Dune at 50: Recommendations for the Dune-loving Non-SF Reader
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Dune is a rarity. Frank Herbert's masterpiece is a science fiction book that everyone has read, including our non-science-fiction-reading friends and family. Yet unlike other SF classics that have made it into the mainstream, Dune still retains its inherent and undeniable science-fictionness. 1984 and Brave New World get upgrades to literary fiction. Frankenstein, Dracula and The Lord of the Rings sit as classics. Narnia would rather hide in the children's section.
But Dune? Dune is inescapably, ineffably science fictional, the very quintessence of those things that make SF look SFfy: faster-than-light rocketships, space-messiahs, intergalactic imperial princesses, laser death rays, city-sized alien monsters, inexplicable mental powers and planet-trembling battles.
This year, with Dune's 50th anniversary (and check out the Folio Society anniversary edition to the right), now's the time to remind readers that their experience with science fiction needn't start and end with Dune. That, if they enjoyed the mind-blowing, worm-riding, storm-bringing, planet-hopping experience of Frank Herbert's vision, there are other books out there for them as well.
So with no further ado, here are some books to recommend to those who dabbled in Dune at some point in the last half-century and might be receptive to something a bit like it.
5 Books to Recommend to Folks that Have Read Dune and Need More SF in their life
Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor (2014) - Structurally, not all that Dune-like: near-future, not far-future and Earth-bound, not intergalactic. And about 1/8th the size. But Lagoon still packs in all the emotive power. Okorafor's latest has a shape-shifting aliens landing, peacefully, in Nigeria. Like Dune, Lagoon breaks the barriers and the shifts tropes of the SF 'standard' with much-appreciate new perspective. Similarly, Lagoon is about change and progress, but also ritual and mythology, how the past informs the future, and how terrified humanity can be of new voices. Lagoon is also gloriously ecologically-focused, one of Dune's dominant themes.
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers (2014-5) - Because, you know, I haven't recommended this for, like, aaaaages. But Chambers' Kickstarted-and-now-professionally-published novel was one of the highlights of 2014, so I'm going to keep flogging it wherever I can. Like Dune, A Long Way is a big, meandering, intergalactic epic, but also one that keeps the focus tight, and the story character-driven. Although I guess both books are generally optimistic, A Long Way is a much happier, less ponderous read. Its joyous cast of space-faring wormhole-borers will put a smile on your face (Dune? Less smiley.)
Saga - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (2012+) - A comic, yes, but also a title that has the size and the imagination of Dune. A war-torn, sprawling future with nooks and crannies, politics and prophesies, mythology and science, religion and technology - all in a tantilizingly vast universe. Given Staples' role in creating and visualising the universe, it is worth noting how much of a debt Dune owes to John Schoenherr, who illustrated the original Analog stories of Dune, and later the covers. (Sam Weber's gorgeous illustrations for the new Folio edition are reminiscent of Schoenherr's as well, and all the better for it.)
Embassytown - China Miéville (2012) - A world at the end of the universe, complete with rare trade goods vital to the rest of humanity. Plus, random monster. Plus plus, the importance of FTL to travel and economics and politics. Plus plus plus, language, and colonialism, and rebellion, and prophesies, and belief, mass delusion and the relationship with the natural world and and and and... But, of course, through Miéville's pen, and not Herbert's, so everything is slightly twisted, slightly Weird and oh-so-very haunting.
The Compass Rose - Ursula Le Guin (1982) - Another one that, like the Miéville, you can smuggle past your more literary, Dune-having-read friends. The Compass Rose is actually a collection of short stories, but most are science fiction, and all are elegant, poignant and strangely beautiful. "The Author of the Acacia Seeds" is a strangely heart-breaking look into an alien (kinda) culture. "The New Atlantis" is a strangely poetic look at an ecological apocalypse. And the tinkering with psychology - and cold reason - of "SQ" is oddly similar to the outlook of the Bene Gesserit.
While I'm at it... 9 more
Jack Glass - Adam Roberts (2013) - Super-smart hard SF that's all about the ethical implications of FTL travel and creepy governments and all that.
Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey (2011) - Less-smart, but still plenty hard. A big ol' spaceshippy space opera, with various political, criminal and alien-contact subplots. Fun, slightly ridiculous, and on a truly grand scale.
Blue Remembered Earth - Alastair Reynolds (2012) - Another strong heir to Herbert's themes, including the various ways humanity will evolve in time, and our connection to our natural environment. Includes a great deal of planet-hopping, and descriptions of life in those environments.
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie (2013) - Big spaceships, remote planets, evil emperors, themes of colonialism, identity and duty. Although Ancilliary Justice steals headlines because of its progressive gender politics, structurally and thematically, it is about as old school as you get. A nice combination.
War Stories (2014), We See a Different Frontier (2013), Conflicts (2010) and Further Conflicts (2011) - I like anthologies, and they make for good recommending. I mean, statistically speaking, there's probably something in there the recipient will like, right? And in the case of these four books, they're all solidly constructed around intriguing - and Dune-related - core themes.
And, finally, 1 book to recommend to those who haven't read Dune
Dune - Frank Herbert (1965) - fancy edition here, reading copy here.