Friday, April 08, 2011

Frank Herbert, Dune

I know, I know, I should have read Frank Herbert's epic and epoch-making novel Dune years ago, but I was born in a barn. What do you want from me?

Thing is, I was the wrong age to be allowed to see the David Lynch movie when it came out, and as a result I only saw and heard the things that'd make sense for someone who'd seen the movie and read the book. I mean, come on, those outfits practically wrote their own jokes.

But Dune is a seriously impressive piece of work, and a serious work of the imagination. It's rare, I think, for someone to imagine as densely as this a civilization's dramatic changes without somehow falling into the assorted traps of dys- and utopianism, but that's what Herbert does.

The Fremen are a civilization living out the implications of humanoid eugenics through interplanetary environmental manipulation, but so are the Sardaukar and everyone else, and the vast but secret humanoid breeding program of the Bene Gesserit operates around and through all of it. And then there's the problem of being able to see numerous possible futures simultaneously, an effect of the spice harvested on Arrakis, most of which show Paul, the main character, innumerable versions of an interminable and bloody jihad in his own name that he wants (mostly) to resist.

While reading, I kept finding myself thinking about Earth's desert peoples, especially in the American Southwest, which I know only through anthropological and ethnographic work by writers like Keith Basso (Wisdom Sits in Places, about the Navajo), Gary Paul Nabhan (The Desert Smells Like Rain, about the Papago), and John McPhee (Basin and Range, about geology and its effects on both perception and imagination, among other things, because honestly McPhee's a genius). It's not just that people have to act differently in order to survive on Herbert's imagined planet of Arrakis; it's that they have to think differently, imagine differently, even dream differently. Bioregionalism does take the imagination seriously, but I'm not sure that it's really caught up to the implications of Arrakis.

I haven't done any research yet into responses to Dune, but I'll have to dig into the critical material for the 2011/12 directed reading I'll be supervising. For now, I'll say simply that I've long thought of science fiction as particularly fertile ground for the analytical lenses of ecocriticism, environmental ethics, and posthumanism. Even so, it seems to me that Dune may well represent one of the most intriguing science fiction texts, and not just because of its popularity, for the citizens of a planet undergoing global warming as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Work to do, work to do.

Enjoy the trailer to Lynch's movie version!

Friday, April 01, 2011

March 27 - Untitled Bookstore

Yep, it was actually called the Untitled Bookstore, and it was small but terrific! Along White Avenue in Edmonton, I went downstairs into this little place. Too bad my luggage was so full that I couldn't add the things I wanted to, except for:
  • Frank Herbert, Dune ($5.75: a student's thinking of doing an ecocritical reading of it for a directed study, so I need to test-drive it before deciding whether to agree), and
  • Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams: A Journey in the the Landscape Wars of the American West ($13: brilliant).