Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

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Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

Postby Freakzilla » 08 Apr 2009 19:27

Got this as a FB notification:

http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com ... g&id=21047

Lots of us read across the board when it comes to speculative fiction. Others are pickier. There are those who say they “only read fantasy” or “only read science fiction” or “only read horror.” I could argue with those of you falling into these categories, telling you how you should expand your speculative horizons, how you’re missing out on some great stories, and so on. But I’m not going there—too big and unwieldy of a debate would ensue. Instead, I’m going to try to get some of you “I only read fantasy” readers to stick your proverbial toe into those science fiction waters of wonder. In particular, I’m talking to you lovers of secondary fantasy worlds. I know, I know. You prefer dragons to rockets, magic to science, and someone wielding a sword is way cooler than someone firing a laser gun. I get that, I do. While I’ve enjoyed plenty of science fiction, I feel the same way. So trust me when I say that if there was ever a science fiction novel for you, the secondary world fantasy fan set in his/her ways, Dune is it.

Why Dune you ask? To begin with, Dune was written by Frank Herbert, who is widely considered one of the greatest writers to ever grace the field of speculative fiction. Second, Dune was first published as a novel in 1965 (a shorter serialized version appeared in Analog Magazine before this) and over forty years later it remains in print. Third, I’ll mention that Dune carries some respectable heft, which many of you folks like because you want to “fall into” a long book.

If you’re still reading that’s good, though I’d imagine it’s still with a wary eye. So let me move into the hard sell. Dune takes place in a far-flung future where thinking machines have been outlawed (recall when this was written and this concept becomes even cooler). Hence there are serious limits on the super-science gadgets and the techno-babble. Good, right?

Keep listening. Humankind occupies the farthest reaches of known space. It is a mighty empire, comprising many planets, and it is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shadam the IV from his home-world of Kaitain. Normally such an intergalactic empire requires spaceships and such, FTL drives or some other super-science means of travel. Well, in this world there are indeed spaceships, but for long-range travel, these ships are reliant on a substance known as melange, more commonly referred to as Spice.

The Spice is the most valuable substance in the universe. It expands life and extends consciousness. It is also responsible for the transformation of the Guild Navigators. The Guild Navigators were once human, but over time their massive Spice consumption has turned them into something else, infusing them with inhuman abilities. Their most important ability is that they’re able to “fold space.” Basically, this allows them to create a temporary but stable wormhole from one point to another, enabling ships to move throughout the universe. It makes the empire possible. It makes civilization possible. It is the oil of this universe. But there are no plausible scientific explanations for how the Spice enables men to do these things. It is such a fundamental part of this far-flung future that the reader is expected to accept its function instead of questioning the science behind such a thing. In other words, it is a fantastical premise Herbert inserted into a science fictional world to enable him to tell the story he wanted to tell. It’s woven into the tale so smoothly and on so many levels that most science fiction fans accept its use despite the lack of technical explanations and its seeming implausibility, and most fantasy fans just straight-up appreciate the fantastical resonance of this substance.

The Spice exists on only one planet called Arrakis, or Dune. Dune is one of the most inhospitable worlds in the entire empire. It is a desert world regularly pummeled by storms that can tear the flesh off a man’s bones. The natives of this world are the Fremen, a hardened people who live in various tribes, or sietches. Their numbers are vast and they are extremely hostile toward outsiders. But it isn’t the brutal sun, the desert winds, or the Fremen that are the greatest dangers on Arrakis. No. That would be the giant, giant (yeah, they’re that big) sand worms, creatures that live in the deep desert, burrowing through the sands with all the ease of a fish through water. Little is known about the sand worms, except by the Fremen, who worship the great worms as gods.

Now let’s talk a little bit about Paul Atreides, the protagonist of this novel. Paul is the son of Duke Leto Atreides, who has risen to a position of great power among the other nobles. In fact, his power has become such that the Padishah Emperor has come to see the Duke as a threat. So he is handing Duke Leto the keys to Dune, placing him in charge of all Spice production. Given how valuable the Spice is, this might seem like a foolish maneuver, but it is part of a vaster political game meant to topple the Duke from power.

Paul is fifteen years old when the novel starts. Very early on we learn Paul might be the Kwisatz Haderach, a product of a centuries-old breeding program orchestrated by the Bene Gesserit, an extremely powerful sisterhood of women with strange and awesome (some believe mystical) powers, who are some of the most powerful political players in the universe. However, if Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach, he has been born a generation too early, because Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica, a Bene Gesserit herself, defied the orders of her superiors and provided Duke Leto a son instead of a daughter.

Now this possible Kwisatz Haderach, who would represent the ultimate genetic achievement of traditional human breeding, is going to live on the most important planet in the universe, where he’ll be surrounded by a substance that is known to alter and expand consciousness. And it just so happens that the Fremen have an ancient prophecy about an off-worlder who will unite the tribes and lead them to greatness (I’m simplifying the prophecy). Put all of this together and the universe shall be changed forevermore.

There are at least five important plot threads I haven’t even touched on with this overview, and more than a dozen key characters I haven’t mentioned (including the main villains, who are awesome). But even with these basics, you can see how for all of its science fictional elements, the bones of this story give off a major fantastical vibe. Think about it: a strange and powerful substance of great value that provides wonderful gifts to its users …armies of desert warriors …giant sand monsters …prophecies …a sisterhood many believe to be witches …a society of navigators shrouded in secrecy who open portals to places far away through their strange abilities …any and all of examples would be perfectly at home in a fantasy novel. They’re all in Dune and I’ve only given you the slightest taste of how complex this universe and story are.

Dune is one of the most multilayered novels you’ll ever read. There are enough plot threads and twists to satisfy the most demanding epic fantasy fans. The world-building is detailed enough to throw down with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. You are also provided a small army of fascinating characters. But it just so happens that this novel leans a little more toward science fiction, so this is how it’s always been marketed. But the science fictional elements shouldn’t bother you fantasy fans, not the way Herbert handles them.

Dune holds up quite well as a standalone novel, but if you want to read more when you finish it there are five more books in the series. There is also a host of prequels and additional sequels written posthumously by Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, and co-author Kevin J. Anderson. Some folks just like the original novel, others have enjoyed some or all of Frank Herbert’s sequels, and still others are enjoying these recent additions by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson. But just about all fans will agree the original novel is the best of the bunch. I am no exception. Dune is one of the true jewels in all of speculative fiction, and if you’re a secondary world fantasy fan who has never dabbled in the sf trade, I can’t recommend a better place to start. Scratch that. If you haven’t read Dune, no matter what your reading preferences are, I can’t recommend it enough.
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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 08 Apr 2009 19:36

Dune is an SF novel that reads more like a Fantasy novel, I agree it would make a great first SF experience for someone into Fantasy.
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Postby Freakzilla » 08 Apr 2009 20:00

My comment:

17. Freakzilla
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The author misunderstands how spice is used by the Spacing Guild.

Guild Navigators do not fold space, Holtzman Generators do. The spice enables the Navigator to see into the future and be assured that they will survive the trip.

The Prescient Navigator replaces the Navigation Computer, he in no way propels the ship.

Even Paul's prescient ability is broken down in technical terms. He has human computer (mentat) abilities he has secretly been trained for since infancy. When exposed to the spice, a consciousness expanding drug, he can see all possible futures, not THE future.

There is no MAGIC in Dune and that is what seperates it from fantasy.
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Postby SandChigger » 08 Apr 2009 20:41

These guys inevitably fuck something up. :roll:

Damned sloppy.

You added more detail, Freak, but the first commenter (R. Fife) also pointed out that the spice wasn't the source of FTL travel. ;)

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Postby Freakzilla » 08 Apr 2009 20:58

I only read a few of the comments.

I'll give him that Dune has all kinds of fantasy elements but to me the real difference is that SF has technology and Fantasy has magic.

The only real "magic" in Dune is Other Memory, however I think Ancestral or Genetic Memory was probably a little less refutable when Dune was written than today. I can suspend my disbelief for that to make the story work, I have to. I see Dune as taking technology in the human mental, physical and genetic direction as opposed to the computer/mechanical. It's still technology. All "tricks" are explained, however fantastic. (There's the Paul-Alia/Paul-Leto II T-P and Duncan's strange lack of gaps in his serial memories, but let's not go there...)

But other than magic, the setting is the second main difference I see. Not much difference between a Magic Flaming Sword and a Lightsaber, if you're going to call Dune fantasy, Star Wars is fantastic!

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Postby GamePlayer » 08 Apr 2009 21:07

There has to be some kind of perspective when categorizing anything, lest we be left without any way to describe the world around us. One can't arbitrarily re-categorize Dune without throwing the whole definition of science fiction into question.

The fella in the link is simply on a crusade to convince his non-science fiction reading friends to read Dune by redefining it as a fantasy novel. That's lame. Just sell them on the merits of Dune and that should be enough for anyone. Trust me, the merits of Dune are many.
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Postby Redstar » 08 Apr 2009 21:32

His mistakes are common enough perceptions, so I wouldn't hold them to him.

Besides, if I was running for president I'd say whatever I needed to get elected then do whatever I damn well please.

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Postby A Thing of Eternity » 09 Apr 2009 01:43

I only read the first couple papragraph, guess I didn't realize what I was agreeing with. :(

Anyways, I do think Dune reads more like a Fantasy novel than the usual SF story. Might just be the knife fight though. :wink:
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Re: Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

Postby SadisticCynic » 09 Apr 2009 05:44

Freakzilla wrote:Their most important ability is that they’re able to “fold space.”


This mistake was the first thing I noticed as well. I've not read much fantasy other than Tolkien (who I love so much I even think in terms of Middle-Earth legends) but much of what is described here are factors that can make a story imaginative and exotic. SF can have weird creatures and tribes as well as fantasy (thinks of the Pandora universe; kelp anyone?)

P.S Is FB Fantasy Book?
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Re: Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 06:39

SadisticCynic wrote:P.S Is FB Fantasy Book?


FB = FaceBook :D
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Postby EsperandoAGodot » 09 Apr 2009 07:58

I'll give you the foldspace dealie (and, to be fair, in the first novel what he says is suggested, and Hotlzmann generators aren't brought into the mix until later) but picking at him for not getting into the technical details of Paul's prescience defeats/misses the point of the article. The author is basically suggesting that Dune has enough elements of fantasy that fantasy fans will feel comfortable. The fact that his ability has a rationale doesn't change the fact that he has the power of prophecy - far-seeing heroes is fantasy fare. The author seems plenty aware that there's no magic in Dune. Notice that the point of the article is to suggest that Dune is a science fiction novel that fantasy fans might feel comfortable reading - because I think we can all agree that there are larger genre differences in many cases than just magic vs. science - and not that Dune is, fundamentally, a fantasy novel. Ancient prophecy and the notion of a Chosen One with special powers are as important in Dune as in any Science Fiction novel, it just so happens that the Chosen One is arrived at through eugenics and the prophecy was planted - that is, it contains elements that will be familiar to fantasy fans (sword fights, royalty, no particularly high technology, and most devices not really explained) that just happened to be altered by the fact that it's not a fantasy novel.

Frankly, I'm surprised he doesn't seem to mention the fact that there are no guns of real use and most people fight with blades.
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Re: Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

Postby SadisticCynic » 09 Apr 2009 09:34

Freakzilla wrote:
SadisticCynic wrote:P.S Is FB Fantasy Book?


FB = FaceBook :D


D'oh :oops: Not too savvy with this scoial networking stuff.
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Re: Dune: Science Fiction for Fantasy Fans - Douglas Cohen

Postby inhuien » 09 Apr 2009 09:39

SadisticCynic wrote:D'oh :oops: Not too savvy with this scoial networking stuff.

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
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Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 09:57

EsperandoAGodot wrote:I'll give you the foldspace dealie (and, to be fair, in the first novel what he says is suggested, and Hotlzmann generators aren't brought into the mix until later) but picking at him for not getting into the technical details of Paul's prescience defeats/misses the point of the article. The author is basically suggesting that Dune has enough elements of fantasy that fantasy fans will feel comfortable. The fact that his ability has a rationale doesn't change the fact that he has the power of prophecy - far-seeing heroes is fantasy fare. The author seems plenty aware that there's no magic in Dune. Notice that the point of the article is to suggest that Dune is a science fiction novel that fantasy fans might feel comfortable reading - because I think we can all agree that there are larger genre differences in many cases than just magic vs. science - and not that Dune is, fundamentally, a fantasy novel. Ancient prophecy and the notion of a Chosen One with special powers are as important in Dune as in any Science Fiction novel, it just so happens that the Chosen One is arrived at through eugenics and the prophecy was planted - that is, it contains elements that will be familiar to fantasy fans (sword fights, royalty, no particularly high technology, and most devices not really explained) that just happened to be altered by the fact that it's not a fantasy novel.

Frankly, I'm surprised he doesn't seem to mention the fact that there are no guns of real use and most people fight with blades.


I believe one of the commenters brought that up.

After I first read Dune back in the '80s, I tried to get my best friend, a fantasy fan, to read it, using all these points. I don't think he ever did. I think seeing the movie ruined it for him.
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Postby GamePlayer » 09 Apr 2009 10:20

I think as fans we just have to accept that certain people won't read certain things and they were never going to anyway. Out of all the books I have read, I rarely try hard to recommend them to anyone else. Non-fiction seems to be easier to recommend than fiction. But I've pretty much stuck to my bare minimum three, which I recommend to almost everyone with whom I have a rapport of some kind:

If you read only one sci-fi book, it should be Dune.
If you read only one fantasy book, it should be Lord of the Rings.
If you read only one comic book, it should be Watchmen.

If I can convince the people in my social circles to at least read one of these, I consider it a great achievement. :lol:
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Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 10:23

Dune is over most people's heads anyway, statistically speaking.
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Postby GamePlayer » 09 Apr 2009 10:36

I don't get what some people have against Dune. It's not difficult to read, just dense and rich. It's well written, so it flows nicely and surprises the reader. It's totally accessible; anyone can read it and follow what's going on.

Not everything people read has to be Dan Brown. But maybe thinking that is my problem :cry:
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Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 10:41

I noticed someone mentioned Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile in the comments, one of my favorites and I think a better genre crossover than Dune.
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Postby Rakis » 09 Apr 2009 11:09

GamePlayer wrote:I don't get what some people have against Dune. It's not difficult to read, just dense and rich. It's well written, so it flows nicely and surprises the reader. It's totally accessible; anyone can read it and follow what's going on.

Not everything people read has to be Dan Brown. But maybe thinking that is my problem :cry:


Indeed, some people only want to read the equivalent of junkfood...I don't know if there is a word in literature for that, besides crap from KJA... :|

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Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 11:24

Rakis wrote:
GamePlayer wrote:I don't get what some people have against Dune. It's not difficult to read, just dense and rich. It's well written, so it flows nicely and surprises the reader. It's totally accessible; anyone can read it and follow what's going on.

Not everything people read has to be Dan Brown. But maybe thinking that is my problem :cry:


Indeed, some people only want to read the equivalent of junkfood...I don't know if there is a word in literature for that, besides crap from KJA... :|


Pulp?

pulp
–noun
6. a magazine or book printed on rough, low-quality paper made of wood pulp or rags, and usually containing sensational and lurid stories, articles, etc. Compare slick 1 (def. 9).

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.
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Postby Rakis » 09 Apr 2009 11:37

Freakzilla wrote:
Rakis wrote:
GamePlayer wrote:I don't get what some people have against Dune. It's not difficult to read, just dense and rich. It's well written, so it flows nicely and surprises the reader. It's totally accessible; anyone can read it and follow what's going on.

Not everything people read has to be Dan Brown. But maybe thinking that is my problem :cry:


Indeed, some people only want to read the equivalent of junkfood...I don't know if there is a word in literature for that, besides crap from KJA... :|


Pulp?

pulp
–noun
6. a magazine or book printed on rough, low-quality paper made of wood pulp or rags, and usually containing sensational and lurid stories, articles, etc. Compare slick 1 (def. 9).

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.


Hmmm... ok.

Crap from KJA does have a better ring to it...

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Postby GamePlayer » 09 Apr 2009 11:51

Sounds like a potentially lame new television show. "Pulp My Author" :P :lol:
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Postby Redstar » 09 Apr 2009 13:21

GamePlayer wrote:But I've pretty much stuck to my bare minimum three, which I recommend to almost everyone with whom I have a rapport of some kind:

If you read only one sci-fi book, it should be Dune.
If you read only one fantasy book, it should be Lord of the Rings.
If you read only one comic book, it should be Watchmen.

LotR is pretty unreadable, in my opinion. I waded through the first 200 pages before they even got to the Council of Elrond... I'm still meaning to pick up from there. :?

I've read the other two, and glad I have. Watchmen is the only graphic novel I've read, and though I have have read a few comic books, they're really not my thing. And Dune is a great science-fiction book, but I don't think I'd personally recommend it as the sole representation of the genre.

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Postby Freakzilla » 09 Apr 2009 13:27

The Hobbit is easier.
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Postby Redstar » 09 Apr 2009 13:29

I've read it, and it is easier. But I certainly don't consider it as worthy a read.


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