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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Timeweb by Brian Herbert and Dune by Frank Herbert

Timeweb: Book 1 of the Timeweb Chronicles by Brian Herbert. Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2006. ISBN: 1-59414-216-5

Dune by Frank Herbert. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Books, 1965.

I barely made it to page 50 of Timeweb's turgid purple prose, before giving it up as a waste of time. I'm sorry to have to say it, but Brian Herbert inherited little or none of the skill of his father Frank, famous author of the original Dune. This is disappointing, but no less true for that.

I have to admit that Dune is the novel that turned me on to science fiction back when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I saw one of my classmates reading the original paperback edition, with its evocative cover, and I was entranced. I had no idea what it was about, nor did I even know what science fiction was, or even that it existed, for that matter. But I had already been a confirmed bookworm for years, and I knew I wanted to read that book. Reading it changed my life, and made me the life-long SciFi fan I remain to this day.

The fact that Paul Atriedes, the hero of Dune, was only a year or two younger at the book's outset than I was at the time, and was perhaps my age or a bit older by its end, may have contributed to my instant rapport with the book. But it was also the masterful combination of interplanetary intrigue, exotic cultures, and the violent military life style forced on the aristocratic elite to which Paul was born. Not to mention the mystique of the superior skills and training that set Paul and his cohorts apart, plus the deliberate manipulation of Messianic myth making which pervaded the female side of Paul's society, the Bene Gesserit, with their hidden breeding schemes for perfecting humankind to their own probably less than altruistic ends.

Yes, I admit it: Dune is one of those seminal works that changed a life—mine, at least. It is one of the VERY few books that I have read more than twice, and that I in have in fact read and reread, although it's been years since I last read it. Nevertheless, there are portions of it that I had practically memorized, at one time. I would willingly read it again, should a copy come handily into my hands. My own copy is buried in a box in my garage somewhere. Too much work to ferret it out, I'm afraid.

Even though I later read somewhere that Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, the two immediate sequels, were conceived and written together with Dune as a single novel, and only split up on the insistence of the publisher, I never felt that either of them measured up to the original Dune.

Plus, I wasn't really happy with the way they turned out, and always felt that there was an “error” in Herbert's own plotting. That Paul's younger sister, Alia, heard the voices of her MALE ancestors, as well as female, inside her head, was in direct contradiction to the previously stated fact that the Bene Gesserit only passed on female memories from generation to generation. I suppose the explanation is that her mother drank the “Seed of Life” psychoactive drug while pregnant with Alia in her womb, but it just seemed somehow “wrong” to me.

And having Alia end up demon possessed seemed somehow unfair, as did Paul's own deliberate suicide, leaving the universe in the hands of his increasingly un-human progeny. I much preferred the triumphant ending (to call it a “happy ending” would be too trite by far) of the original Dune itself. I could have been perfectly happy never knowing what is supposed to have come after.

The other sequels written later by Frank Herbert were even less convincing, and the prequels that his son Brian has written or co-authored since his father's death were flatly inferior. Poorly plotted and poorly written. Still, I forced myself to plod through them, out of a sense of loyalty to the original Dune, and anything connected with it. If ever a famous book has suffered from sequels that failed to live up to the original, the Dune saga has got to be one of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) examples.

For a complete listing of the Dune based novels, see “Artistic works in the Dune universe,” part of the larger “Dune UniverseWikipedia entry.

But what's any of that got to do with Timeweb? Nothing, whatsoever, except that taking a look at Timeweb has given me the excuse to write all of the preceding. Don't bother to read Timeweb. Go read Dune, if you've never done so. Timeweb is quite literally one of the worst excuses for science fiction I've picked up in years. I thought this kind of over-written hyperventilating space opera went out back in the 30's and 40's, long before I was born. I can't remember when I last read something so trite, so cliched, so completely devoid of any sustainable interest. I don't know who the publisher Five Star of Waterville, Maine is, but it's obvious that no reputable major publisher would touch this drivel.

Not recommended, in the strongest possible terms. Dune, on the other hand, IS recommended on equally strong or stronger terms!


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