“Contact” by Carl Sagan

Contact_SaganFor me, the film version Contact is still the gold standard for intelligent science fiction in cinema. After having read Carl Sagan’s Contact, I realize that the movie benefitted from exceptionally strong source material. Sagan manages to explore Big Ideas™, but also develops compelling characters. In addition to being a talented scientist, Sagan could write better than most professional science fiction authors.

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“Arthur C. Clarke” by Gary Westfahl


Of the “Big Three” authors who dominated the Golden Age of science fiction, I’ve always felt I had the weakest grasp on Arthur C. Clarke. Isaac Asimov’s oeuvre is easy to summarize: technological optimism and robots. Robert A. Heinlein tended to infuse his works with libertarian politics and nonconformists. As for Clarke? I’ve read several of his most famous novels and short stories, but always struggled to identify common themes. Clarke seems to veer wildly between hard-nosed science and wild-eyed mysticism. Childhood’s End features humans who gain almost godlike psychic powers, while Rendevouz with Rama tells the story of a scientific exploration to a mysterious alien object. Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey seems like a warning against A.I., yet Clarke was hardly anti-science – most of Clarke’s protagonists are scientists.  Continue reading ““Arthur C. Clarke” by Gary Westfahl”

“Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama is widely acclaimed as Arthur C. Clarke’s best book, and it definitely deserves much of the praise it’s gotten. That said, the book isn’t perfect, particularly when it comes to the characters.

Rendezvous with Rama starts when an large, cylindrical object is detected hurtling towards the sun. The object is named “Rama” after the Hindu god. The United Planets sends the solar survey vessel Endeavour under the command of Commander Bill Norton to investigate. The rest of the book focuses on the crew’s exploration of the alien artifact. Continue reading ““Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke”

“Sandworms of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

SandwormsofDuneMy first reaction upon finishing Sandworms of Dune was that, unlike Hunters of Dune, it at least it has a plot. In Hunters of Dune, we learned that the Ominous Threat™ is actually the Thinking Machines from the Butlerian Jihad. This reveal came out of nowhere. The struggle between man and machine is a classic sci-fi trope, but it’s not a theme that appeared at the forefront of the Dune saga. In fact, in Dune, it appeared that humanity had solved the problem thousands of years before by replacing computers with Mentats.

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“Hunters of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson


I had mixed feelings about the direction Frank Herbert took the Dune saga after God Emperor of Dune, but the cliffhanger at the end of Chapterhouse Dune piqued my interest. Unfortunately, Frank Herbert passed away before he could finish the story. Nearly 20 years later, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson wrote Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune in attempt to wrap the story up. They claim to have developed the story based on a draft outline left by Frank Herbert in a safe deposit box. Unfortunately, the book carries on some of the worst writing instincts of the pair’s House trilogy, including the meandering plot lines and thin characters.   Continue reading ““Hunters of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson”

“Winds of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

WindsofDuneAs with Paul of Dune, I came into this book with low expectations, so Winds of Dune did not have to work too hard to surpass those. As others have noted, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson tend to repeat themselves quite a bit, reminding readers of basic plot points that they probably still remember. Moreover, this book has a weaker narrative structure than even Paul of Dune. It loosely follows Bronso of Ix, Paul Atreides’ former friend and leader of the rebellion against Paul’s empire. The plot straddles three separate time periods: just before Dune, several years after the jihad starts, and just after Dune Messiah. Continue reading ““Winds of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson”

“Paul of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Paul_of_Dune_coverI had the benefit of reading many negative reviews about this book before I decided to read it. My expectations were so low that I found myself enjoying it far more than I’d expected. To be clear, this book is not high literature. It’s not nearly as deep or rich as any of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Nevertheless, it provides a fun and even sometimes interesting backstory for Paul Atreides. Continue reading ““Paul of Dune” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson”

“Houses of Dune” by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

761575In the late 1990s, over a decade after Frank Herbert’s untimely death, his Brian and Kevin J. Anderson decided to pick up the Dune saga where he left off. Well, almost. Instead of writing a direct sequel to Chapterhouse Dune, they decided to start with a prequel to the original Dune. The three books – House AtreidesHouse Harkonnen, and House Corrino – form a loose trilogy exploring the major houses of the Dune franchise. Despite the titles, the books aren’t exclusively, or even primarily, about the titular Houses, but rather cover a range of events before the original Dune.

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“Jodorowsky’s Dune”


I’ve talked about David Lynch’s Dune movie and the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune miniseries, but the most ambitious Dune adaptation never made it off the page. Jodorowsky’s Dune chronicles Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring Dune to the big screen during the 1970s. He failed, but, as the documentary argues, that failure had an enormous on science fiction in cinema. It’s certainly a fascinating look at what might have been, even if I’m not convinced a Jodorowsky Dune would have been faithful to the novel.   Continue reading ““Jodorowsky’s Dune””