Which Dune sequels and Gene Wolfe book to buy?
September 28, 2008 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me choose a couple of my next books: Which Dune sequels and which Gene Wolfe book to buy?

I read Dune some time ago and while I found the prose lacking at times and didn't particularly care about the epigrams and "mysticism", I liked it well enough to consider continuing with the sequels. Apart from the curiosity to see how the plot progresses, are they worth it compared to the first one, and if yes, which is the cut-off point? The Brian Herbert books are right out of consideration.

It occurred to me that I haven't seen anyone disliking Gene Wolfe, so I decided to give him a try. Which book do I choose? The Book of the New Sun seems to be his best-regarded book, but are the first volumes (Shadow and Claw) relatively self-contained to serve as a first sample? First sample doesn't necessarily equal easy to chew.
posted by ersatz to Writing & Language (26 answers total)
None of the Dune sequels are as good as the first. The second is okay, the third is passable, and then it really goes downhill.
posted by salvia at 7:27 PM on September 28, 2008

Salvia, I'd like to disagree with you.

I'll admit that I never read Messiah of Dune, which is the period following the end of the first Dune book, but I loved Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune (third and fourth books respectively).

However, if you're more into what happens to the main characters then stick to just the first three books and the rest. The rest of the Dune sequels were more of an extremely long essay on how religion was a very good tool to control the masses.

Books Five and Six I agree aren't very well-done.
posted by Naoko Kensaku at 7:36 PM on September 28, 2008

I picked up the Book of the New Sun series as two trade paperbacks, Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel. Believe me, you'll want both...they are some of the finest fiction I've read all year, much less science fiction.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:36 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with salvia, but have to say I've heard some good things about the Brian Herbert books, surprisingly. Haven't read them myself, so take that for what it's worth.

I think the Book of the New Sun would be where I'd start with Wolfe. And be prepared to finish reading it, turn to the front, and read it again. It's great, but dense and challenging and lots of stuff doesn't make sense til the end, to the point I really felt like I needed to read it again immediately to make sense of it. And be warned that parts of it are truly hauntingly disturbing.
posted by purenitrous at 7:37 PM on September 28, 2008

The second and third of the Dune series were alright reads, but I can't tell you a single thing that happened in either of them in any manner that makes sense. I stumbled through parts of the rest of the series, but honestly if I were to give my younger self literature advice I'd tell him to stop with the 1st one. It's one of those series where the things the original implies to the reader turn out to be much better than what the author reveals in later installments (cough*TheMatrix*cough*).
posted by Benjy at 7:40 PM on September 28, 2008

Purenitrous: you've heard good things about the Brian Herbert books? I haven't. Ever. I made the mistake of reading one. I don't remember which or I'd warn you off it specifically.

I'm also not a fan of the latter books in the Dune series; after about the third one I only read them out of stubbornness. That's not a good way to read, I wouldn't suggest you do it to yourself. I do think "Children" is better than "Messiah", though.

Haven't read any Wolfe myself but the positive recs here make me curious!
posted by nat at 7:52 PM on September 28, 2008

Someone I trust told me that none of the Dune sequels were worth it. Sorry if that only helps indirectly.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:56 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm going to argue that at least in the Dune series, I had mixed successes with books after the first.

The second (Messiah) was pretty junk, but it at least had some of the feel of the original. I thought the third was a stronger installment than the second, but that could just be me.

The fourth (God Emperor) is actually one of my favorites, and I really do love the characters and the world in which it's set. Yes, it's completely different than the first three - but it still has a lot of the same religious/ecological/political intrigue as the first set.

The fifth and sixth (Heretics and Chapterhouse) are really up to individual tastes They're extremely unlike the first few, and they introduce some new ideas that I didn't really like. Also, to get to the full story of these, you have to delve into the last two books which make up the mythical Dune 7, both of which were penned by Brian Herbert on his father's notes.

Regarding Brian Herbert's entries into the universe. They've gotten better. The first three (House trilogy) were bad. Really really. Bad. BAD. But his early trilogy got better (Butlerian Jihad). I wasn't a big fan of some of the reworking he did with the mythology, but they were entertaining reads. Yes, they were too long. Yes, some of the characters were whiny. But as a whole, they weren't horrible.

The aforementioned Dune 7 (Hunters and Sandworms) are in that same style - too long, too much messing with the mythology, but not bad books. I really did enjoy them, even as absurb as some of the situations were. Then again, I'm a bit fan of some of Kevin Anderson's Star Wars works, so maybe I'm inclined to like them.

In conclusion - I like them all. Some are definitely better than others. I read them all over the course of several years and several trips across country on plane flights. I read them in the order published, if that makes any difference. Some were slogs (House Harkonnen), some were better than others, but they all put you in the same relative universe, which, if you enjoy, is more than enough.
posted by SNWidget at 7:57 PM on September 28, 2008

You might be interested in the Dune Encyclopedia, which wasn't written by Herbert but is essentially loyal to the Frank Herbert canon through about God Emperor. It's out of print, but libraries sometimes still have their copies. Don't get it until you've read what you want to read in the first four books, though -- it's spoilerrific.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:29 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm gonna go against the grain here and say that I enjoyed all of the Dune books that were written by Frank Herbert. They weren't all as good as the first one, but none of them were terrible. And Children of Dune was great. If you're not willing to commit to reading all of them, then read Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

The Brian Herbert ones, on the other hand... they were just... awful. It hurt me how bad they were.
posted by number9dream at 8:50 PM on September 28, 2008

I really liked Dune. I had (and still have) a hard time believing the sequels are by the same author. Not suggesting a conspiracy, just how disappointing I thought they were. I kept reading thinking maybe all the implausible twists were some hidden master plan, but that never really materialized and I stopped at the beginning of Chapterhouse. I did like the Dune Encyclopedia that gnomeloaf suggests.

I can't get myself to read any Brian Herbert. Every few months my resolve wears out and I pick one up in a bookstore and read the back and a few random pages. Not only is the prose pretty bad, but it seems like he just keeps cloning and bringing back the old characters, which shows no originality or imagination.
posted by ontic at 9:04 PM on September 28, 2008

I definitely recommend the Book of the New Sun. In fact, in the bookstore recently I saw an omnibus (is that the right word?) of all four novels in one. I forget the name of it, and it has horrible cover design, but I might just buy it myself one day. Those are amazing novels.

For even stranger Wolfe, check out his much lauded The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It's actually three interconnected novellas, each written with a different style and all three very strange and challenging. Another good one is his short story collection Endangered Species, from the early 90s.

Sorry to hijack the thread, but can someone tell me how the Book of the Long Sun compares to the New Sun? I haven't started Long Sun yet, but I'm curious if it's as good.
posted by zardoz at 9:20 PM on September 28, 2008

There's a previous question about the Dune sequels.
posted by hooray at 9:59 PM on September 28, 2008

First Dune was exhilirating in its tenseness, immediacy, freshness of its world. It kicked your ass as you read it. The next 2-3 books (or however many I managed to convince myself to read), were slower, weaker, more tired, less exciting, draggy, and the world is the same as in the first book so you don't have this " wow, new world " feeling, and there's nothing to replace it. It sounds like you did not like the first one that much. Don't read the rest, there's nothing that they do better or nearly as well. Book of New Sun is great stuff, though, but it's more like reading Nabokov than Herbert or Zelazni. But do read them, although I couldn't make heads or tails of the last volume, I should probably re-read the whole thing more carefully. I think I've read them all in the subway.
posted by rainy at 12:08 AM on September 29, 2008

Sorry to hijack the thread, but can someone tell me how the Book of the Long Sun compares to the New Sun?

It's not as 'cool', in that it's about a priest on a spaceship rather than a black-clad executioner with a stonking great sword travelling about a vast and ancient world with aliens and emporors but it's an interesting tale, if you don't mind that it's a smaller canvas, slower and longer-winded. I did find it (and moreso the follow up Short sun books) to be much more opaque than New Sun - stuff would happen and you'd have no idea what just transpired. By the end of Short Sun I had no clue what I'd just read or even who I was reading about, but I was less keen to start again as with New Sun because it was much more of an effort to get through once, so I read just some synopsises on the web (many of which seemed to disagree with other -- if that gives you any indication).

The book of the short sun is much more overtly a sequel to book of the long sun - the New sun books are really only tangentialliy related, but you'll recognise a name here or there. Also, Wolfe's catholicism seems much more overt, thematically.
posted by Sparx at 3:57 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would sacrifice lambs to baal to avoid having to read another B. Herbert book.

The sequels were ok; I liked God-Emperor best. They really take a significant amount of the mystery out.

Also, the library has them. Consider it good for the environment.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:08 AM on September 29, 2008

Gene Wolfe:

Yes, The Book of the New Sun. Some of the best fiction I have ever read. The first volumes could be considered self-contained.

Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of Arete, Soldier of Sidon. They are the mirror image, the inverse of the Book of New Sun. Also exceptionally fine.

(I didn't care as much for the short sun - yes, it was good, technically, but somehow not as engaging. His other novels, unfortunately, have to compete with his masterpieces. His short stories are almost all very good, and often very different.)
posted by coffeefilter at 6:02 AM on September 29, 2008

Heh, perhaps I should refrain from getting the Dune sequels. In case I go for it, can Dune Messiah be skipped or is it integral for understanding the next ones?

hooray, I should have searched by posts and not google-searched the site. My bad.

JaredSeth, thanks for pointing out Sword and Citadel. This makes my decision far easier.

rainy, I'm cool with Nabokov :)

And I sure wish I wish there were functional libraries in my area; I'd have made the most out of them. I see what you did there with the environment, a robot made out of meat.

Thanks for the suggestions thus far, everyone!
posted by ersatz at 6:04 AM on September 29, 2008

My take on the Dune sequels would be to read God Emperor of Dune. It's a long, complex book but is one of my favorites. Most of the Frank Herbert ones are good, but God Emperor is my favorite. It's possible to to skip messiah and children, but you might miss some of the subtleties.

Avoid the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson ones; they are really very poor. I just finished Sandworms of Dune and was incredibly disappointed by it; you can tell which bits were scripted out by Frank and which bits were added by the others very easily.
posted by baggers at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2008

Dune Messiah is short and not quite as eventful as the others, but if you skip it you'll be missing out on some important plot and character development. Children of Dune is great. I would only suggest continuing after that if you really like the setting and themes.

Don't bother with the Brian Herbert stuff. After a lot of anticipation, I found they were about as rewarding as the Star Wars prequels.
posted by erpava at 7:16 AM on September 29, 2008

The Brian Herbert stuff is really, really, really bad. Even if you'd never read the real Dune books, had no investment in its universe, they're really badly written. Celestine Prophecy bad. Da Vinci Code bad.
posted by signal at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2008

You can skip Children of Dune and not miss much that's important for understanding of the later books. It's pretty uneventful. Dune Messiah doesn't really do much except set up a geneology that'll be important later, although the last 50 pages or so are great and will tell you everything you need to know for God Emperor.

God Emperor, Heretics and Chapterhouse...I'm in the minority but I loved them. They have a much different focus from the original even though they build on a lot of its ideas- and I'd say they're much more plot-driven than epigram-driven, if that bugged you about the first one.
The Brian Herbert ones- the less said the better. They're abysmal.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:05 AM on September 29, 2008

I thought 2,3, 5 & 6 were ok, but man, I hated God Emperor. I think you kind of have to plod through God Emperor to really get parts of 5 & 6 but I could be wrong. But, yeah, avoid Brian.
posted by juv3nal at 12:00 PM on September 29, 2008

Avoid all Dune sequels.
posted by Artw at 12:05 PM on September 29, 2008

nthing dune sequels being a waste.

nthing all gene wolfe recommendations above- his stuff is great!
posted by zennoshinjou at 8:58 AM on September 30, 2008

That was enlightening, thank you all! I think I managed to mark as best answers 1/4 of them.

I ordered Shadow and Claw and have temporarily put aside the idea of Dune sequels. Perhaps second hand, some day.
posted by ersatz at 11:34 AM on September 30, 2008

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