During my trip to Las Vegas last week, I started reading Hunters of Dune.
It was, in a word, disheartening.
I have been a fan of Frank Herbert's classic series of science fiction novels since I was thirteen, and I would guess that I have read the six books of the original series twenty times or more. I've even read them all in German at least four times. (Now that's nerdy.)
Somewhere in my old bedroom at my dad's house is that first copy of Dune that I bought twenty-seven years ago in the Waldenbooks of Oakpark Mall (now sadly bereft of bookstores).
I clearly recall the evening I bought the first novel in the series; my grandfather had been in a serious car accident that afternoon, and my family was about to drive two hundred miles to see him in the hospital. (He would recover and go on to live another twenty-six years.)
While my mom finished packing my sisters' clothes, I quickly road my bike to the mall to pick up something to read on the long car ride. I had seen Dune many times in the Waldenbooks sci-fi section, but for some reason I had never thought much about buying it before. It always looked rather daunting--long and complicated.
However, since I now faced the prospect of many hours in the car and hospital waiting rooms, I decided a long, complicated book was just what I needed. I started reading Dune that evening as we headed west on I-90. I remember feeling initially overwhelmed by the novel's complex, multi-threaded narrative, but I stuck with it, and as I read, I grew more and more enmeshed in the novel's baroque ornateness.
It helped, of course, that the protagonist of the novel, Paul Atreides, is a boy of fifteen--a boy who is beginning to realize that he's a super-being with the power to see across time. Man, I ate that stuff up! At thirteen I was desperate to find that I had special powers. Anything to make middle school less miserable!
I loved the first novel, and in the following weeks I sought out the next two books in the original trilogy. I devoured them with equal relish. When I was a freshman in high school, God Emperor of Dune started a new Dune saga, set 3500 years after the original trilogy, and I was thrilled to see the story take new and mind-bending turns. (We'll skip over my dashed hopes for the 1984 David Lynch Dune movie that still appalls me to this very day.)
So, for nearly three decades, geek that I am, I have returned to the world of the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, Face Dancers, the Voice, and the Kwisatz Haderach. And, like all great works of literature, each time I read them, the Dune books offer up new experiences and new insights. It's a rare book from one's teen years that can hold up so well, particularly after one has survived an education in literary criticism.
A few years back, when Frank Herbert's son, Brian, began publishing a series of Dune prequels with his writing partner Kevin Anderson, I was thrilled. At last, nearly twenty years after the death of Frank Herbert, there would be new Dune books to pore over.
My excitement quickly turned to chagrin as I read the first of the prequels. It was drivel. Pointless, brutally gory drivel, paced like a Hardy Boys book set in space.
Despite the low quality of the writing, I read the first two of the prequels, but soon I'd had enough blood-soaked hyperbolic prose, and I gave up on the dreadful new world of Dune.
I was finally lured back by Hunters of Dune, which instead of being another pointless prequel, marks a return to the characters that Frank Herbert left behind when he died. Chapterhouse Dune, the final book in the original series, ends as a cliffhanger, and as much as I can appreciate the literary merits of non-closure, dammit I wanted to know what happened to my favorite characters!
Based, we're told, on notes left behind by Frank Herbert in a safe deposit box, Hunters of Dune picks up where Chapterhouse Dune left off. I read the first hundred pages on the flight to Las Vegas last weekend, and I found myself both surprised and relieved to find the writing to be far less wretched than that of the prequels. Certainly the characters were rather hastily sketched, but I had read thousands of pages of Dune--I knew these characters. No need to reinvent the wheel--let's get on with the story!
Three hundred pages farther along, the disillusionment began to set in. Threads of narrative seemed to come unraveled, and not in interesting ways. Whereas Frank Herbert was a master of complexity, his son seems more proficient at confusion dressed up as profundity.
Then, worst of all, as I headed towards answers delayed for twenty years, I was forced to endure the indignity of the son weaving his asinine prequels into the fabric of his father's far superior narrative, as though Frank Herbert had all along intended his great work to end on such a hackneyed two-bit note.
Super robots from space, indeed. Simply pathetic.
I groaned with despair as I realized the tawdry trick that had been played on me. That CRAP is supposed to be the answer? That CRAP is what I have waited for since 1986?
I felt robbed. Worse than robbed. I had been given back something precious, only to find that it was now broken, despoiled, empty.
If I may be allowed to mix genres, it's like the authors took my beloved Dune and buried it in Stephen King's Pet Cemetery. Sure, what came back looks like Dune, but it isn't the real thing. It's a shambling, ugly, fetid wreck, and I should have known better than to trust these inept clowns to do the story justice.
Man, I'm totally buying the next book USED.