Tag Archives: Frank Herbert

SOUL CATCHER – Frank Herbert (1972)

Soul Catcher

A few years ago, I decided to read the most important other Herbert novels before starting a reread of the Dune series. A review of Children Of Dune on the always thoughtful Gaping Blackbird, made me eager to start that reread. That review focuses on the Nietzschean inspiration of CoD, and it led to an interesting discussion in the comments. So, I was eager to dive into Dune again, but as I still had Soul Catcher on my TBR, I started that.

Yesterday, after finishing Soul Catcher, I decided to kick the reread of Dune even a bit further back, and I ordered Destination: Void, on account of Joachim Boaz, who praised Herbert’s handling of its characters’ psyches in the comments of my Whipping Star review – as Soul Catcher is first and foremost a character driven novel, and one that even succeeds at that. I have to admit I had given up on Herbert as non-Dune writer, as Whipping Star, The Dosadi Experiment and The Santaroga Barrier all disappointed. So I’m all the more pleased to report Soul Catcher was a good read, and one that invigorated me to give Destination: Void an honest chance.

Genre classifications being what they are, potential readers should be aware that Soul Catcher is not speculative fiction. Rob Weber reported in his review on Val’s Random Comments that the publisher, Putnam, even put the following on the back flap: “This is Frank Herbert’s first major novel. He has written numerous science fiction books, of which Dune…”. Novels were not the same as science fiction books in 1972. Interestingly enough, there is no trace of that attitude on my 1979 edition, on the contrary. As you can see on the 1979 cover I included here, both the illustration and the text try to tap on to a speculative vibe: this is a “terrifying novel of the Spirit World” – click on it if it shows up too small. Apparently Soul Catcher didn’t really catch on as regular literary fiction, and 7 years later, marketing decided to firmly latch it to Herbert’s other output – it’s pretty clear if you compare the vibe of the covers of the first two editions to the later one. The 2012 cover reverts the approach again. As always, ISFDB has a good overview of all the different cover art.

As Rob also wrote, the fact that this isn’t a SF book should not deter Herbert fans: “the ecological and mythological themes in the book especially, ties it to a lot of Herbert’s other works.”

Soul Catcher deals with a Native American kidnapping a 13-year old boy with the intent to kill him, as symbolical revenge for the rape of his own sister by a gang of white men, and her ensuing suicide – and by extension all the other crimes against the indigenous humans of the continent. As such it is a book that simply would not be published in these times of hired sensitivity readers. It would not get published just because of sensitivity issues: on top of that a white man writing a story like this without a doubt would get accused of cultural appropriation too. The fact that Herbert researched the subject extensively and clearly does not sympathize with white, Western genocidary imperialism would not excuse him. I’m sure today no publisher would dare to take a chance in our era of hair trigger culture wars.

After the jump you’ll find a rather lengthy discussion of a few different things: Soul Catcher as a psychological novel that also teaches us about today’s ‘terrorist’ violence; Soul Catcher as a critique on Western society and its interesting, realistic use of the ‘noble savage’ trope; a discussion on the use of ‘soul’ vs. ‘spirit’; a nugget for Dune fans; and my thoughts on the powerful ending and that ending’s relation to a movie adaptition that might or might not be made.

Certain sections are quote heavy, but obviously you can skim those if the particular topic doesn’t interest you that much.

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THE DOSADI EXPERIMENT – Frank Herbert (1977)

The Dosadi ExperimentOkay, I urgently need to reread the entire Dune saga. In my mind Dune is the best series I’ve ever read, and the two final books (Heretics and Chapterhouse) are the best of the series – contrary to a popular opinion the series became bad after Children Of Dune. The thing is I’ve read those books at the onset of my adult rediscovery of speculative fiction, and my mileage wasn’t high at the time: maybe I was too easily awed?

Popular opinion also has it Frank Herbert didn’t write much else that’s good. Both Whipping Star and The Santaroga Barrier proved to be utter pulp indeed. Yet The Dosadi Experiment is supposed to be one of the few books still worth reading.

The Dosadi Experiment is set in the same universe as Whipping Star, but it’s a very different book: it doesn’t feel as absurd & cartoonish. It’s not really a sequel either, so you can read them independently. As usual, Val’s Random Comments does a great job summarizing the basic premise of the novel, so I won’t dwell on that too long: basically Dosadi is a planet with extreme living conditions on which some conspiracy secretly put inhabitants to see what such conditions would do to their society, in order to gain insight in politics and power systems.

That gets me to the million dollar question already: yay or nay? Continue reading

WHIPPING STAR – Frank Herbert (1970)

whipping-starI can’t explain how I feel about this book without this first paragraph. There are minor spoilers in it, but nearly all of them are made pretty clear early on in the novel. Whipping Star‘s plot more or less boils down to this: a sadistic, psychotic woman with vast amounts of wealth – who was obliged to undergo conditioning so she wouldn’t be able to tolerate seeing pain in others anymore – has her minions nonetheless whip (with an actual bullwhip) a godlike alien (visible to humans as a small star the size of a big football & the shape of a spoon) that has the power to transport everything across space & time in the blink of an eye. Our villain can do this because the alien shows no feelings of pain. The alien lets her do this because it willingly entered a contract with her: being whipped in exchange for knowledge about humanity. However, in the very near future, the alien (that calls itself Fanny Mae!) will die because of the whippings, and when it dies, it will cause all other sentient beings – including humanity and a host of other aliens – to die instantly. There’s a kind of government agent trying to solve the problem, but the alien has hidden the sadistic women on some planet in another dimension as part of the contract.

Well – and you thought giant sandworms were odd.

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SANDWORMS OF DUNE – Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (2007)

Sandworms Of DuneI think Frank Herbert’s Dune series, all six books, are straight-out genius. Sadly, he died before he wrote the 7th and final book.

His son Brian and gun for hire Kevin J. Anderson decided to write that finale based “directly on Frank Herbert’s [30-page] outline, which lay hidden in two safe-deposit boxes for a decade.” They ended up writing two books, 500+ pages each.

If the ending is anything like that outline proposed, it turns out that Frank Herbert wanted the end of the Dune series to be about humanity’s material nature. The story echoes what so many other SF-writers wrote and still write: thinking, self-conscious robots, like any advanced self-conscious form of A.I., aren’t morally or ethically different from a biological human. It is electricity that runs through our nerves, we are robots ourselves, made of flesh: “moist robots”, as Dilbert creator Scott Adams coined it.

I thought the first of those two additional books, Hunters Of Dune, was quite enjoyable. Not really good, but I still liked it. It felt nice to be back in the Dune-universe, and I was curious about how the story would end. So I started Sandworms with a certain kind of eager anticipation: the conclusion to my favorite series. I knew it wouldn’t be a stylistical triumph, but at least I’d get closure. It turned out to be utter pulp, and it is the worst book I’ve read in a long, long time.

They should have just released a transcript of that 30-page outline: that would have done justice to the legacy of Frank Herbert. The fact that they opted for 1000+ extra pages leaves the reader with a constantly nagging “Was this particular plot thing their invention, or Frank’s?”   Continue reading

THE SANTAROGA BARRIER – Frank Herbert (1968)

The Santaroga BarrierI’m not too thrilled to write a review about this book. The Dune-series is among the best thing I ever read, so I hate to report that Frank Herbert didn’t even come close with The Santaroga Barrier. In short: this book is pulpy and feels dated. After about 100 of the 241 pages, reading it became a chore. The premise is interesting nonetheless, and Herbert manages to create an eerie vibe in the first couple of chapters.

Gilbert Dasein, a psychologist, is sent to invest the valley of Santaroga, a prosperous farm community that has no juvenile crime and no one smoking, and that doesn’t allow outsiders to buy or rent property, nor does it allow cheese, wine or other produce from outside to be sold. Two previous researchers both died of accidents during their stay in the valley. Dasein has, aside from his professional endeavour, a love interest in Santaroga too. He’s in love with Jenny, a girl he had a relationship with at his university. A few months before the story starts, she has moved back to her native town. The story is situated in the 1960s, somewhere in California.

Santaroga is mainly build like a mystery novel: what’s the deal with this town, and what’s the deal with those accidents? Plus, what’s the deal with those drugs!? Pretty soon it becomes clear that the Santarogans all eat something called “Jaspers”, a kind of drug. So, the book is a drug-novel too: references to LSD aplenty.

“Sometime you should feel the fur on the water,” her companion said. “It’s the red upness of the wind.”

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HUNTERS OF DUNE – Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (2006)

Hunters Of DuneIt has been 2 years (almost to the day) since I finished the final Dune book Frank Herbert wrote. I consider the series as a whole to be the greatest thing ever written, and think books 5 and 6 are actually the best of the lot. Not surprisingly, I was interested in how the story ends. Written about 20 years after the release of Chapterhouse Dune, this book continues the saga, as the first half of what should have been Dune 7.

Obviously it’s not nearly as good as the original series. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson wrote two books of about 550 pages each, based on a 30 page outline Frank Herbert left.

The main negative remark about this first sequel is that it should have been about half its length, since this book has a lot of repetition. Heaps of it. It’s a much read criticism, and it’s very much true. The first 100 or so pages are not much more than a recap of the previous books, and in the new storylines there’s lots and lots of repeating too. On the other hand, this makes for an easy, fast read: occasionally skimming paragraphs or pages isn’t a big deal at all. Since most stuff is explained multiple times, it’s okay to miss a beat.

Another point of criticism is the fact that some of the characters behave as if they’re pretty dumb. A couple of times they find obvious solutions to a problem only years and years after we as a reader figured it out already. This is partly due to the writers stretching out the story, but should have been edited out. It’s annoying, since it deals a minor blow to the suspension of disbelief.

Finally, part of The New York Times-quote on the Wikipedia-page on Hunters of Dune is spot on: “by the end of Hunters, [Herbert and Anderson] have done little more than set the table for Sandworms of Dune.”

So… yes… as expected, this is Dune Light.

BUT, caveats aside, I must admit… I liked it, simply because it just felt really good to be back in the Dune-universe, as if meeting old, beloved acquaintances again after a long time. The work that Frank Herbert has done is so amazing that even a derivative of it still is entertaining and mildly interesting.

I’m looking forward to read Sandworms of Dune, so that – in a couple of months or years – I can finally start to reread the original Dunes aware of the full scope Frank Herbert had envisioned. I’m not interested in reading any of the prequels, nor any of those other books of what has become a franchise, but people who were in awe of Dune 1-6 should give Hunters of Dune at least a try.

originally written on the 5th of June, 2015