Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Sleeper Must Awaken: A Defense of Dune

Over at the Castalia House blog, Alex Stump has gone and made some rhetorical opponents with a tirade against Dune. Sure, he claims he's "meh" towards it, but who on Earth gets that passionate over something you're ambivalent towards? Sorry, the word count alone belies not apathy or ambivalence, but rather, antipathy. And having read the essay, there's quite a bit that he simply gets WRONG. Sure, he gets some stuff right, and I'll try to give him credit where it's due. Strap in, this is going to be a long ride!

For reference sake, this is my copy:

That's a first edition. Chilton only published the first ed. hardcover, and even licensed out the 1st ed. paperback.

First, I'm a going to have to say, his summary and "good stuff" section is well, overly simplistic, and he gets bits wrong here. Melange does indeed grant longer lifespans, but prescience? Only to the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah figure of the story.  He calls the Harkonnens "royal" and "one- dimensional", when they are not either: I have to wonder if he actually read that they were being taken down a peg by the Emperor and CHOAM in the assigning of Arrakis to their long term enemies, the Atredies.

Alex calls the "man vs. machine" story cliched, but how many times have those in the Pulp Revolution crowd pointed out that the so called cliched stories of the old Pulps are in fact, better, and more compelling stories? At any rate, this is centuries after the Butlerian Jihad, and I fail to see the point of complaining about a background piece that the book isn't even about. His immediate comparison here is to The Matrix, and honestly, that's only a mediocre film addressing VR, AI, and philosophy. It looks pretty, but if that's compelling to you, I'm guessing you don't or watch much SFF.

That was the whole that he liked about it. The world building, and three chapters. Now, it's onto his fightin' words.

Mr. Stump believes this book to be painfully long. I suggest he avoid Mr. John C. Wright's Somewhither at all costs, then, if he can't handle that. I find this argument specious and indicates a lack of attention span and possibly discipline. Please, try getting though Pierre Bayle's Commentary, I did. Get back to me.

As to Dr. Yueh's betrayal, everyone has a breaking point, and the fact is that nobody is immune to such, and even hardening and conditioning only go so far. Since it's the Harkonnen that have her, he was likely shown the horrors they have or will visit upon her if he doesn't cooperate. Where does loyalty and honor dictate one protect first? Yueh has an impossible decision to make, and acts with as much honor as he can given the situation.

And now he starts talking about what he believes to be Dune's agenda.

Yes, he's absolutely right in the fact that CHOAM was an analog of OPEC. How naming part of the hero's enemies as an analog to a largely Arab conglomerate helps his narrative of it being anti-Israeli propaganda, I don't know. As to the names of Sardaukar and Fremen characters, so what?  Herbert mixed a lot of things together here. I think Mr. Stump has it backwards: the Fremen are the Jews, wandering in the desert, and the Sardaukar are Arabs, serving their lonely god, Shadaam Corrino IV.

Further argument against this is the fact that the Arabs have not reclaimed any of the desert, yet the Jews in Israel have indeed done so. Frank Herbert did extensive research into efforts to reverse desertification, and applied that to the preparations of the Fremen for the return of rain. Not to mention that Mohommadans do not search for a Messiah, but Jews, especially zealots, in the time of Christ, were, and especially for a warrior to deliver them.

Addressing his criticism of the Bene Geserrit, um, this does take place in the FAR future, and the religion of that order is in fact an amalgam.  Why using real religion as a basis is bad, I cannot comprehend, as it's more comprehensible than most fictional religions.

As to the dialog criticism, this truly rings hollow. Jessica very much act like a human when the Harkonnen attack, going into shock from the emotional impact. Yes, shock makes people dumb. As to Alia, I see no reason why she would use baby talk when she gains the knowledge in the womb of Bene Geserrit generational memory, including muscle control and language. Oh, and a society will in part dictate speech patterns, so don't expect a future fuedal society to talk like you. I have heard that newer editions have had the dialog altered, so that may be a factor here, I will grant.

Now to his criticism of the characters, once again, this feels false, as though we read completely different books. Paul I found likable throughout, and enjoyed his journey to manhood and leadership. As to Jessica being dumb at times, she was trained to be a concubine, not an advisor, and her education is clearly focused elsewhere.

His framing of the Harkonnen leads me to believe he really oversimplified them. Yes, they are all cruel, but each has their own special loathsomeness, and Feyd is supposed to be the one the people all rush to after Rabban has been running Arrakis ragged.

Then he rants on into antipathy for the book. I get the impression that Mr. Stump doesn't understand stoicism, and is lacking when it comes to appreciation of political intrigue(model the empire after the Byzantines, Herbert did).

As to his three theories, I will grant to an intersection of them. There was far less to compete with in 1965, the density of the book is addicting to those of us that like it(we do this for fantasy as well), and honestly, not everyone will like a book. That said, his essay came across very much like an censorious one against the pulps by a Campbellian editor.  He misunderstands the material, misses the points, and doesn't get the characters. Now, I don't know Mr. Stump outside of this essay, and I have no clue as to his diet of SFF. Mine for the last  year is mostly(not entirely) documented here.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.


  1. Bravo, sir! Bravo. The greatest science fiction novel of all time has found a worthy defender in you.

  2. Pretty sure the spice DOES give one some kind of precognition or enhanced perception: that's why it's essential to interstellar navigation. The Guild Navigators depend on the stuff, which is why The Spice Must Flow.

  3. Just to make sure you are aware of this without hearing from someone else.