Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Dune: The Butlerian Jihad

It gives me no pleasure at all to write a review like this.  I'm intimately familiar with what it takes to write a novel with multiple characters, attempting to describe events that are epic in scope.  And I understand that not every book is going to appeal to every reader.  You can decide that you don't like a book, but acknowledge that it's a difference of personal taste, not the book's quality.  Nevertheless, Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is an objectively bad book that should never have been foisted upon the reading public.

I tried extremely hard to like it.  It promised to describe a very interesting period in the Dune universe: what caused humanity to throw away advanced computer technology in such a way as to refer to it as a jihad?

Well, you can keep asking, because this answer is terrible.  There's nothing about it that's worth your time.  Here are some of the low points:

1) The chapter introductions are trite and without insight.  Take this chapter introduction from DTBJ (Dune: The Butlerian Jihad): "When humans created a computer with the ability to collect information and learn from it, they signed the death warrant of mankind."  Not particularly penetrating, that.  Why bother reading the rest of the book after that?  Contrast it with this chapter intro from Dune: "There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man - with human flesh."  That tells you something.  You can agree with it or not, but it's a great insight into what Paul-Muad'Dib thought.  There's none of that in DTBJ.  The characters and plotting likewise lack depth.

Sandworm: "Ow."

2) The writing tells you everything without bothering to go through the whole rigmarole of showing you anything.  An example: "He was a serious young man, prone to honesty and with a tendency to see things in black and white....Much admired by his superiors, Xavier had been promoted quickly; equally respected by his soldiers, he was the sort of trusted man they would follow into battle."  Oh.  Well, great.  I don't suppose there's any way the writers could have demonstrated these traits for us in the dialogue or action of the book.  Instead, the reader is beaten over the head with this kind of information.  Clumsy.  Terribly clumsy.  The writers don't give us the opportunity to judge the characters on their own merits, and instead tell us what to think.

3) The best parts are glossed over, and the story is mundane.  Evil brains-in-a-jar cyborgs called cymeks begin the novel by attacking a planet.  These cymeks have names like Ajax, Agamemnon, and Tlaloc, but don't act like their namesakes, and there's little backstory described or told about their origins.  We get ugly little infodumps about them like cat crottes in a litterbox instead.  None of that intricate weaving of history and current action that we'd come to love from Frank Herbert's work.  The reasons for voluntarily relinquishing one's own humanity go entirely unexplored here.

DTBJ was a New York Times bestseller, published by Macmillan.  And it's awful.  Tell me again how self-published books are the scourge of literary quality, and that the more self-published crap gets out there, the less likely it is great, properly-vetted books will be read.  The gatekeepers missed this one.  Big time.

I got 11% in and had to stop reading.  Don't do what I did and buy it.  Learn from my mistake.  Save yourself.

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