and the review that got ignored by damn near every prequelite.
Sandworms of Dune
There are many roads I can travel. I can follow the path others have walked, pretending that the need to compliment is as important, if not more, than the need to criticize. I can make a list of things I liked and then state the things I didn’t like.
I’m not going to do that. I’m going to give you my honest opinion of Sandworms of Dune.
They say you have to give the bad news first, and end on a positive note. Who am I to break with that tradition? I’m willing to extend that courtesy. But enough pleasantries, let’s begin.
The story is all over the place. It’s not that it’s hard to follow, it’s just that half of it isn’t important to follow. While reading the incredibly short chapters, some don’t even manage to span two pages, you never get lost in an intricate narrative. The complexities of the story can be found in the myriad of separate plots running simultaneously.
We switch from one character to the other, from planet to planet. Not much of a problem, except that there are quite a number of characters, places, planets, ships involved. It also becomes slightly problematic when the story begins to jump forward in time, because while the sections are clearly labelled as taking place at a certain date, it tends to bleed into one another on the count that the characters and events seem to exist in a vacuum. Apparently, what we get to read is all that happens in a year, or it’s the only thing that’s worth noting.
The result is that you have characters commenting on how time passes them by, but they cling to events as if they happened only hours ago, they treat revelations as if they are only a couple of days old. For some storylines this means that the plot progresses at an impossible rate, for other storylines it seems that events end up being dragged out beyond their natural life expectancy.
The story suffers under the problematic pacing. That means that there’s more than just the number of years passing by in the story itself.
The story starts out at a certain point, there’s a main problem, and there are the side-problems. The main storyline and the numerous secondary plots. The book however, manages to resolve its storylines in a rather awkward framing.
The storylines on board the Ithaca and on Chapterhouse are the most problematic. The Ithaca is where we are supposed to find the bulk of the story, or at least it’s where we the reader expect to find the most important story to take place. This is where the most characters reside that have ties to us as readers. The Ithaca storylines are perfect examples of the problematic pacing. Let’s explore.
We know of the many gholas on board, we know that Duncan is on board, as well as Miles Teg and Sheeana, we know these characters have access to abilities that are above regular human abilities. We know that there are worms on board, we know that there are Jews on board, we know that they’re on the run from the enemy. We know that there are saboteurs on board.
The sabotage plot should, from the characters’ perspective take priority. A saboteur threatens their chances of survival. Though the plot is placed on the slow-burner, simmering in the background where no character seems concerned enough to solve it for the time being. It’s brought up in passing, but not actually on the agenda.
The Ghola project is thrown at us with a strange speed that it makes the whole ordeal seem shallow. There are gholas, and there are a lot of them. All we ever get to see of them is how they fret about who they were and who they’re going to be. There is mention of their importance in the greater scheme of things, but we never actually get to see them train, study, reflect upon their mission. We only know that they either love or hate their previous life, and that they’re very concerned about regaining those memories. When they do get their memories back it happens in a flash.
The Jews aboard get disposed of fairly easily, but also quite late in the game. They’re not mentioned as serving any importance to any of the other running plots, so when their story ends, it simply ends, it makes no impact on the story itself.
The gholas, as indicated earlier, are supposedly there to serve a purpose, they’re to do battle again the enemy. We never see them train, we never see them confront that destiny. They’re simply there, and in my opinion they’re just there because they’re the old characters from the original novels. We have Paul, we have Leto, Jessica, Alia, even the Baron and Yueh, and there are still more secondary characters from the originals that are brought back to life… and none of them actually do anything that serves the plot. They’re disposable characters for most of their appearances. A storyline that becomes bothersome because it’s without actual purpose. They’re there for reasons of plot, and even for reasons of thematic irony. It’s not subtle, evil clone versus good clone, and there’s no sense of wonder when the text blatantly states: “How bitterly ironic too, Saint Alia of the Knife – felled by a knife.”
The sabotage plot is brought up late in the game as a problem that is in dire need of being solved. By that stage it’s too late to have it addressed, from the point of reader. You keep thinking, as a reader, they should have placed a higher priority on finding out the identity of the saboteur, a lot earlier. Again, three years pass by, and in that time everybody knows there’s a saboteur, but nobody bothers to make it a priority.
It becomes clear however why it’s pushed to the foreground that late in the game. It’s a plot-induced resolution. The side-plot is used as a device to put the pawns into a certain position on the board. In a staggeringly rushed fashion the traitor is revealed, escapes, gets killed, but manages to dive the ship into the enemy’s hands. It’s almost as staggering as the three-year-old crawling through the ventilation shaft and gunning the traitor down, it’s alright, she’s pre-born, a ghola even… and it’s not as if this sudden revelation has any impact on any of the other characters.
And with that the Ithaca gets to resolve its main problem, to deal with the Enemy, just in time for the end of the novel. I can’t escape the notion that this is an artificially induced position, the plot demands it, ergo the plot will find a way to get them there at the appropriate time.
Everything gets shunted to the back, because that’s where the conclusion is, but the pacing is off, because it’s stretched out to make it reach that far to the back of the book. Everything leading up to that point comes across as pointless filler. Dumping the Jews on Qelso, served no purpose. Having Liet and Stilgar get left behind on Qelso, served no purpose, in fact, as a reader, there’s no emotional interest in caring about these three elements. The two gholas never added anything to the story while on board, and the jews were barely mentioned, let alone seen as being helpful members. They were there, just not mentioned at all.
Characters suffer under style. They seem to repeat what they feel and think, over and over and over again. We get them to repeat their previous lives numerous times, as if it’s news to the reader, and as if we somehow forgot it between chapters.
It’s damning even when you have characters point out the holes in the logic. It undermines the internal consistency of the story. When you have characters state that they don’t know why they are here, and then have them shipped off to a planet of no importance and then have them state that this is what they feel is right, and have other characters repeat that they had those feelings and that those feelings were their motivation for leaving, it makes me scratch my head and wonder why give them this treatment at all, it’s filling up the pages, but it doesn’t add anything to the story.
Then there is the fact that these characters are supposedly incredibly smart. It’s hard to believe when you have them comment after the big reveal “of course it all makes sense now,”. It’s time to connect the dots, except of course that they’re connecting them after they’ve seen the solution. It gets even more embarrassing when they never suspected that it was the most subdued member, the one they simply never would suspect. Quite frankly, Miss Marple would have solved the case in a heartbeat, and that senile old crone didn’t have toxic gas, weird whistles, and blood-tests. Unfortunately her cells weren’t in that tube.
Then there is the overall weird stuff. Stuff you can’t seem to place.
Bene Gesserit sisters watching how a Tleilaxu catches a seaworm, one he created, has it dissected in front of their eyes, while they do nothing to stop him, or learn from it. They simply stand there and allow it.
Sheeana talking a walk around inside a sandworm. Which simply doesn’t make any sense, not even when you go around claiming that after Leto II the worms have “changed” and again it doesn’t even serve the plot.
We have Norma Cenva whisking away the enemy. Great going there, why wait for so long. What exactly stopped you from doing it ten years ago, a thousand, or ten-thousand years? Claiming that this is simply the right time for her to display an ability that goes beyond anything we’ve ever seen in the original six novels, is a pitiful excuse. Because quite frankly, this isn’t the right time, this is already too late.
There’s numerous mention of Serena Butler, and indeed at the end she’s resurrected, she’s a ghola, but not before she has a word with Erasmus through Sheeana’s other memory. This makes no sense.
Duncan’s mind melt with Erasmus… it makes no sense.
Erasmus flipping a mental switch and killing all face dancers… across the universe. It’s not only bad science, but it’s a deus ex machine solution to a plot.
And everybody lives happily ever after.
I can go on and on with examples that make no sense in the fictional setting of that universe, but it would be pointless.
Sandworms fails on multiple levels because it lacks a clear direction. It’s a padded piece of fiction that is plagued by rotten pacing, too many storylines going nowhere, too much filler-material, and its conclusion hangs on several deus ex machinas, the characters are flat, half of them get lost throughout the story, and they have no impact on each other or the story. The plot drives itself forward without taking any note of where the characters are and what motivates them, or their previous appearances. We’re told a great many things, but we never get to see them. There are gratuitous fights that fall under the category of filler, but these fights are beyond filler, they’re added in for a reason almost alien to me.
Now for the positive part… I like the internal struggle within the Guild. Between the Administrators and the Navigators. That’s where I could faintly recognize the work Frank Herbert left behind. Internal squabbling, a classic power struggle.
It’s a pointless novel when you put it down. There’s no depth, no multi-layered thematic approach to a relevant problem. It poses no questions. It’s an action flick, but with painful dialogue, a disappointing ending, mediocre special effects, and bad acting from start to finish.
What damns Sandworms of Dune is the fact that as a reader you can see what’s wrong with it, what should have been different. You can see where it fails, where it disappoints, where it’s lacking. You can see the wasted potential, the awkward prose, the non-sensical solutions