Return to K-Mac's home pageThe Portable Universe 13
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

originally published in The Elkhart Truth
June 1, 1984

More than twenty years after they were first unveiled, the political intrigues and ecological intricacies of the desert planet Arrakis continue to form the backbone of writer Frank Herbert's reputation.

From two seminal serials published in the science-fiction magazine ANALOG between 1963-65, the world of Dune has grown to include a motion picture to be released in December, five intricate and engrossing novels, and now an encyclopedia.

Many of the millions of Herbert devotees have worn out more than one paperback copy of 1965's "Dune'' No hardback has been available for several years, which should bode well for the new edition which appeared last month (Putnam, $16.95). Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards as best novel, the original "Dune'' is a book which belies the notion that SF is merely a literature of escapism.

Already a best-seller is the latest addition to the Dune ouvre, Herbert's "Heretics of Dune'' (Putnam, $16.95 cloth). Set 1,500 years after the death and transformation of Emperor Leto II (as told in "God Emperor of Dune''), "Heretics'' finds yet another Duncan Idaho (a ghola or genetic recreation of the original Duncan) being trained by the Bene Gesserit for a role in an unrevealed scheme.

Arrakis is in ferment, with several ambitious factions angling to control its destiny in ways too complex to detail here. Suffice it to say that readers of the series are likely to find "Heretics'' the most satisfying installment since "Dune'' itself.

For those who are having trouble keeping all the Dune characters straight and remembering all the details of life on Arrakis, there is Dr. Willis McNelly's "The Dune Encyclopedia" (Berkley, $9.95 trade). Like the "Star Fleet Technical Manual" and a number of similar tie-ins, "The Dune Encyclopedia" takes itself very seriously, presenting itself as a compilation of records and artifacts found in the God Emperor's personal library at Dar-es-Balat.

The introduction by "editor'' Hadi Benotto is dated 15540; the audacious bibliography credits such sources as "The Journal of Ancient Economies'' and the "Interplanetary Anatomical Record.'' But McNelly's 526-page tome bears Herbert's stamp of approval, and "Dune'' devotees should find it diverting.

Fantasist Fritz Leiber's "The Ghost Light'' (Berkley, $7.95 trade) is a mixture of the old, the new, and the autobiographical. Included in this illustrated Masterworks edition are seven short stories spanning the period 1950-1978, including the Nebula-winning tale "Gonna Roll the Bones''; a new novella about a ghost-attracting lamp; and a long personal essay, "Not so Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex."

A sort of offhanded autobiography, the essay explains the context in which the stories came to be written and explores their themes on a personal level. I found it as interesting as the stories are entertaining, and "The Ghost Light'' makes an excellent introduction to both Leiber the man and the worlds he creates.

What if using something improved it instead of wearing it out? To sharpen a knife you'd cut with it. To make a fine suit you'd "practice'' a ragged outfit. That's the idea behind David Brin's alternate-universe novel "The Practice Effect'' (Bantam, $2.75 paper). Though the book's tone is light, Brin has carefully thought out the implications of this twist in natural law and built his alternate-world society and technology around them. The result is amusing, though at 277 pages perhaps a hair too long for the idea.

As the director of THX-1138 and STAR WARS, and producer of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE RETURN OF THE JEDI, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, George Lucas has had a tremendous impact on a whole generation of science fiction film fans. For that reason alone, Dale Pollock's biography "Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas'' (Ballantine, $3.50 paper) deserves mention. But the book is also an admirably readable insight into both a remarkable creative personality and the dollars-and-cents business in which he works. One highlight: the plot of the early versions of the STAR WARS screenplay (would you believe Luke Starkiller?).

--Michael P. Kube-McDowell is the author of the SF novel "Emprise'' (Berkley, 1985).

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Last Revised: 07 July 2009