That was difficult to finish. Just like with Dune Messiah, I found that most of it wasn’t about Arrakis itself. It tried to have a more complex plot centred around politics, but it ended up disintegrating and getting more convoluted all at the same time. All the new characters were boring and roughly everybody from Dune #1, including those we thought were dead, somehow appeared out of thin, dry air in order to fill in the gaps.
When I started reading Children of Dune and as I do mention in my review for Dune Messiah, an acquaintance of mine remarked that he’d given up on Dune somewhere around the beginning of Dune #4; “waaay too much religion, precognition and mysticism for my tastes.” I never thought there could be such a thing as too much religion after I was done reading Dune #1, but seriously, I have the unshakable impression that this one went one spice-induced trip too far, even more so than Dune #2. So many visions, parallel paths and characters becoming less and less relatable and in some ways interchangeable, and not enough about Dune ecology and cultures that made Dune #1 so fascinating and even relevant today. Agreed, a lot of that was insinuated, but let me tell you, I’d pick discovering more about the changes in Fremen culture and the dying worms over more helpings of bland, supernatural politics any day.
I have to admit that the last few tens of pages were a bit better, and Children went out with an awesome bang, so now I am a bit curious to pick up God Emperor of Dune and find out whether the series ever went back to the more earthy, natural direction the first one had instead of going further down the supernatural path, but I’m almost certain visions, precognition, supreme retro-cognition, concepts much too abstract even for me, continued playing an important part in the series, by the looks of it an increasingly important part.
Slowly but surely I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s not only more coherent, but also more entertaining reading plot synopses of the Dune sequels than actually reading the books themselves.
The new trailer for Star Wars VII came out just yesterday and it’s racked up more than 30 million views already. Not bad eh?
Here it is for good measure.
I used to really, really love Star Wars. It was about the same time I really, really loved Harry Potter and Pokemon, give or take a few years. Today, as a more or less adult man, in the same way I will still enjoy but find it difficult to really get into Harry Potter and Pokemon for prolonged periods of time—even for nostalgia’s sake—, I cannot really get Star Wars the same way I used to anymore. It feels comfortable, it feels familiar and easy, but comfortable and familiar is not necessarily what I need or want. Of course I’ll enjoy the movies anytime (I had a blast re-watching A New Hope on VHS a couple of months back—seriously, give let’s VHS a chance— and listening to Verily, A New Hope immediately thereafter) and I’m sure that the SW fan lying dormant somewhere inside of me just waiting to be Awakened will duly do so two months from now, hand-in-hand with the rest of geekkind and the very Force itself, apparently. That much is a given.
But sometimes I do wonder what the world would look like without Star Wars. There, I said it.
Jodorowsky’s Dune. Here’s a link to the full movie. I can’t recommend it enough. Watched it on the train from Belgrade to Thessaloniki. The thumbnail with ole Alejandro sticking his tongue out doesn’t do it justice—or maybe it does. Depends on you.
Imagine a world where there was no Star Wars yet, no original sci-fi blockbuster. Imagine a world where Moebius, Pink Floyd, H.R. Geiger, Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and others had all been gathered together by pioneering film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky with the ambition to create a film that would change the world. A film to “simulate an LSD trip” and change young minds, redefine what was possible for cinema at large visually and thematically. A movie that would play the same technical and cultural role Star Wars played for us, just taking us down a completely different road. A more spiritual and artistic road if you will.
Even though it got as close to production as a film can possibly get without actually making it to the other side, Jodorowsky’s Dune indeed was never shot because of financing troubles: basically nobody in Hollywood possessed balls big enough and the right shade of gold to support the astronomical $15 million budget and all the associated risk. I don’t blame them really.
Think about it though. Star Wars is great, of course, we all love it, but it’s true that as a film it doesn’t exactly have any kind of message, it’s just a superbly made fairy tale with a generic fairy tale good vs evil plot. In fact it has grown into a marketing and merchandising monstrosity, especially in the last five years or so where you can’t throw a rock without having the rock come complete inside a Darth Vader helmet or better yet have it transform inside your hand into an overpriced Lego brick.
What if our Star Wars had been Dune? The documentary above draws all the parallels, ultimately how this spectre of a movie influenced Star Wars itself as well as other significant films in ways we’d never suspect—another reason I would encourage you to watch it. But get this: the universe where Jodorowsky’s Dune was made is the universe where not only Star Wars would have been completely different, if it had been made at all, but also one where we’d never have seen Alien or Blade Runner.
Would you rather stay in our universe with Star Wars, Blade Runner and Alien, or move to one where Jodorowsky’s Dune had been as successful as Star Wars in ours and had spawned all kinds of stories and ever genres we had never thought possible? If you believe that life imitates art, it would definitely be an interesting universe to experience in a broader sense. Would Muslims be seen under a different light? Would psychedelics or ecology play a more important role in pop culture or even make people vaguely more environmentally-conscious? Will we ever be able to traverse parallel universes and find out for ourselves?
If you enjoyed going down this mental path, I would recommend reading Replay, the book that inspired Groundhog Day, but basically spanning the 26 years between 1963 and 1989 instead of just 24 hours. There is a film in it too that gets big instead of Star Wars and changes the world.
Last night was the now famous supermoon eclipse. I woke up early to go outside and have a look. Quickly, like a lot of Greeks, my enthusiasm was quenched because of the cloudy sky. These September nights have been warm but cloudy and rainy. Switching from a Mediterranean climate to a tropical one? Check. At least it’s better than turning into Sahara, I suppose.
To my credit, I didn’t immediately give up, either. I sat there for 40 minutes or so, reading and underlining my morning pages from earlier in 2015. Alas, the clouds won that hopeless staring contest. I went back to bed and thought it would be a good idea taking advantage of waking up that early to take a shot at entering a WILD. Instead, I was welcomed with a bout of the worst sleep paralysis I can recall: when my body fell asleep, my consciousness didn’t, and I had hallucinations of a person walking in the apartment, into my room and around my bed. It was pitch black, so the hallucination was consistent, in that I couldn’t see him/her/it, only hear the footsteps. I had to endure this while unable to move any part of my body apart from my eyelids and their contents. All the while, the blood moon was setting behind the cloud cover. During sleep paralysis, no-one can hear you scream. You can’t scream….
Take a deep breath.
It could have been me who took this .gif. It’s a consoling thought.
Nevertheless, for all its photogenic glory, it has to be said that September 28th 2015 will not be remembered for its supermoon eclipse. It will go down as a small footnote in history that on the day NASA announced they found flowing water on Mars there had been a supermoon lunar eclipse less than twelve hours prior. It is a veritable milestone that would have me leaping for joy—if I was any proper kind of science/sci-fi/astronomy nerd to begin with. Instead, all I can think of, perhaps especially after almost half a year of constantly dealing with water as a human right and the current global state of affairs, is how we should be sorting out our shit on Earth first before starting to even think about colonizing other worlds.
Don’t get me wrong, I too get terribly annoyed when other people generally show this kind of flamboyant lack of interest in the vastness of the Universe and the amazing advances in our apparent knowledge of the world. It’s usually such people who shun video games because they’re capitalist toys and refuse to see how they can work wonderfully to promote education or cultural awareness. Similarly, they show open contempt for science fiction as a genre, no matter how eye-opening, poetic or important it might be. They’re not interested to know that Dune, for example, was one of the first books bar none to speak about ecology and sustainability when it was published 50 years ago. No, it’s science fiction. “We have real problems on Earth. Sci-fi is for comfortable middle-class white nerds”, they say, or seem to imply. My very own father told me off when I tried to explain to him the virtues ofThe Dispossessed. As I was saying, under normal circumstances I get borderline offended by these reactions; at this very moment, I can sort of see where they’re coming from.
A lot of the excitement surrounding the discovery of flowing water on Mars has to do with the fantasy of modernity, the wet dream of boundless progress, the Promethean achievement of humankind founding an extraterrestrial colony. While science fiction wouldn’t have you believe it, especially with the likes of Interstellar framing the popular imagination, we’re far, far from thinking about humanity as a separate entity from our home planet. There’s no reason to believe that without Earth we could survive for any length of time. I don’t think we would want to, either. But we’re obviously not taking care of our planet as one would take care of their home. In fact, we couldn’t do much worse if we were actively trying to destroy it.
Colonising Mars as our last hope for survival after we’ve made Earth unfit for humans and broad swaths of other types of life, too, is not something I’m going to support. We’ve been making our bed, we should be honourable enough to sleep in it too—once and for all, if it comes to that. If we can’t live as part of the great ecosystem, we don’t deserve to survive. I would use the cancer analogy, namely that us out-surviving the Earth would be like cancer cells out-surviving the cancer patient who died because of them, but on second thought the analogy wouldn’t be exactly right, as it’s not really possible to kill the Earth the same way a human can die of cancer. Still, if not kill it, we just might see our Earth wither away into a wasteland where it will take many thousands or millions of years for new forms of life to take advantage of the mess we’ll have left behind—if we don’t end up like Venus, that is.
I know you might say that some ideas born out of past science fiction turned out to be possible. After all, “we” (i.e. well-funded Americans) did go to the Moon (don’t take my word for it though) and that was just four years after Dune was released and a single year after 2001: A Space Odyssey did. Back then, people were saying that we’d definitely have at least a couple of bases up there by the turn of the millennium. But here we are, the turn of the millennium’s already fifteen years behind us and I’m not seeing any bright lights up there. So what happened? Could it be that there are some hard limits to our malignant growth? I would argue that yes, and plenty of them, as much as we like to pretend they don’t matter.
Next to all this, I’m secretly hoping for disclosure of long-standing alien contact, that moment that will change everything, like Naomi Klein says, only for real. Maybe in that scenario we will be taught how to build a viable multi-planetary civilization together with them and cross the stars that way. But on our own? Now? We’d probably destroy the colony the moment they were unable to pay off their debts to Earth, or make them privatise their water company, like many people were quick to joke about with today’s discovery on Twitter and Facebook.
But all said and done, I see videos like the one above, where you get to do a to-scale virtual tour of our solar system at the speed of light, and go right back to marvelling at how far we’ve come. Suddenly it hits me how difficult, how amazing it is sending missions to moist rocks or giant chewy-cored balloons so far away from here, redefining what is possible.
What vocabulary would a space-faring civilization like in Stellaris develop to describe the vastness of space?
I’d heard that the second part of the Dune saga is a bit of a disappointment after the grandiose first part, and as I do hate to admit it, I struggled to finish it. I couldn’t exactly follow what was happening, the characters’ motivations, their positions and the parts they were playing in Muad’Dib’s empire. Most of all, I couldn’t visualize how he was visualizing what was happening to him and the intrigue that was taking place around him… or if I did, which I might have, I thought it was confusing and not very interesting. The whole ghola/Idaho subplot (subplot? wasn’t that the book’s main storyline?) left me terribly indifferent.
I’m happy to have put Dune Messiah behind me. I can start seeing why a sci-fi fiend acquaintance of mine told me that he dropped the series because of “way too much religion and mysticism.” Messiah indeed went overboard in this regard compared to its predecessor, but I’m still curious what might happen in the next books and whether the mysticism and religion at least in the rest of the story might prove to be a bit less hazy and interesting. Mind, in the first book, it was a big part of what made it feel so alive.
“Unique among SF novels… I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.” ~Arthur C. Clarke
I’ll begin with what I saw when I first checked what my Goodreads friends had to say about their experience with Dune:
Thank the gods it was Kivayan, my friend Kuba from Poland, who first made it clear to me how important it was that I read Dune, and not just the first book, no, the whole original series, because only then would I be able to witness the genius of Frank Herbert’s grand image (that there was my attempt to express “big picture” in a more fittingly epic way). Thank the gods it was him and not someone else’s opinion which would have left this book under my personal radar, where it had been for many years.
Scratch that. It hadn’t been under my radar. I’d been aware of it since I was little, mainly from video games or perhaps Karina—I just didn’t know exactly what it was about. All this desert, the sandworms… It looked boring. Like something too slow, deep or intricate for me to enjoy. And let me tell you, I wasn’t wrong: if I had dipped my toes in the spicy sand before I’d reached a certain point in my life, I’m confident I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all. If I had to say, I’d place the point in question around the time I started watching Game of Thrones, playing alt-history games and reading books like The World Without Us or The Dark Tower.
I had started being able to enjoy books like Dune, only I couldn’t make the connection in my head and notice the switch. There was nobody to suddenly come up to me and tell me that the famous, apparently super-influential old SF book I’ve always thought I wouldn’t enjoy, actually involves loads of topics I’d find very appealing: religion, feudal politics, anthropology, psychology, history, ecology and many others, creating a narrative about how narratives, and historical narratives in particular, work, which I expect to discover further in the next books. Well, there was someone: it was Kuba. But if it hadn’t been for him and a few other people like Amberclock who told me about Jodorowsky’s Dune or JMG who often mentions Dune in his Archdruid Report posts, I’d still have the impression that the book is a boring classic, that it’s to SF what perhaps Proust is to modern literature: supremely influential and important, but not enjoyable.
Of course, I was wrong. I may be wrong about Proust, too. But that’s the point: we’re talking about preconceptions here.
What surprises me is that, for it’s alleged importance, very few people I talked to about Dune while reading it even knew of it. For a book that supposedly played an important role in the popularisation of ecology as a word as well as a term and for one which is among the all-time bestsellers of the genre, it is forgotten today by most. I’ll go down a path I don’t think it’s fair to go down on, but how many people know of Tatooine and how many of Arrakis, Dune, the Desert Planet that surely inspired it?
Nevertheless, I found its ambience as a contemporary read very comfortable, even if 50 years have passed since it was written. Water as a super-valuable commodity (with all related cultural conventions) feels right and is played perfectly. Arrakis is majestic. Reading about the Fremen was very interesting and convincing, and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the book’s unknown world by looking up the juicy neologisms in the appendix (every book like this should have one!)
Not all’s perfect with Dune, don’t get me wrong. Its characters can feel one-sided or shallow, even Paul, who at times comes off superhumany… but then, hey, he’s supposed to be the one, isn’t he? The various political actors and the role of spice in all of this aren’t very clear, but you know, it’s one of these books you’ll read again and next time it’ll make more sense.
But the weak points don’t matter. Dune is a classic, period, and I’m happy for once to have truly enjoyed a classic because it’s a classic, not despite the fact. What can I say? Herbert’s foreword to the book reads:
“to the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of “real materials” — to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration.”