Dune is a war epic

Frank Herbert's Dune has been adapted a handful of times, but I think this new adaptation captures a key part of the story that the others haven't: it's a story about war.

Dune is a war epic

Happy Friday!

This week has been once again pretty busy, so this letter will be somewhat short. The biggest SF/F news this week? New Dune trailer! I have thoughts.

The week in SF/F

Dune is a war epic

After a long wait, we finally have a new trailer for Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Dune. It looks really excellent (more on that in a moment), but one of the things that it put front and center is something that I think captures the spirit of the novel: it's a war epic, and it certainly looks like we'll get plenty of that here.

A number of years ago (god, 11 years ago), I wrote a piece for io9 called Your Military Science Fiction Isn't Military Science Fiction. It was a bit of provocation and throwing out some ideas as a newly-minted graduate from Norwich University's Military History masters' program, and it got some attention at the time. The general thesis was that the genre at large was too focused on some of the technical and nitty-gritty details, while somewhat ignoring things like strategy and the like. I still stand by that assessment, although I'd probably try and read a bit more widely before writing it if I had to do it over.

But something one of the commenters pointed out has stuck with me ever since: by my definition, Dune is a military SF novel. And re-reading the book last year for the first time in a long time, I'd agree with that: it's a novel that really touches on a lot of those bigger strategic elements that powers military force, from not only understanding and anticipating the actions of one's enemy, but also looking at things like insurgency and tackling a technologically superior enemy, something that was talked about a lot in military circles in 2010.

Frank Herbert served in the Second World War and was generally interested in world history, so I think he understood how this sort of warfare and the environment that surrounded it would work: the fight for a planet certainly has its moments where it comes down to two soldiers fighting to the death, but he understood the value of nationalism, and of ideological purpose — above and beyond mere survival — when it comes to understanding why people fight.

Watching the trailer for this latest adaptation, it looks as though Villeneuve has clued in on this central theme in the novel. At its core, Dune is a novel about resisting one's colonial oppressors, and how insurgencies have to be led. It's certainly a topic that's remained relevant since Herbert first published his book — the experiences of Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have brutally taught us over the years. In many ways, I think Dune is a book that should be added to military reading lists alongside (or supplanting) Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (both of which frequently appear on said lists.)

For this reason, I think that Villeneuve's adaptation will work a bit better: it seems to understand that core element of the book (at least from the trailers that we've seen), and I think that that's ultimately why the David Lynch and SCI-FI Channel versions haven't connected with their audiences.

Additionally, can we talk about how awesome it is to see some changes in how spaceships are portrayed, ie, not big slabs of metal? This just looks awesome as hell:

This is probably a good time to provide an update about the podcast project I announced last year: New Worlds. I haven't said much of anything on that front, because when the film was delayed, I sort of put it on the back burner for a short while, because producing it in that short amount of time would have been hectic — the delay was a blessing in disguise. I'd also been planning to release it via this newsletter because Substack had a podcast option.

Well, I've since moved away from Substack, but the project isn't dead: work has been commencing on the podcast. There's a lot of behind the scenes work going on with it: and at the moment, if it happens, it'll be a lot bigger than I'd initially anticipated. I don't want to say too much more because there's a lot of uncertainty, but I'm optimistic about where it's headed, and I'm working with some excellent people on it. So: stay tuned.

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Currently reading

See last week: still plugging away at the same books. After these deadlines pass in the next week, we should be back to normal.

Further reading

Cartoon money. The Hollywood Reporter's Heatvision blog has an interesting piece by Aaron Couch about how comic book creators have been shafted over the years and cut out of residuals and the money earned from the big budget adaptations of the characters and stories they cooked up.

Environmental SF. Over on MIT Press's Reader, Sherryl Vint has an interesting piece about the history of SF and how it relates to our changing understanding of the environment.

Netflix isn't a streaming TV channel. For paid subscribers, I wrote about Netflix's new initiative to break into gaming. It makes sense to me, especially if you think of the company as more than just an outlet for streaming TV.

Rinzler Endgame. Here's some tragic news: J.W. Rinzler, the author of a bunch of what I'd call essential behind the scenes books about some of the best-known films was diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer, and he's apparently making end-of-life plans. His daughter has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for that care. If you can swing it, I'd urge you to chip in. And if you haven't, you should check out his Making of Star Wars, Making of Alien, Making of Planet of the Apes, and other books, all of which I've bought and used plenty of times over the years in the course of my reporting.  

Updating Drizzt. Over on Polygon, Charlie Hall has an excellent report about R.A. Salvatore's upcoming return to Forgotten Realms with a new book, Starlight Enclave, and how they're working to update the world and story alongside the progressive advances that D&D's been undergoing.

Writers x Metal. These are cool as hell: author shirts branded as though they're from metal bands. Gotta get me one or two of these. Not black though. I have too many black t-shirts.

That's all for this week. Next week, I've got ... I don't know. I need to get through these deadlines.

Have a good weekend,