Friday, February 06, 2009

SF Book Club: "Dune"

Book clubs, they are very popular these days. In theory, they sound like a great idea – reading a book, meeting with people, talking about the book. In practice, there are a couple of problems. Like the books, which tend to be from from the world of literary fiction, a genre I am not really that pushed about. The other problem with book clubs is their peculiar gender balance. Again, don't get me wrong. I love women, and I enjoy their company (and they enjoy mine), but when something is as dominated by women as the typical book club it feels like intruding for one such as me to attend.

So it was with some pleasure that I learned of the existence of a science fiction book club being run out of the Dublin's Central Library in the ILAC Centre, something that with one bound solves the problems attached to the more usual of its kind. Further investigation reveals that meets next on this coming Tuesday, and the book it will be covering is Frank Herbert's Dune. Dune is a big book, so there is no way a slow reader like me would be able to get through it by next Tuesday. Fortunately I have read it before, and will be able to skim it to refresh my sense of it.

I read a chapter at random this evening. It begins with this wonderful sentence:

On his seventeenth birthday, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen killed his one hundredth slave gladiator in the family games.

It calls to mind one of the great paradoxes of Dune - it kind of suffers from the bad guys being such pantomime villains, except that they are such total bad-asses that the book would lose some of its magic by their acquiring anything approximating to normal human sentiment or a rounded personality. The chapter also features that other great Dune thing – people sitting around having conversations where each party is trying to pull one over on the others. If Lord of the Rings is ultimately a book about long walks, Dune is a book about conversation.

The same is true of its sequels. I am one of those odd characters who has a certain respect for the subsequent Dune books, though it is a very long time since I read them. Maybe one day I will come back to you with a list of great later Dune book moments.

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