Book Reviews: Dune by Frank Herbert


This is my single favorite novel of all time. It involves sandworms, drug induced psychic pre-mature babies, marrying the wife of those you kill, the hoarding of water, intergalactic rivalry of Great Houses, an ancient genetics project, and spice. Frank Herbert wrote it over a span of six years (based on research of the Oregon Dunes), and even after publishing a short story version of it, couldn’t find a publisher. According to wikipedia, 20 publishers rejected it. Only Chilton Books, an auto repair manual publisher agreed to print it.

Years later, it remains as one of the greatest Sci-Fi story of all time. It is hard to pinpoint why it became so popular. Experts believed it was too long, too confusing, had too much ecology, too much religion, and too much damn head hopping (a no-no in the literary world). I mean, how dare he call his hero some weird name like Muad’Dib.

For me, the journey of Paul Atreides and his fish-out-of-water search for a new beginning isn’t new. It was the rich detail and decisive story arc and deep characters and history that sets it apart.There have been many “chosen ones” in fiction. This story has the world building, politics, religion, ecology, and economics so well thought out, and all for a tight ending that it stands the test of time. I have read Dune five times. I have read Dune Messiah once. There is a reason for this, but I’ll leave it for another blog post to what went wrong with the books that followed (Some of the other books by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert are better thought out).

My favorite scene in the story is the end, when Paul wins, controlling the spice, winning the hand of the daughter of the Emperor while getting to keep his Fremen wives.

For Dune fans disappointed by the screen adapapations, check out Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary, and imagine what could have been. Although it would have changed my favorite scene in the movie, I think overall it would have been a stronger film than the David Lynch version. Frank Herbert might have even liked it.

Book Rating: 10/10


Book Review: A Game of Thrones


A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The story is an uncompromising tale of history, lies, revenge, love, and betrayal. My paperback copy runs around 800 pages plus extra content on the great houses of Westeros. To me, this is storytelling at its finest and Martin knows how to write. The story is bold and rich in detail and is an example for all aspiring writers to emulate.  Having written the story in the early 90’s after a frustrating stint in Hollywood, Martin went back to New Mexico to write a story unhinged from budgets, actors, or producer’s opinion. He shelved a Sci-Fi story called Avalon, when the first Bran chapter emerged vividly in his mind.  For me, the chapter involving the dream is where Martin’s true genius shows. The central mystery of the story is hinged on the dream chapter, and twenty-years later it remains unanswered (though most subscribe to the R+L=J theory).

I believe if the same story was submitted by an unknown author today to agents and publishers, it would have a fair shot in the business of betting on “sure things” like celebrity autobiographies and TV personality cookbooks. I would estimate out of 100 agents, maybe 10 would respond back interested to see the full manuscript. (They don’t like prologues or they don’t doesn’t see where a YA love triangle is). Out of the 10 agents, probably 9 don’t offer representation for the straight-up incest at the beginning of the book, the dwarf banging prostitutes, throwing a kid out a window, a peasant kid getting murdered by the Hound, lots of exposition and backstory taking up half of every chapter, the POVs being more than 4, implied incest with Dany and her brother, and a 14 year old Dany getting raped by Drogo. Not to mention the honest Ned, the protagonist of the story, getting his head chopped off and Dany walking into fire to hatch dragons as the climax of the story leaving us with a cliffhanger end to the first book. The one agent would have a tough time selling it to a publisher, but I think they could get a deal done.

The unknown author might have to agree to cut it to 80,000 words, make it one POV character, preferably Dany, and have her sail to King’s Landing in the first third of the book, and discover she was really the long lost Targaryen as foreseen in the prophecy. Then maybe she is torn in a love triangle between the advances of Prince Drogo (maybe call him Prince Dirk to relate to the market better and make him 15 years old) and Prince Jon (but instead of a bastard who didn’t even know his damn mom, make him a simple peasant with a mysterious, yet noble lineage). Nice. I smell a sequel …

Fortunately for us, Martin was able to publish whatever he pleased at whatever pace he wanted. I look forward to reading the Winds of Winter when it comes out this year.


Book Reviews: Stranger in a Strange Land


Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

This my favorite story opening of all time. Do you grok this? I mean, do you really grok this? Valentine Michael Smith is the first Martian to return to Earth and discovers a civilization and culture he does not understand, and vice versa. The first ten pages are really strong in the Heilein tradition before going off the rails the second half. To me, the dark ending and overall message doesn’t detract on wonderful storytelling and powerful ideas he was trying to convey.

The story itself is almost a story of what if your religion’s prophet returned. Would you recognize him? Would he be warmly accepted and embraced, or would the religious powers that be wage a campaign against him (as far as I know, most major religions somehow only expect it to be a man for some reason).

I mean, cult-like figures always meet a tragic end, right?

On a side note, if you are ever out on a blind date, and think you are being clever by asking your date if she groks you, believe me, this is a poor move. This can only be a punchline at the nerdiest of nerdy events, say ComiCon or WorldCon, and your odds then are maybe only 20% at most. Bonus points if you drop the line in a swimming pool, if so, please email  or tweet me and tell me your story.

Book Rating: First Half 10/10, Second Half 5/10