Apr 4, 2010

Book Reviews @ The Temple

Heretics of Dune – Huh, this book is kind of a return to form for Herbert. Book one was this masterpiece of political intrigue, character evolution, rebellion, heroism, coolness. Book 2 was about a hero cult, and avoiding an inevitable future. Book 3 was weird, about joojoo and plotting. Book 4 was about despotism, power, control, humanity, fate; also joojoo. Here we are in book 5 and suddenly nearly all the joojoo is gone (except for the standard joojoo of dune – long lives, guild navigators, face dancers, etc). It is nearly 100% political intrigue. The bene gesserit are back on top, though the tlielaxu are also very powerful. Ix is still a player, the face dancers, the guild, and the church of the tyrant are kind of minor. And now there’s this new force, the honored matres. When the tyrant was deposed, according to his own plan, humanity scattered and therefore saved itself from annihilation. The returnees from The Scattering are wackaloons and super powerful (not to mention super sexy, which is kind of stupid, but oh well). The honored matres want to kill or subjigate everyone, especially the bene gesserit. But the book is just wall to wall scheming. The BG vs the BT vs the HM and the interaction of the minor players among them. It’s kind of hard to read. Especially because I didn’t read, I listened, and sometimes I miss something and god help you if you miss something important. I had to read the wiki one paragraph-per-week to catch myself up on what I just heard. But, it is pretty cool. It’s still nothing like the first book, but it’s a more traditional story without all the magic. And I like that. I’d say the book was too big for its britches, I’m not sure it needed all these pages to tell this story. Sometimes it seemed like it was complicated for its own sake. But the over all arc, if you trimmed 1/3 of the book, was actually quite good. That one group coming to dominance at the end got me totally interested to see what the next book would have.  I have one major complaint about the book - negative 300 degrees Kelvin?!?! At one point a bene tlielaxu is explaining, via narration, that he has an undetectable poison on him because it was kept at something like negative 384K for some amount of time. Excuse me, fuckhead Herbert, you can make up the spice, you can use omniscience, you can invent interstellar travel, you can even make little snails latch on to a man and turn him into a giant fucking sandworm. What you CAN NOT DO is go below ZERO FUCKING DEGREES KELVIN!

Chapterhouse Dune – Wowwww, what a good book! I’m not at all convinced I read these last two 15 years ago. I thought I read them all and it was a steadly decline in quality from the first book to the last. This book is more about plot and intrigue than any of the other books, including the first book. I wouldn’t say its better, the first book was just too revolutionary in its world creation, but this book is fantastic. Heretics left me ready for it, even though heretics wasn’t amazing, and this totally delivered. The factions were awesome, the dynamics were cool, the verbal battles were just perfect. My favorite part in the book is maybe halfway, the conversations between Lucilla and Dama. I was so bummed when that ended rather abruptly, it was just so fucking captivating. That is echoed in the stand off between Odreid and Dama, but isn’t surpassed by it. The book does manage to have more than just plot. It tries to make comments on politics. I’m not sure I agree with its conclusions, but I think the discussion is great. My mind was blown that the Jews have a role in the book. Christianity only peripherally occurs in Dune due to the “Orange Catholic Bible” which seems to have fuck all to do with catholicism.  Islam plays heavily, if only by implication, due to the Fremen and the Tlielaxu. The reflections of islam are strong there, and had been from the first book. But the jews are actual jews! No reflections, no allusions, but actual jews. Jews who have survived these thousands and thousands of years as a culture. Who have learned the art of disappearing into the universe, their religion and culture more of a secret cult at this point. Masters of blending into society, “you could spend your whole life working with one of them and never know they were a jew” And some comments about how some bene gesserit beliefs or customs may have descended from judaism (though they are the ones with the OCB, so maybe it comes through that). They don’t have a big role, though it is a hugely important one in the context of the fiction, but it still shocked me. I was all in for the vocal performances, they were almost perfect. My only problems were one actor pronounced Honored Matres as Honored Maters. And one said SKYtale instead of SIGHtale. I feel like there was another too, I don’t see why they can’t nail down simple pronunciations before they do these things. But all in all it was really good, and I effing love the voice of the Tyrant, it’s so good. The horrible thing about this book is the CLIFFHANGER. It’s not a hard core cliffhanger, like this person is about to die, oh em gee, book ends. But there are some serious and overarching mysteries to be answered, and Herbert died a year after he wrote it! arg! His son has come along and cobbled together two sequels (not to mention all the prequels) based on his father’s notes. But opinion is apparently divided on whether he did a good job or not. I will certainly get to those soon. But we’ll never know, and that is just such a shitty feeling. I want to know who the threat from the scattering is! I want to know if the BG/HM merger works! I want to know what Shiana and Duncan do! And christ I want to know who Daniel and Marty are!!

Hunters of Dune / Sandworms of Dune – I’m starting this review only having read the first book, but they are naturally presented as a pair, so I will finish it after I finish the second. That likely won’t take long, as plot-wise, I am totally into this stuff. Herbert left us with a hell of a set of questions at the end of Chapterhouse, and for most fans those questions lasted 20some years. But for new (and renewed, like me) fans, we have the answers right away. Or at least, one version of the answers. As I mentioned in chapterhouse, we’ll never really know, which is monstrously aggravating. But this is what we have. So this is my first Brian Herbert / Kevin J Anderson book. I bought the prequel (houses harkonnen, atreidies, and corrino) books a long time ago, but never got around to them. I might even own some of the legends of dune series (the very-pre-quels). I thought about going and reading those before these, as there will be a lot of history that it’s probably assumed you know and would certainly be enriching. But I’m a child, and I couldn’t wait to find out what’s up. Whether its right or not, I am just so into this story. It’s an awesome universe, with awesome characters, I sped through Hunters and I’m sure I will through Sandworms. It’s just really sort of cool and exciting story stuff. I will certainly go back and read the legends of dune series (set some 10 or 15k years before the main books), I’ll probably read the house books as well. I see that they have now started on a new trilogy, starting with Paul of Dune, which fills in the gaps between Dune and Dune Messiah. And here we come to the heart of the problem with the writing. There is a short interview with Herbert & Anderson after the Hunters audiobook (which, ps, is awesome, it’s not much, but adding value is always good). In it they explain, without any embarrassment or awkwardness, the difference between their style and Frank Herbert’s, and the difference is subtlety. I was shocked to see 12 years pass between Dune & Dune Messiah. I was even more shocked to see 3500 years pass into God Emperor, and kind of used to it when 1500 passed into Heretics. On top of that, as they point out in the interview, Herbert destroys Rakis in Heretics, and he never shows it. It happens in between chapters. I mean, fuck, it’s called Dune, and Dune is gone! without ceremony or description. But I have really come to appreciate Frank Herbert’s subtlety, I can’t imagine the books without them. Herbert & Anderson come out and flatly state, we don’t like that, we like to see the details. So they go and describe the burning of Arrakis, and now they are writing books to go between Dune & Messiah. I find this kind of annoying and unnecessary. There is nothing there that helps me understand or appreciate better. It’s just more stuff. This might not be a problem if they were just such amazing writers that any story told by them in this universe, even in between stories, is worth it to hear it told. But that’s not really the case. Most of it is fine, it’s not atrocious, I don’t spend a lot of time rolling my eyes. And at this point I am in it for the plot, not the experiment that was God Emperor. But it seems their “fill in the details” really applies across the board. They said they simply had to make the 7th book into two, there was too much. What they seem to have missed is that the first book, and I imagine the second, could have been cut down a whole hell of a lot with some easy editing. Admittedly, it’s not 50%, it’s probably 80%. So I’m sure it’s still 2 books easy, but nonetheless, the book would be better tightened up. They really just repeat themselves so often. I am a couple chapters into Sandworms, and so far I have heard the list of new gholas I think 3 or 4 times. I fucking remember! Jesus! They will say things, and then say them again. Not even that differently, or from a different character, or in a different context. They will virtually repeat themselves for no apparent reason. It’s somewhat maddening. It doesn’t really take away from the books, and I am totally digging them. But I feel like I’m reading amateur writers sometimes. And these are their 8th and 9th books? Oh man, how are their first 3 going to read? I’m a little scared. They’ve got good ideas, they’ve got amazing source material, they just really need to work on their styles, it’s too much. And hey, let the audience guess sometimes, I don’t need to see every single line, just gimme the dots. [time passes] Okay, I’ve read Sandworms now. My comments are nearly identical. On the one hand it is really satisfying to hear the end of the story, I was definitely into it and definitely eager to get back to the book anytime I had to stop. But the same problems remain. I still feel like this could have been cut down by 25%. Sentences just go on for no reason sometimes. Motivations and especially character history are restated again and again. I get that this person had this happen, and that relates directly to this event. I get it! It was a little sad when the book was essentially over, but I had 2 and a half hours left in the audiobook. Most of that wasn’t really necessary. It returns again to this idea that Herbert & Anderson insist on filling in every single little detail. There is so much that can be left out, I can imagine pretty well what happened to all of these characters, but they tell me anyway. It’s frustrating not only that they do it, but that they are so aware that they do it and are completely okay with it. But, some good things: The quotes at the start of each chapter are sometimes really really well done. Often they are just fairly obvious commentary on the coming events, with some overarching moral or theme. But sometimes they tie together widely spaced events in a resonant way that is striking. What is done with and to poor Uwe is poetically tragic. He is really a sad character. The book is essentially a nature vs. nurture argument. And while it’s not exactly real life data, it is an interesting conjecture, especially Paul vs. Paulo. And especially especially with the presumptions applied to the gholas. It reminds me of siblings placed into their roles and left to live up to them, both bad and good. On the other hand, I am left feeling that the whole ghola thing is very limiting. It’s too bad, it’s another thing the authors openly state as a concern, yet seem to completely ignore. It’s all the more annoying that they say Frank Herbert originally brought Duncan back as essentially fan-service. So now we’ve got this plot device that is fundamental to the universe just because fans couldn’t live without Duncan. They say how there is a fear that unlimited life via rebirth reduces our attachment to the character and reduces the impact of threats to them. Well, it does. I can’t be that upset when someone dies, I know perfectly well they will grow another. Though I can imagine that’s not a comfort to someone watching their child die, you can’t help but think they’ll have it back, exactly the same, in a few years. My other big problem with the end game is again a problem with feeling the importance of the characters’ actions. The end has essentially three major confrontations – Murbella’s fleet vs. the machine fleet, shiana/leto vs. the city, and duncan vs. omnius. The guild has a dramatic (if expected) and cavalry-like savior role for murbella, which is great. Leto has sort of his destiny fulfilled, and shiana gets to use scytale’s weapons, okay. But then Duncan does his thing, and neither of the first two mattered. Maybe Murbella would be killed if not for those events, just because of the timing, I guess that matters. But Shiana and Leto could have just stayed in the damn ship and Duncan’s efforts would have produced the same results, it reduces all the importance of the events. Leto especially, I fail to understand why he was even resurrected, all he did is return to his place among the worms, what’s the point?? It’s kind of annoying. This book did sort of solidify my love of the Tyrant, though. Leto II is supposed to be this horrible despot, but I think he is the most interesting and tragic character in the series. He was flawed, I buy that, he lost his humanity. But Duncan has it easy, his destiny was to be a really good guy, make the moral choice, and save the universe. Leto II’s destiny was to be a completely ruthless monster in order to save humanity. How can you retain your connection to your humanity if you have to control and kill your people because that’s the only way you can save it. A much more sympathetic character, to me. The one other thing I notice in this book is what seems to me to be one more inclusion of a major religion in the series. We’ve had slight christianity, significant islam, and direct judaism. I think what happens with Duncan is a direct reflection of buddhism and hinduism. He has lived like 5000 years now through lifetime after lifetime. He has the wisdom of not just thousands of years of memories like any bene gesserit but having actually lived those lives. He is born, lives, dies, and is born again repeatedly learning more about himself and humanity. His ascension to perfection comes from his continuous rebirth. I’ll grant you that I know essentially nothing about these religions, but it seems like continuous rebirths leading to enlightenment has something to do with it. It’s pretty cool. Anyway, I’m done with the series now. As I said, I will probably go back and read some of the prequels, definitely not all. But I don’t have all of them right now, so I’ll probably take a break from this universe. I think this series covered some serious ground. Some of it was plot, some of it was amazing writing, some of it was almost an experiment. It was absolutely worth my time, and there are some really fantastic things in it. Wasn’t perfect, and I certainly have a lot of issues with the Herbert/Anderson side of things, I will always wonder what Frank would have done with the finale. But it was all really pretty good.

What Do We Do Now? – This is kind of a silly one to throw in, but damn it I’m doing it. This is a relationship book by Keith and the Girl. If you aren’t familiar, they are a podcast, and the funniest thing in the world. Now, they aren’t for everyone. They are very “adult” very inappropriate, don’t listen at work, don’t listen if you are sensitive. Don’t listen if you are fat, black, a woman, jewish, chinese, a nerd, a man, gay, or white. Or at least not if you are one of those and uptight about it. They rag on pretty much everything. They do occasionally go too far down the racist/sexist/homophobic rabbit hole. But for the most part they are those negative things in such a way that it is patently ironic and meant to be exactly opposite. People might compare them to shock jocks, Stern or O&A, and I think those people would be doing it in the spirit of a compliment. I happen to hate shock jocks, and I don’t think KATG are, I think they are much funnier and smarter. But, whatever gets you listening. Anyway, they do a podcast, minimum 1 hour a weekday, over 1000 episodes, the highlight of my media consumption nearly every day. Now they wrote a relationship book. “Smart answers to your stupid relationship questions” is the tagline. Most of the answers are common sense. I didn’t learn anything amazing in the book. Nearly always the advice is communicate, and a passive aggressive reflection onto your mate of whatever they are doing that you don’t like. Kind of silly, but always funny. Their personalities don’t nearly come out in written form as they do on the show. And I wonder that it might be even less so for people who aren’t so 1000-episodes-familiar with their voices. Nonetheless I think it is very funny and worth reading for a few laughs. I don’t really expect people to rush out to buy it, but if you feign the slightest hint of interest, I’ll probably buy it for you for your birthday.

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