesting that you say that there is too much dialogue, until you’d pointed it out I hadn’t really noticed it, but now that you’ve pointed it out I can see how it could detract.

    So far I’m enjoying the book. I don’t think it’ll make it into my favourites, but it is entertaining me so far.

    • Glad you made. There are still to weeks to go. The reactions to the dialogue are very different. Some notied it right away others didn’t. It seems to depend whether it did bother you or not. I really hated it and was glad to see there is much less of it in part II. All in all I like it better now but I doubt I will jump on the next book after having finished this one. But it was an interesting experience.

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