Sandworms and Sequels

W00t! I finally get to credit yet another completed sci-fi novel reading to my name: Frank Herbert’s masterful Dune. Since the spring semester started up in January I’ve maintained a steady pace of reading before, after, and between classes. By the time spring break started, I was on my last 50 pages, so with all the extra time, I was able to finish!DUne

Here are my thoughts:

Unlike the many Michael Crichton novels I’ve read and re-read, Dune started off rather boring. This most likely contributed to my inability to get into it the first couple of times I tried reading it. My favorite books are the ones that I absolutely cannot put down once I start them*, and Dune simply did not fit into that category. Nonetheless, it is still a worthy addition to any reading list, despite its minor flaws, which I will briefly discuss.

After the book began to pick up pace about a fourth of the way in, it steadily began to snowball toward climax. An explosive ending steadily became inevitable, with all the major subplots hurtling uncontrollably toward each other. What irritated me most was how the ending seemed rushed – as if Herbert intentionally left several loose ends untied as fuel for the subsequent sequels. He spent chapters upon chapters at the beginning (the aforementioned “boring” part) weaving an intricate plot web with which to spend the rest of the book untangling.

Most authors separate the climax and resolution by starting a new chapter. This is the formula I am accustomed to and expect to see when reading a novel, since it aids in my mental organization and processing of the plot. The fact that Dune’s climax and resolution are found in the same chapter is probably the source of my irritation – that and the fact that the resolution is only, like, two pages. A two-page ending hardly seems adequate enough to finish off 300 other pages of dense, well-written narrative.

I just wasn’t left with a substantial sense of closure. Like the end of Matrix: Revolutions (don’t even get me started on the wasted potential of the Matrix story line), I could tell an ending was supposed to be there, but it just didn’t seem meaty enough for me.

Some free advice to both novelists and screenwriters: I don’t care if you are planning to do a sequel, finish what you’ve started and if it is truly deserving of a sequel, you’ll find a way to write it. It’s not necessary to leave huge holes at the end of your story just in case you need to plug a sequel into them later. I swear I get so sick of how every movie anymore has to be the start of a trilogy. Someone in some office is probably saying, “Yeah that’s a great script, but cut out the detailed ending. If this one makes it big we’ll make two more of ’em!” Exhibit A: Super Mario Brothers. Yes, the movie was pretty goofy at times (to be honest, I think that’s part of its charm), but it probably wouldn’t have sucked quite as much if it hadn’t been designed with a sequel in mind.

Ugh, I went off on a little tirade there. Don’t let my ranting dissuade you from picking up Dune if you’ve been considering it. One of the reasons I and so many others enjoy reading sci-fi novels is because of their power to whisk readers away to worlds that are limited only by the authors’ imaginations. Dune does not by any means suffer from lack of imagination. Anyone whose creative energies are so abundant that they spill over into appendices and glossaries certainly deserves any awards or critical acclaim they receive.

As if I could ever aspire to do better…

Next on the list? Orwell’s 1984.

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*It has never taken me more than three days to read a Crichton novel cover-to-cover. I finished Prey seven hours after I started it, stopping only for snacks and bathroom breaks.