The light craft flew over the sands. “Sand dunes pushed by steady winds build up in waves analogous to ocean waves”, explained the man. They swallowed “whole cities, lakes, rivers, highways”. The dunes consumed all. "These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave", he exclaimed. "They've even caused deaths".
It was 1953 and freelance journalist Frank Herbert obsessed over a USDA effort to stop a desert swallowing two local towns. The USDA planted poverty grasses to halt destruction by the Oregon dunes. His article, "They Stopped the Moving Sands", remained unpublished till after his death.
Herbert spent years researching, building worlds and ideas, characters and plots. As his wife supported him with copywriting, the story consumed him. Popular Sci-Fi magazine Analog Science Fact & Fiction serialized his story along with a sequel. After rejection by over 20 publishing houses, a trade mag publisher accepted his sprawling drafts. This became what we know today, as Dune.
If you’re reading this in your email, thanks for bringing me into your inbox. If it’s your first time, read this guide on how to get the most from The Dork Web.
This issue is about one of the greatest science fiction stories ever written and the quests to adapt it. Dune is a story with inpenetrable depth, cursed never to be properly retold. This issue is about the story behind the story of Dune. I’ve split this into two parts. This is part one, focusing on the books, movie and TV adaptations. Part 2 will focus on the games, music and other media.
Art in this issue is from the amazing Matt Griffin (above), Ed Labetski and Stephane LeFort. This issue’s music comes from Brian Tyler’s Children of Dune soundtrack. Press play on the video above and read on.
The Call Of The Worm
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
from the Manual of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan
In case you’ve never read or seen an adaptation of Dune, here’s an overview. The Emperor of the known universe plots with house Harkonnen to destroy rising house Atreides. A trap is set involving Arrakis, the universe’s sole source of the spice melange. The spice is critical for space travel. Through an act of betrayal, the Atreides are cast out into Arrakis’ desert to die. With local tribes they rise up, conquer the planet, end spice production and destroy the Emperor. This leads to endless deaths, more intrigue, golems, face dancers, and a worm-king who becomes a living god. Dune inspired movies, music, video games, tv shows and art, such as Ed Labetski’s Shai Hulud, below. Saturn’s moon Titan has features named after Dune’s planets.
It's not an easy read. The first book is meandering and dense. Later books are easier to read but need the earlier context. Stick at it and you'll be rewarded.
The success of the Empire depends upon the oppression of Arrakis, it's worms and the Fremen. Parallels with Pax Americana, OPEC, the Catholic Church are everywhere. Even the Fremen owe much to TE Lawrence's portrayals of Bedouin Arabs. The Fremen form the moral centre of Dune's universe. In a world full of the decadent "water fat", the Fremen represent purity through hardship, represented in works such as Stephane LeFort’s Aaliyah - Fremen - DUNE, below:
Herbert presented an early draft of Dune in 1963. This began a back and forth with his agent that leading to a 3 cents per word serial in Analog magazine. To fit the magazine’s requirements, Frank prepared 4 Synopses, dropping to 3 part for the serialization.
Getting the first book published was difficult. Science Fiction novels were around 50-75,000 words at the time. Dune part 1 was over 200,000 words long. While discussions continued Herbert wrote 2 more parts. He polished and shaped these for serialisation in Analog. The magazine serial was an enormous hit. Despite winning a Hugo award, publishing houses continued to reject Herbert's manuscripts. Chilton books, better known for vehicle repair manuals offered $7,500 plus royalties for the 3 serialized parts. Herbert accepted, and the rest became the first book, Dune.
This 1969 interview above with Frank Herbert goes through Dune’s origins. The Road To Dune, while being bitty, fragmented and in some ways screwed around with by Brian Herbert, also has some useful nuggets on Dune’s creation.
Frank wrote 5 Dune sequels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune. His Son Brian wrote more sequels in conjunction with Kevin J Anderson, although some see them as non-canon.
Hope Clouds Observation
Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: "Now it’s complete because it’s ended here."
The Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib by the Princess Irulan
Many have tried to adapt Dune for visual media with varying levels of success. The first adaptation attached Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean.
In December 1974, a French consortium bought the movie rights and hired director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky is one of God's own prototypes, never intended for mass production. The video below is NSFW in places but shows off the pandora’s box they opened.
I wanted to make something sacred … A film that gives LSD hallucinations without taking LSD
Alejandro Jodorowsky - Jodorowsky’s Dune
Jodorowsky drafted a 14 hour epic with Salvador Dali as Emperor and his son as Paul Atreides. The cast featured Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, and Orson Welles. Prog-rock legends Pink Floyd would write the music with contributions from experimental French group Magma. Jodorowsky hired H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Jean 'Moebius' Girard on special effects and writer Dan O'Bannon. This movie has legends. I could tell you them but the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune does it far better.
The film ran out of money in pre-production but it's influence rippled across the next decade. Then out of nowhere some kid called George Lucas released a rip-off called Star Wars.
Many of Jodorowsky’s "Spiritual Warriors reused elements from Dune elsewhere. Ridley Scott’s Alien script was written by Dan O’Bannon in hospital during a mental breakdown from Jodorowsky’s Dune. H.R. Giger reused his Harkonnen castle designs in this 80s Japanese Pioneer commercial, above.
After Jodorowky’s film collapsed, Dino De Laurentis bought the rights in 1979. Dino brought some of the team back together, and hired young director Ridley Scott.
When Scott's brother died of Cancer he dropped out to work on two smaller projects. One was a box-office flop called Blade Runner. The other was Alien, written by Dan O'Bannon, with support from Giger, Foss and Moebius.
De Laurentis renewed the movie rights in 1981, and his daughter suggested David Lynch after seeing The Elephant Man. Clearly she hadn't seen Eraserhead. The script changed much over 3 and half years of production. The result was released in 1984.
Lynch had no experience of big-budget movies. He spent 3 years on what he described as a nightmare. In edit the film was cut to shreds. Lynch disowned a later expanded TV movie version. Many people love this movie, but it's not the movie Dune deserved.
In 2008, Paramount announced a Dune movie directed by Peter Berg. He left the project for action movie Battleship and was replaced by Pierre Morel before Paramount dropped the project in 2011. Although the movie never started shooting, British comic artist Jock developed some great concept art.
As I type, Denis Villeneuve is working on two films based upon Dune. I have high hopes but low expectations. After Blade Runner 2049 I’m sure it will be every bit as beautiful. I’d still prefer to have seen Jodorowsky’s masterpiece.
Little is known beyond the all-star cast and a few titbits. Whether it’ll see a 2020 release, nobody knows. The best places for Dune movie news are on Twitter. I follow DuneNews, Secrets of Dune and Dune-BehindTheScenes.
To Save One From A Mistake Is A Gift Of Paradise
What do you despise? By this you are truly known.
from the Manual of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan.
Aside from the execorable extended Lynch Dune movie in mini-series form, two mini-series have been produced. Both have their flaws. Beyond the ageing CGI they’re closer to the source material than any movie.
In 2000, the Sci-Fi channel broadcast John Harrison’s 3-part mini-series. Although it claimed to be more faithful to the original story, that’s only partially true. Both adaptations change the original story. Lynch introduced weirding modules, while Harrison gave Princess Irulan a much larger role.
The mini-series won two Emmy Awards in 2001 for Cinematography and Visual effects in a miniseries/movie. While the special effects look dated in places, it’s more expansive than Lynch’s film. Both are worth watching.
Harrison wrote a screenplay for a follow-on mini-series based on Herbert’s Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Greg Yaitanes directed it and addressed many of the complaints about the first. You can watch Children of Dune without watching the first mini-series, but you’ll miss a lot of context. If you’ve never seen any of them, watch Lynch’s original film first, then Frank Herbert’s Dune, then Children of Dune.
Things You Might Have Missed
Hugh Fisher very kindly pointed me at Brett Deveraux’s excellent essay series on The Fremen Mirage. It uses Dune to deconstruct different aspects of war culture. I’ve only read the first part but I’m looking forward to the rest.
Michael Steil of Pagetable writes about dumping MiniDiscs, forgotten victim of the music format wars. Micken is running RiscOS and NetBSD on the same RK3399 SoC at the same time. Robert Hencke’s CBM8032AV project looks incredible. The engineering breakdown is equally impressive.
The Sega Master System scene tracked down an obscure not-for-sale driving test game, translated it to English and released it. RetroHQ are taking orders for the Atari Lynx Gamedrive rom card. Cybergibbons has a series on firmware dumping for beginners with no up-front assumptions.
Luigi De Rosa made a list of the amazing things browsers can do today. Drew DeVault writes on the reckless, infinite scope of web browsers. Less seriously, m0rb pointed me at moanmyip, a less SFW whatismyip. Even less seriously, Aaron Janse has built DNS over Wikipedia.
Beesotted reminices about a Ceefax sports page. If you’ve ever enjoyed V for Vendetta or Watchmen, you might like this trippy 80s Alan Moore documentary. Beyond Cyberpunk is 1991’s best Apple Hypercard Cyberpunk manifesto.
According to IAM RoadSmart’s research, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto impair reaction times more than Alcohol and Cannabis. Don’t even get me started on braindead and dangerous UX choices by companies like Volvo and Tesla.
Many of us are adjusting to home working, learning or using video conferencing to stay in touch. I don’t want to weigh in on the Zoom security discussion, but I’ve had great luck with Signal and Jitsi Meet for calls and video conferencing. The FSF have some good suggestions for open Zoom alternatives. If you have to use Zoom and are worried about privacy and security, consider a virtual machine.
There’s a lot of music inspired by Dune, but I’m saving that for next time. Instead I’ll finish off with The Tea Party’s Inanna. If you haven’t heard The Tea Party’s Moroccan Roll style before, check out The Edges Of Twilight.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the big man, Frank Herbert himself:
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
The next Tales From The Dork Web will be out in 2 weeks. I have something lined up, but I have so much to share with you it’s hard to decide. The second part of the story of Dune will come out after that. If someone you know might like Tales From The Dork Web, please do share it with them. The Dork Web is for everyone.