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Christmas Presents

One from each of my sons.

A slipcased and delightfully illustrated Folio Society edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune plus a Savile Rogue football scarf in the colours of the mighty Sons, Dumbarton FC.

Christmas Presents

Football Scarf

Folio Society Edition of Dune
Spine of Folio Society Edition of Dune

Dune Fifty Years On

In Saturday’s Guardian Review Hari Kunzru had an article – the lead article – reflecting on Frank Herbert’s Dune fifty years on, describing its genesis and continuing relevance.

I’ll slip over the contention in the above the piece strapline that Dune is perhaps the greatest novel in the Science-Fiction canon (on second thoughts I won’t slip over that, it simply isn’t) but it certainly spawned a series of gradually diminishing in return sequels.

Of course I reached it in the wrong way. My first contact with it was via Dumbarton Library when I had graduated to the adult shelves and devoured the yellow jacketed Gollancz hardbacks, the Dobson Science Fiction and Hale SF publications but it was Dune Messiah – the first (and best) sequel I read first as I didn’t realise it was a sequel since Dune wasn’t on the shelves – that day at least. This is perhaps why to this day I prefer Dune Messiah to Dune. I simply think it works better as a novel and indicator of what Herbert was getting at.

That, as Kunzru says, Star Wars was ripping off Dune I suppose I noticed subliminally. But then I never thought the film could be original in any way. I still think that SF works best on the page and not on a screen (of whatever size.) Film and TV images could only ever be a poor imitator of the pictures created inside the brain.

One thing that did occur to me on reading Kunzru’s piece though, was that with its championing of the Arabic/Muslim √¶sthetic in the culture and religion of the Fremen of Arrakis Dune would not – could not – be published today. (At least not by a traditional publisher. And even if it was, say, self-published, it would not meet with the same appreciation.)

SF Beats Academics To It.

An article by Tom Holland in Saturday’s guardian review about the aftermath of the Roman Empire argued that there was no sudden change from classical to medi√¶val times, no instant forgetting, but rather a long interregnum in which the rise of Islam was an important feature.

Holland points out that the transition was all a messy business, triggering the evolution of legends of various sorts, which in Britain involved the King Arthur stories plus the evocation of elves and orcs to account for the gigantic ruins of Roman buildings. He sees Tolkien’s endeavours as an attempt to restore these myths to the culture.

The article surprisingly, to my mind, mentions Science Fiction favourably in that Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Herbert’s Dune sequence both recognised what Holland sees as the salient aspect of the transformation somewhat before it gained foothold in academe.

When I read the books it was easy to recognise that Asimov’s trilogy was modelled on the fall of the Roman Empire but it is the character of the Mule that Holland finds interesting – a Muhammad like figure with unusual powers. (That the Mule upset the apple cart of the Foundation’s “psychohistory” suggests to me a reflection of Asimov’s world-view.)

The parallels of the Dune sequence with Arab culture were of course unmistakeable even as a very young teenager. Paul Atreides (Muad’Dib) as Muhammad was at that time a step beyond me but is unmissable now. Herbert did seem to be in sympathy with Arab culture if not necessarily the religion it spawned. At the time I took his critique to be of the phenomenon of religion as a whole rather than Islam per se and I see no reason to alter it.

(The article further ponders the historical evidence surrounding the life of Muhammad, a matter on which I am not in a position to judge.)

Historically, the Roman Empire’s fall cannot be seen as anything other than significant. That authors still continue to see it as a template within which to set their stories – Holland mentions Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica as other not so rigorous examples – is testament to the endurance of its legacy.

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