Frank Herbert’s Dune Sucks: Part I – Dune

Well, as you can assume, I, Arkus have been taking my time reading something. This mysterious something with irritating italics in places that don't make sense all of the time, is all of the original Dune novels written by Frank Herbert, throwing in the parody called Doon for my final analysis.  This was actually published about two years ago, but in creating the new site we decided to move such content over here, but it's edited here for your pleasure.  Now then, onward into hate we go!

As a whole, the Dune novels represent the most famous sci-fi series of all time. You've heard the hype, and maybe taken the plunge. Do you pretend it's all worth it, or are you aware of the truth that is Dune? See, yeah, there are good things, but let's face it, it's not as great as everyone thinks, but before simply using a blanket statement, one needs to analyze. I'm not even going to touch his kid's follow-ups, because by all accounts they're like reading Nancy Drew if your 30 sans penis touching from a female. Anyway, this is the first of a seven-part saga of my experience with all of these novels. I'm going to break it down with some brief history for each one, followed by a list of good things, and then the suck. The suck generally outweighs the good, unfortunately, as much as some may wish to not believe. You don't have to believe. And if you don't feel like reading all of my writing about the subject of Dune any further, do yourself a favor, don't try the books either. Seriously.

First Analysis: Dune

If you're not familiar with Frank Herbert, then you're not familiar with sci-fi. But if you are familiar with sci-fi, you'll often wonder why he's associated with it. Frank Herbert, as a writer, sucks. Like he really sucks. I read a number of his short stories before I got to Dune, and hated almost every single one of them. The concepts were often lofty but poorly articulated, boring, and stuck on ideas without throwing in a bit of action. He's not really known for them, though, and his Dune series is supposedly the greatest selling novels in sci-fi, though I'd debate that and like to see the numbers, but seeing as how sci-fi is notoriously never cataloged, who knows? Wait, actually, I do know, the Perry Rhodan series holds this honor, it's sold billions and I believe is still in print. Sorry, Dune.

At any rate, Dune was the work that forever gave him an army of fanboys. Like any writer of fantasy or sci-fi, he who succeeds needs to create a believable world that features lots of people, aliens, creatures, places, and the like. Influenced by the stabilization of sand where he lived while writing, Dune involves a massive-scale universe with a huge patchwork of cultures, creatures, characters, and places. And, as usual for a book that makes it big, it wasn't such a success when it was first released. He was turned down by a number of publishers, one who supposedly, and prophetically suggested it would someday be famous. After finding a company that apparently published auto manuals, he pulled it off, and today it's still one of the most-printed sci-fi novels of all time and has won numerous awards. But does it deserve it? Is it a case of the 'popularity disease', where "fans" believe they truly love something by virtue of the fact that everyone else seems to also believe it should be so? Sadly, by my estimation, yes, though easily the best thing Herbert ever wrote that I've encountered, Dune is by far one of the most average works of science fiction I've ever read. It's kind of like Dracula to horror; everyone knows it, everyone likes it, but no one's really finished it and anyone who has says "what the fuck was that shit"?!! Let's break it down in list format starting with the good things. 

Dune: The Good

1. Density. This is the kind of novel you really need to take the time to absorb. It comes with a set of awesome appendices that explain the ecology, some of the characters and their history, and also includes some fake historical documents relating to the universe. And yes, fans of the heady, it has a glossary.

2. Impressive background. It can't be said otherwise, Herbert put a massive amount of detail into his world with different planets, different ruling families, lots of characters, and a huge ecology on which his entire story is built, all taking part on the planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune. The work involved in putting this together is definitely commendable.

3. Cool, inventive features. Let's face it, the spice is a cool idea. It's a substance tied into the existence of giant sandworms on Dune. Space travel is performed by special people called navigators who imbibe so much spice their bodies actually change and their minds are able to 'fold space', which basically means they think ships to their destinations. Computers have been abandoned because they were causing more harm than good to humanity, essentially, and were wiped out during the so-called 'Butlerian Jihad' 10,000 years prior to the novel, which takes place roughly 20,000 years in the future. I'm being really brief here, but how Herbert has pieced all of this together into a universe is highly impressive.

4. Deep conceptsDune makes you think to some degree. There's a good mixture of various religious elements, references to old religion and how they've altered over the centuries, and cool features like the 'Bene Gesserit', women who are basically "witches" of a sort that have mental powers and whose task is to advance the human race. For example, they infiltrate societies and create myths surrounding messiahs and such so that their selected pawns can eventually cause revolutions to better the humanity. That's just one thing, though, Dune is filled with shit like this and each chapter opens with a vignette that's supposed to be from religious writings and things that relate to Paul Atreides, the hero, other people connected to him, and his exploits as savior of Dune.

5. Huge character set. The number of characters is also impressive. There are tons of people to learn about, subplots within the larger picture, minor characters, etc. It's basically comparable to War and Peace but science fiction. In fact, that's a perfect analogy, because the character connections there are similar and since it relates to various imperial families, all the better to approximate. If you're into palace intrigues and subterfuge, Dune is fucking packed. You've got the Fremen, desert nomads indigenous to Dune (well, after migrating there anyway), the Spacing Guild, the Landsraad, hell, just go read online about it, there's a shit ton of stuff to find inside the covers, let's just leave it at that. Unfortunately, it pretty much ends there. Let's go further...

Dune: The Suck

1. Too fucking long holy piss. Sure, I'll admit, Dune isn't for pussies. You have to want to sit down with this and immerse yourself in Herbert's universe. Like really want to. I don't care if I sound like a whiner; this book did not need to be this motherfucking longDune is a massive chunk of paper that gets caught up way too often in minor plots, pointless dialog, and boring intrigues that could have been cut or summed up in a page or two while still being artistic. He could have cut the novel in half and it still would have been enormously effective and literally enormous. Don't think a shorter version would pull if off? Go read the parody version, Doon, and you'll see how cutting could have worked, and that one was actually a joke.

2. Too much to remember. Hey, my memory isn't that bad so skip it. One of Dune's problems is that there's so much in here minor details get lost in the long sections you don't feel like reading anymore and are often critical for overall understanding of passages. Herbert needed to desperately streamline. Sure, there are plenty of us who like things 'heady', but a good writer knows how to find the perfect medium between those types, and people who just want an escape. There's so much shit all over the place it's easy to miss the major plot elements or understand what's going on because so many plots within plots get caught within other plots that have their own plots. Wait, didn't I read something about this 348 pages ago? FUCK!!!!!

3. NOT THAT ORIGINAL. Yeah, Dune's got a lot of cool, but this is just another savior saves the world/universe palace intrigue bullshit story. People have been writing about shit like this since way before the fucking Dream of the Red Chamber. If I'm looking for something original of this type, minus the sandworms, I'll go to Euripides, who knew how to write and all while keeping the length sensible. The feuding royal family bullshit is so damn cliche, even at this time. But wait, you say, there's like these witches that help replace computers or something with their powers and it's like fantasy sci-fi! Yeah? Go read the Witch World books, they started about three years before this! As a sci-fi novel, Dune actually doesn't offer much that's new. The only thing you'll find online really is that it's the "first planetary ecology novel on a grand scale". Wait, that's its claim to fame?!!! It's not the first planetary ecology novel, but it is the first big one. So fucking what? Also, minor things, like the focus on Arabic language and thought are a little stupid. The planet Dune, for example, is technically called Arrakis. Wow, Frank, how did you ever think of that one?!!!! So at the same time that's it's inventive, Dune also is filled with many moments that make you sigh.

4. Constricted through its own inventions. This is the bad one, but I put it here because I was thinking of it now. One big problem that Dune has, which becomes painfully evident later in the series, is Herbert put so much detail into it that there is very little leeway. It's been constricted as far as it can go. The ecology of the sandworms and the focus on Arrakis, for example, are so important to every character, event, city, everything, that he can't get away from it. Each piece is woven into a fine tapestry, but any more weaving and it's too damn big to even sleep under. Everything's been so tightly interwoven that he ran out of rope when he finished it, and after this one he just tied extra pieces on and made a damn fucking mess of things. You'll see as we get to the others in my future articles.

5. Damn obvious plot direction. This is also incredibly annoying. Do I like to think? Yeah, hell, Heidegger is my favorite philosopher damn it! But Dune, in spite of the deep nature to some of the ideas, has the most fucking shallow plot you'll ever read. Will Duke Leto really die? Yes. Will the Fremen join Paul? Yep. Will he survive the Water of Life? Why did you ask? And what's going to happen, is Paul really the messiah, or, sorry, the Kwisatz Haderach? Can it be? Truly? Yeah, and we know that from like the first fucking chapter. The rest is fluff, and it's about 500+ pages of fluff, so get ready. Herbert gives no twists, no turns, no surprises. It's like he said to himself, "how can I make a book about Jesus, add giant worms in the sand, Arabic, and a planet of this cinnamon worm poop that makes people fly space ships"? I GOT IT.  Obvious plot is fine, as long as the author finds a clever way to make it interesting.  Hint, doesn't happen here.

6. Hella annoying writing style. Herbert sucked at writing. He lacked the intelligence of Asimov, the fantastical weirdness of Norton, the true depth of Aldiss, and he wouldn't have been able to pull off the streamlined perfection of Anderson. Dune, and all of the books in the series, is a great showcase of why Herbert should have let his wife make all their money. First off, you have the vignettes that introduce every chapter. Some are too esoteric to figure out and not worth the effort in the first place, while others ruin what could have been mystery. Yeah, kind of hard to wonder if Paul will be the messiah when you start the chapter with a historical writing sample that references how he was the messiah. Thanks, dick. Herbert also gets caught in these annoying inner-monologues. They can be effectual, but he uses them way too much. They typically extend the dialog and action much further than necessary. Here's a sentence: "He wondered if he should buy her an orange". Here's now one of Herbert's inner monologues would translate: "He wondered if the orange he should buy should have rough skin, or should the skin be light orange, dark orange, a mix? What should the tree look like? Was the tree located in Florida or Mexico? She never liked Mexico, Mexico was where the Aztecs hailed, and they removed hearts. The orange is like a heart, does she want one, does she want one, does she want one"? That's seriously what most of them are like. The majority are not used properly because by the time you get through what could have been simple, artful prose, you have no fucking clue what in the hell's going on. In addition, Herbert gets so caught in detail that he takes a million 10-mile paths to get to a destination that was only a foot away. Characters get stuck in endless, self-absorbed thoughts that could often have been avoided entirely, which then sucks away the life of those that are actually important. If you live off of icing, the cake's just no good.

7. Boringly wooden characters. What in the hell sapling did Herbert carve these idiots from? Whereas something like Les Miserables, most of the time, has characters you can actually feel, who seem like real people, Dune's pastische is largely played by 11-year-olds doing a school production of Hamlet with a budget of $25. Yes, it is that stupid. You can absolutely not connect with anyone in Dune. Their lines are stale, their plot drive is canned, they never evolve, their emotional projections are meek and unbelievable, and they talk like a starving director stuck in bitchdick USA at a 10-cent theater who's trying to get noticed. Think banal, and you've got the characters of Dune down pat without a single inner monologue. Completely, utterly lifeless. Hell, even the messiah scenes sucked, how do you fuck that up? Just paraphrase and alter the Bible and you're good to go. Guess he didn't want to be too obvious. Some people seem to think there's something unique about all of it, but what, so he took basically every stock scene from epic tales and added giant worms and some ships? People, that's not a mark of genius!

8. Incredible lack of action. One of the things that makes truly great sci-fi is a good mix of stuff that makes you think and stuff that kicks ass. So, something like Chronocules, for example, is all of the former. Seeds of Change, the latter. Neither is particularly interesting because they're both heavily weighed on one side. Dune is a huge mixture of the former type, with very, very little of the latter! What the fuck man!? You have giant fucking sandworms that can eat large vehicles, a Navy SEALS-like killer army of death, warring feudal houses, and all of that! But, in all, for all of the millions of words you read, Dune's action is frequently restricted to only a few pages in spite of this! It really only gets truly interesting for about the last 50 or so, the rest is all intrigues, will he kill her him them bullshit, riding a worm for like two seconds, and then more intrigues until you fall asleep. Like The Left Hand of Darkness, though not nearly as bad, this one was so full of action-packed potential with a nice bite of thinking! Herbert simply put too much thinking into it, he never found a good balance. Combine that with a poor writing style, and phew boy!

9. Plot holes. Aw man, this makes it even worse. I could have at least said, yeah, but in spite of the above, Herbert's done a massively impressive thing here. But, sigh, it was not to be. I can't go on about all of them, but let's consider a few problems with Dune and end our analysis with these:

  • First um, okay, so the Butlerian Jihad has eliminated all computers and robots? Did he actually think about this? Let's consider. If you did that, well, you wouldn't be able to accomplish much of anything, I don't fucking care how much fucking spice you chaw. First off, why isn't there a separate people, race, planet, or something that went against this movement? You mean to tell me all people in the whole fucking universe really aligned with this idea? Really? Consider this, over 50 years after Hitler was rightfully eliminated, there are still people who think his ideas were good. Yeah. The planet Ix kind of fills this void, but Herbert doesn't take it anywhere until it's too late, which is pretty much the final novel, Chapterhouse: Dune. Whoops. Think about it more. Before traffic lights, people used to have to direct in the middle of an intersection. There are computers in those lights. Without them, well, people will be doing everything just like that and trust me, mentats do not eliminate the problem. He had the ability to get around this by creating some sort of rogue nation or something that liked robots, but, of course, he blew it. Yeah, sure, there are these special people that drink this shit that makes them think faster! That will replace computers! No, it doesn't, he never successfully integrates them into the plot enough to make it believable, they all just serve the position of average-importance characters gumming up the works with more inner monologue.
  • Nuclear devices are supposed to be illegal, but they still exist, because Paul uses them on the shield wall at the end. Umm, you mean to tell me that an emperor aligned with a sadistic family who destroys the Atreides' stronghold on Arrakis at the beginning, wouldn't, umm, say fuck it and just nuke the shit out of Paul and his Fremen bitches? It would be about as annoying as the Soviets in Afghanistan, but with way more nukes and power, and well, he's the emperor, and since we're going along with the feudal palace intrigue thing, that would kind of fit in there. No? Idiot. And trying to get around this obvious hole with a "but it's illegal" thing is so lame. Trust me, people in power really don't give a shit when it comes down to it. They really don't. And when everyone really only cares about the spice, which if you don't get it yet is a symbol of oil reliance by the way, probably wouldn't care that much if they nuked a few annoying nomads who are screwing up their harvesting of it.
  • One more to save space, there are more but let's not make this another Dune. This might not annoy some people, but it annoys the hell out of me. Little things can create big holes, and they should for you too, if you're actually thinking instead of masturbating with spice. So the worms, cool and all, giant and shit. So apparently they live on 'sand plankton' and little worms, the little worms create the spice, all in the circle of life. Cool. Really, though, the little creatures seem to only take up a meager amount of space, and like, the worms are fucking giant, so ummm, is that enough for them to live on? Let's let that go, fine, like whales or something. One problem, the Fremen ride worms to get around the desert. Awesome. But worms are territorial, and we never find out what happens if one worm is ridden into the path of another? But, you say, they're being controlled by the hooks so they don't care about anything but keeping their sensitive underflesh from the sand so they can be steered clear of each other! But, oh ho, what about riding on a worm into the territory of another worm, which is not being ridden?!!! OH SHITsays Herbert from beyond the grave.

So, I hope you enjoyed my detailed, yet brief analysis. These are the main points of issue I had with Dune. In the end, to sum up, it's got a lot going for it, the Avalon Hill board game, the excellent Sci-Fi Channel series, the lovable bomb that was the David Lynch film that's better in the television version though no one will admit it, the stillsuits, original editions that will nabe you around $800, and especially those awesome sandworms, but the majority is blown on poorly thought-out character development, boring diaglog, extensive descriptions way past the necessary limit, and a lack of action. The ending battle is very cool, but it's not really worth the amout of reading to get there, plus it only lasts a few pages while a conversation between Paul and his mother is like twenty chapters. Dune will get you excited at first with its density and superficially wonderful universe, but this grows stale in about 150 pages, and the rest is minimum wage work until the end. If you're looking for good sci-fi, there's better out there, don't listen to the fan boys. Anytime they appear, there's usually a reason to stay the hell away. Dune proves this on several levels. So, next, we'll move on to Dune Messiah! Is it any better? Hell no, but at least it's shorter!

Written by Arkus the Evil Dictator

Frank Herbert: Dune
Score: 2.5 / 5