Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Report: Dune

Trying something different. I don't do reviews often, but I find writing them helpful in developing a deeper appreciation and understanding for the item at hand. It's also good practice for keeping up my publication-writing chops.

I don't read much science fiction. Dune wormed its way onto my reading list via an enduring board game that was published to coincide with the 1984 film. Dune also comes up often whenever searching for quality fantasy-genre writing -- to which I'm more open.

So as with with many reads, this one started in the corner of a bookstore basement. What's a Gom-Jabar? I just had to find out.

But first, Dune had its warnings for this otherwise non-SciFi reader: 1) It's massive at 900 pages and 2) it's high-fiction with its own dictionary and appendices -- owing to its well-imagined universe. As I became more familiar with the Dune world, another warning became apparent: 3) There are heavy religious themes.

The main story arc isn't particularly compelling. What is compelling, however, and worth the read, is Herbert's ability to completely transport you into his imaginings: Mankind has recovered from a post-Armageddon dystopia and has left Earth to colonize the universe. And Herbert's universe  is so strange and curious. When events take place in that universe, your curiosity compels you to discover the outcome.

It's like when Google has a really fantastic doodle on its main search page. What happens if you start this little gizmo off over here, and then you press these other buttons over there. What will happen? Will the whole thing collapse on itself?

In the Dune universe, there are the Bene Gesserit, the Mentat, the Freman, Makers... the Gom-Jabar. What happens when they all interact? As with well-imagined and well-crafted things, the book doesn't collapse under its own complexity.

It's quite the opposite: A major episode in human history occurs, yet the universe just shrugs. There's a vastness and depth that invites further exploration. And yet the story told here is small: Two families vying for galactic influence. It is like a less-90210-ish Game of Thrones set in outer-space.

Disregarding the 1984 film (which, except for the awesome set pieces, is a disaster), in further pop-culture comparison, it is like the characters from Star Wars, Dances With Wolves, Avatar, and The Celestine Prophecy(!) all having a dance-off.

And, finally, to address my third reservation: Religion in Dune is handled with maturity. This is a messianic story in which the characters accept their roles with guarded skepticism. Dune is also a war story in which the characters are leery of religious conflict. If a there's a prophecy fulfilled here, it is manifest by mankind's genetic-engineering, psycho-actives, and pure cosmic timing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


the morning 
following a great 
novel's finish
is like the wake 
of silence 
left by 
dinner guests
who've stayed the night

the wash 
of laughter 
settling into the ceiling

the flush of
semi-sweet wine 
passing while we slept

the tales to tide 
us over 'till 
new sleeves to bare

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 300

I finish reading a novel about once a month, according to my entries on Goodreads. That might seem light, but it's about as much as my current day-to-day routine can handle.

That got me thinking; If I extrapolate a book per month over the next 25 years -- at which time I'd be at retirement age -- that would come out to about 300 books. So I'll use that as a ballpark figure, 300, to say how much reading I have left in the tank.

Of course I'll have read tons more than that! But I like the number. It's very SPARTA! Thinking of it in finite terms helps romanticize what I want from future reading. Helps give it an agenda. It has to be top-notch -- new classics in contemporary lit, the canon I've yet to read, an occasional reread, and, of course the flat-out-fun reads. 

When I grow up, I want to be able to talk books, writers, good prose, and, yes, good literary criticism.

Here's the first batch of The 300:  

Of Mice & Men, Steinbeck
Moon Palace, Paul Auster
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Ask The Dust, John Fante 
Chronicles of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Fall, Albert Camus