December 19, 2010

In Defence of the Herbert Syndrome [just musing]

Some may argue that the underlying force guiding authors of multiple novels set in the same universe is that of monetary compensation. As a life-long reader of science fiction who is still working on the Dune and Wheel of Time series’, I would say that this motive is over-simplified at best. If a universe still has possibilities for commentary on the nature of our world, why shouldn’t it be used to tell more stories about the human race?

While some would claim that Frank Herbert should never have turned his first book into the beginning of a six-book saga, I would argue that God Emperor of Dune was a chilling and necessary installment. While the plot of the first Dune book stands out in my mind as one of the best stories I have read, God Emperor has very little to offer in terms of a good story arc. But what the novel does provide is a dialogue about human nature, politics and war. The story ties back to the first book as Leto’s Golden Path is idealized in Siona Atredes, paralleling the creation of the kwisatch haderach, and along the way we are presented with his ideology through conversations with various characters. Some of these seek to overthrow him, while some obey mindlessly, but in either case, his view on humanity, gained by having the consciousness of his entire heredity in his mind, is dark yet unarguably true. Perhaps by the end of the sixth book I will be just as tired of the series and as accusatory as those who advocate this Herbert Syndrome, but for now I would like to defend the first four books and remain open-minded before beginning the last two.

The accusations made towards Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan, or James Oliver Rigney Jr., are a completely different issue. The saga is not made up of many books merely set in the same universe and featuring descendants of the characters of the previous books, but the same characters still preparing for and fighting the Last Battle. If it takes 12 books to satisfactorily resolve all of the story lines and complete the story-line the way Jordan has envisioned it, who are we to argue? The series has not dragged on to make money, but to complete the web made up of enough developed characters to be called The Simpsons of novels. With so many interest groups vying for the outcome of this battle, whether seeing clearly or through a veil of lies, and whether fighting for survival or eternal glory, it only makes sense that this complicated matter will take at least 12 books to be decided.

Furthermore, criticisms like this are very discouraging to future readers of the series' who should be left to make up their own minds on the matter. I've read reviews that claim that the later WoT books drag on lifelessly, but having invested in reading the first six books, I refuse to stop until I know how it ends, despite what the critics may say. I am also interested in finding out what Frank Hubert's son has to add to the Dune universe, and how Brian Sanderson will tie together the mess of loose strings created by Robert Jordan.

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