Not a Book Review: ‘The Dark Tower’

For my birthday my best friend took me to see The Dark Tower. I entered the theater with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Another friend once said that it is important to separate the book from the movie and to appreciate each for what it is. In this case, truer words were never spoken.

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Roland is ready to kick some butt on the big screen

The Dark Tower series was written by Stephen King over a period of over twenty years between 1982 and 2004. Roland Deschain is the last of the gunslingers, a legendary group of warriors descended from Arthur Eld, his world’s version of King Arthur. In the first installment, The Gunslinger, Roland is following the evil Man in Black, a powerful sorcerer. This version of Earth shares characteristics of the Old West but also has powerful magical elements. Roland’s Earth has “moved on” as throughout the series we see traces of advanced technology placing this time period into the far future. This world appears to be on the verge of total collapse. Roland’s quest is to find the legendary Dark Tower which stands at the nexus of all creation. Dark forces represented by the Man in Black seek to destroy the Tower thus releasing the forces of darkness over the entire multiverse. As the series progresses, Roland arrives on our version of Earth to recruit others to join him in his cause.

I cannot express enough how important these books are to me as they influenced my love of reading as well as writing. This series was my Harry Potter. Although the first book reads as more of a collection of interconnected stories around the Gunslinger, trust me when I say that you will become hooked by the third installment. Anyone that refers to King as just a writer of horror should read these books. A fantastic feat was accomplished through a combination of multiple genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and westerns. They are beautifully written as well as epic in scope. These books will in my eyes always represent King at the height of his literary powers.

Now that I’m gushed about the magnificence of these books, let’s turn our attention to the movie shall we.

The Dark Tower film was co-written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Another co-writer and producer on the film was Akiva Goldsman. Rather than adapt the first book, the movie serves as a sort of “sequel alternate universe” reboot to the book series. Rather than tell the story from the point-of-view of Roland, our main character is eleven-year-old Jake Chambers played by Tom Taylor. Jake has been having nightmares of the Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey, using children to destroy a giant tower in the clouds. His visions also include Roland the last Gunslinger, played by Idris Elba, attempting to oppose the Man in Black and his evil plans. Jake’s mother and stepfather believe he’s insane, and Jake’s psychiatrist think that all of Jake’s visions and drawings are fantasies to protect him from his grief over the death of his father from the year before. When minions of the Man in Black arrive posing as staff from an exclusive psychiatric hospital, Jake runs away. His visions lead him to find a teleport which transports him to Mid-World and the hero of his visions.

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Seriously read the books before I get angry

Honestly, I didn’t leave hating the movie the way I thought I would. I thought the film did a capable job of telling a very enclosed tale. Through Jake serving as the protagonist, we were able to learn about Roland and the Tower along with him. For the most part, everything was explained fairly well for those that have never touched the books. I thought the acting was mostly solid. Idris Elba is a fantastic actor who brought real pathos to the character of Roland. There were moments which contradict the character from the books, but I’ll overlook that for now. I will admit that Matthew McConaughey is not my favorite actor, but here he gives a subdued performance as the Man in Black that is quite menacing in scenes. Newcomer Tom Taylor is quite likable as Jake, as I always enjoy movies with child protagonists. There are several moments of wonder as Jake interacts with various aspects of Roland’s Earth. Ultimately it works well as a standalone science fiction piece. And this is exactly the reason why it fails in my eyes.

Imagine taking the Wheel of Time books and condensing then down to a ninety minute movie. What if Game of Thrones was told in such a short amount of time? Stephen King painted a magnificent landscape with The Dark Tower books, which the film only allows brief glimpses. Unfortunately, the majesty and splendor that made these books great is lost in the translation. It just didn’t feel like the beginning of a fantasy epic. Instead, it was a fun and fast-paced romp that serves as an introduction to this universe. In short, it felt very watered down. I understand that you can’t put everything from the book into the movie, but when you cut the best bits you are really doing a disservice to the tried and true fans.

The movie does boast some decent special effects. I especially loved the scenes of Roland shooting his guns, particularly watching him reload them in the blink of an eye. There’s also a great scene where the Gunslinger saves Jake from being kidnapped by listening closely during a major attack on a village and firing a single shot right on target at the bad guy. There was some real Jedi shit going on there!

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He is quite strong with the force! Sorry wrong movie.

When Roland enters our version of Earth, it is mostly played up for laughs. Overall it works, and didn’t wear out its welcome. However, by this point we are almost to the end of the movie. The last act felt extremely rushed as if the director realized he wasn’t watching the clock and said “we need to wrap this up now!” I think with a slightly longer running time, this last part might not have felt so empty.

Ultimately this raises a huge question about books and cinema: namely, is part of the job of a book-adapted movie to make you want to read the book? I don’t really feel that this movie will accomplish that feat for newcomers to the series. Sometimes, a movie intrigues us enough to want to read the books. For example I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before I read the other books. Of course, I found the Harry Potter movies to be exceptional in their own ways while this movie just didn’t quite reach that level of awesomeness. Would I want to read The Dark Tower books based on this movie? Sadly, I think the answer would be a negative so I’m glad I read them.

The other demographic of viewers would be the ones who are quite familiar with Stephen King’s magnum opus. I’m concerned that like me, they won’t find this movie to match the wonder and excitement of the books. Yes, it’s only the first installment of a proposed series, but that wasn’t enough of an appetizer to want to stick around for the main course. This raises another important question, namely can the books be translated into successful films? I honestly don’t have an answer, but I wonder if maybe a television series would work better for this type of epic grandeur.

At some point, I will reread this series to show you how truly awesome these books are. As far as further film adventures, I have a bad feeling that the future looks grim. Hopefully, a creative team will come along who can give Roland and his ka-tet the treatment they deserve.

 

What do you think? Have you read this book or seen the film, or both? Leave a comment down below!

 

 

27. ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do. ”

With Emma, I have now read all of Jane Austen’s completed novels. When I learned about Austen in August, I decided the time was right to read a book I had been meaning to for quite some time. Austen never ceases to impress me as I find a particular aspect with each novel that separates it from the others. Trying to rank her novels has become an exercise in futility. Each time I read Pride and Prejudice, it immediately jumps to the top of the list. When I went back and reread Persuasion, I raved about the reasons why it was my favorite. Truthfully, each Austen tale brings something new to the table. I love Northanger Abbey for its humor and satire of Gothic literature. Persuasion takes the award for most mature with its theme of regret. Emma stands out among the other novels because it presents Austen at her most revolutionary in style with a strong heroine that is quite different from the others.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Emma Woodhouse is a dichotomy within herself. She is lovely yet quite snobbish. She is caring yet an incorrigible meddler in the love lives of her friends. Emma believes herself to be quite knowledgeable regarding the affairs of the heart yet suffers from horrible self-delusions. Despite her shortcomings, we cannot help but fall in love with dear Emma. The reason why she is in our affections is because Austen manages to carry us along throughout all of her romantic delusions. Also, Emma is quite charming and always has her heart in the right place. The book itself is written in what could arguably be considered Austen’s strongest narration as she manages to compose a completely third-person narrative but distorts the language in such a way that we are going right along with Emma’s delusional thinking.

Consider these two early scenes from the first volume. Our heroine has befriended a sweet and naive girl named Harriet Smith. Emma has taken Miss Smith on as her latest matchmaking project. Bolstered by the confidence of her previous successful pairing of her former governess to the wealthy Mr. Weston, Emma believes it her purpose to play matchmaker between Harriet and the wealthy Mr. Elton. When Harriet comes to Emma with the news that Mr. Martin, a successful gentleman farmer, has offered a proposal of marriage, our heroine quite carefully constructs her wording in order to persuade her gentle friend to reject it as she believes that Mr. Elton is a much better choice due to his high rank in society. Later, when confronted by her friend Mr. Knightley, Emma manages to convince us that Harriet’s refusal of marriage is the right choice. First time readers of Emma will find themselves believing in this delusional thinking creating a significant amount of surprise when the truth to a situation is revealed. This free indirect style Austen employs throughout Emma is a precursor to modernism and the stream of consciousness style of later writers such as Virginia Woolf. This is not a bad feat for an author criticized for merely penning silly romantic novels.

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.”

Another reason why I love the protagonist so much is that she stands apart from other Austen heroines. Emma claims no desire for marriage herself. Independently wealthy, she is quite content to live out her days as a spinster while taking care of her anxious hypochondriac father. Of course, Emma is already quite in love with someone but has not come to that realization. Instead she focuses her energy on others around her. Although all her heroines share certain traits with their creator, Emma without a doubt is the best representation of the voice of the author herself. One would think that a more appropriate choice of heroine in this case would be either Harriet or Jane Fairfax. However by presenting the story through the unique eyes of Emma Woodhouse adds another layer to Emma that allows it to stand out. I love her rebelliousness against male-dominated society feeling that a woman doesn’t need to marry a man simply because the man says it should be this way. How about that for early feminist literature?

As with her other novels, Emma is filled with several memorable characters. Mr. Woodhouse is hilarious but also serves an important role as the resistance to change. How often do we become set in our ways and become afraid to take risks? Everyone has a “Miss Bates” in their lives who is quite chatty but in a good-natured and well-meaning way. In the second volume, we are introduced to one of Austen’s most memorable characters in Augusta Elton, new bride to rejected suitor Mr. Elton. Some of her social faux pas had me genuinely laughing out loud. Then we have Mr. Knightley, the one character who isn’t afraid to call Emma out on her judgments. All of the scenes between her and Mr. Knightley are handled with a smart dialogue that has become Austen’s trademark.

I love the moments when Emma begins to understand herself. During a scene when all of the characters are gathered together, Emma insults her friend Miss Bates. In her eyes, she is merely joking. She becomes quite devastated when she realizes how her “innocent” remarks truly hurt someone so close to her. How many times have we made an “innocent” comment only to learn that our words truly hold power over how someone feels. This is one of two powerful scenes where our heroine begins to scrutinize herself more closely. The next scene occurs a few pages later when Emma has her epiphany moment of who has taken possession of her heart:

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress: she touched-she admitted-she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with ____________, than with ____________? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow, that _____________ must marry no one but herself!

This is such a powerful scene. Sometimes all it takes is a few moments of reflection to understand yourself a little better!

Personally, I think there is a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in all of us. We think we know what our loved ones need. Sometimes we are a bit “clueless” (see what I did there) to the love that is right in front of us (I know I was). Maybe we miss little details. Emma serves as a cautionary tale to perhaps look a little closer.

Of course, everything works out well in the end. Personally, I have always enjoyed the predictable happy endings. We know that Jane will make everything alright in the end. I’m glad I waited to finish my original Austen run with Emma. It contains all of her usual ingredients but blends them together in a slightly different way providing a much richer experience. In addition to a contribution for Austen in August, this review will also cover my classic by a female author for the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge.

I cannot wait to visit (or revisit) another work by Jane Austen. Her insights into human behaviors are timeless.

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

 

26. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This intriguing opening sentence starts one of the greatest science fiction novels ever created. For this review, there is no holding back the sheer joy I experienced from rereading one of my favorite books from one of my favorite writers. Some books you read and eventually forget, while others are written all over your mind and body. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel I fondly remember from my childhood. This is a novel of pure philosophy set in a bleak future where firemen burn books as reading is considered the severest crime. My childhood self could not get enough of this novel, and upon finishing I begged my mother to buy Something Wicked This Way Comes. After all these years, would Bradbury’s dystopian novel still hold traces of childlike magic for me?

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

There are some books that will forever remain in my collection. I love my copy of Fahrenheit 451 as it looks like a rescue from a fire. With its frayed cover and wrinkled pages, I value this book higher than some of the most expensive books on my shelves. Ray Bradbury was an important part of my childhood with his stories that were amazing and filled with childlike wonder. This is a writer who dreamed big with his eyes wide open, and that sense of curiosity comes across in every page of his novels and short stories. I typically include at least one quote in my reviews, and I found it quite challenging with Fahrenheit 451 as there is a beautiful quote on practically every page. This will definitely be a review with multiple quotes as I struggled to find just the right one.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn books. Reading is forbidden as literature is viewed as the source of all strife and unhappiness. All houses are fireproof, and stories of firemen who actually put out fires have been reduced as nothing more than ridiculous fantasies. The world is placed in a mindless state, and electronic media pervades every household. Three-dimensional television programs that allow its audience to participate are commonplace in this world, and Montag’s wife Mildred spends her hours immersed in media when she’s not popping sleeping pills. One night while walking home, Montag encounters a teenage girl named Clarisse. He doesn’t know what to make of her free-spirited behaviors and sense of curiosity. Her question on whether or not he’s happy gives Montag plenty to think about as it starts him down a path of contemplating his place in life. He begins to question his own happiness and soon begins hiding books inside his house.

I was so impressed with the world Bradbury created and the frightening similarities to our own world. Free thought is discouraged, owning books is a crime, and human beings have become dependent on technology feeding them what they want to hear. Everyone is lulled into a false state of comfort. Simple pleasures have been forgotten, such as walking barefoot on grass, climbing trees, or sitting on the porch talking to neighbors. In fact nobody talks to anyone else as shown by the fractured relationship Guy has with Mildred. This is a fast paced-world where cars drive so fast that billboards have to be miles and miles long just so people can read them! Murder has become routine as anyone who does not quite fit into this society’s mold is eradicated. The suicide rate is so high that physicians no longer get involved; instead they just send techs. After reading this book, I felt so sad thinking about how society has degenerated closer to this vision of the world. Kids have become zombies on their games and phones, and families don’t converse like they used to do. Bradbury recognized the dangerous path society was already heading down.

The pace of this book can at times be quite frantic. The wording often creates a very bizarre and dreamlike state to mirror the way this world works. I enjoy it, but I also realize it might not be for everyone. I’m sure at the time it was written that Bradbury’s little novel raised many questions. Will technology eventually replace free thought? Are we moving towards a society where knowledge is replaced by mindless entertainment?

Through keeping the story narrowed down to just a few characters, Bradbury managed to create an extremely claustrophobic feel that really highlights the bleak world these people inhabit. This is not what I would consider a character driven novel. Although the characters are interesting, there was definitely room for fleshing them out further. I found the character of Beatty the fire captain to be the most compelling. Considering his extensive knowledge of literature, there was definitely more to his story than what we are told. However, that’s part of the beauty in the writing. It is left to us the audience to draw connections rather than have them blatantly handed to us.

“That’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and WORTH the doing.”

Unlike most of today’s modern dystopian thrillers, this one doesn’t just end with everything getting happily resolved. The world on the final page is still just as bleak as it was from the opening line. Actually, I take that back. There’s hope, which is a fairly powerful word. I love how Bradbury took risks with the story that wouldn’t have worked in today’s dystopian literature. For example, we wouldn’t have been left wondering about the fate of Clarisse. If this book had been written by one of today’s writers, she most likely have been an integral part of the story throughout or ended up in the rebel camp. Sorry if I’ve spoiled anything for you. Trust me when I say it won’t affect your enjoyment of the book.

I’m counting Fahrenheit 451 as a classic with a number in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge. So did this novel still hold the same magic for me as it did when I was a child? Actually, it was even more magical for me now.

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Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

25. ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami

There are some writers whose books I must immediately grab when I see them for sale at my favorite bookstore. Of course Murakami is at the top of that list. So far, I’ve reviewed two of his novels-1Q84 and Sputnik Sweetheartas well as his excellent short story collection The Elephant VanishesThere are a few others I’ve read prior to starting this site, such as my two favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. While After Dark won’t rank as my favorite Murakami by far, I still found it enjoyable for the compelling ways that the author brings you into the story.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

It was about 4-5 years ago that I first started getting into Murakami. In many ways, I’m glad that I discovered the author at this point in my life. I don’t think teenage me would have appreciated his particular style. Over the past few years, I’ve become better read having sampled so many more writers than I did in my teens and even my twenties. Experiencing a book by Murakami is truly a unique journey from anything else you will ever read. I think After Dark works as a great introduction to Murakami newbies because it is one of his shorter works and it also tones down some of the elements of magical realism and fantasy to allow a sharper focus on the interactions between the characters. It’s a great book to get an understanding of Murakami’s unique writing style.

“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature-or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms.”

Murakami never ceases to surprise me. While After Dark does contain all the typical elements one might find in one of his works, it’s the presentation itself here that is different. I like to refer to this book as Murakami’s “film to book” adaptation because this story is truly like a movie being converted into novel form. This book is set within one night from a few minutes to midnight until dawn. The narration is written from an almost third person omniscient point-of-view in the form of an imaginary video camera:

“Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At the moment, the camera is situated directly above the bed and is focused on her sleeping face.”

The effect on the reader is that it keeps you as an outsider watching events unfold in real time. Every chapter is setup as a scene in a film with details such as the food the characters are eating to the background music. Of course, this being a Murakami novel there has to be a significant amount of detail given to food and music, two of the author’s passions. The result of the unique method of narration creates a window for the reader, always outside looking in and never able to directly connect to the characters. Considering this book is all about the struggles of interpersonal connections, it works well here.

After Dark is about two sisters named Mari and Eri Asai. Most of the action follows Mari as her quiet night of reading in a Denny’s is constantly interrupted by a variety of strange characters. First, she meets Takahashi a law student who is also in a jazz band. The two are connected by Mari’s sister Eri. Throughout the night, Mari becomes involved with a retired wrestler who now runs a “love hotel,” a Chinese prostitute, and a violent man named Shirakawa. Meanwhile, Eri is in a deep sleep being haunted by a mysterious man inside of a television set.

I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions regarding the darkness inside all of us as well as how nighttime can open the door to all manner of bizarre occurrences. These themes are nothing new for readers of Murakami, but what really impressed me was how complex he could create a story using such a simple plot. The concept of night is used to great effect in showing people literally emerging into the light. Murakami also touches on the opposing forces of connection/disconnection through the interactions of the characters.

As always, there are no simple solutions to a Murakami book. You are left to form your own interpretations and resolutions to the events that unfold. This is a writer who can definitely capture that same feeling you would get while watching a David Lynch film. I loved all of the symbolism, from the concept of night to the sleeping beauty character. Murakami is a master at dialogue and really gives us a lot to think about in regards to our relationships. This book gets my vote for the Murakami novel that would be easiest to translate into a film.

If you are a first-timer to this writer, then I suggest either this or Sputnik Sweetheart. For straight up realism, then read Norwegian Wood. You will find yourself thinking about his work long after the sun rises.

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Have you read this book? Please comment below.

24. ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

I was in the mood for classic science fiction, so I selected Dune as my next book. Normally I avoid large series because I worry I won’t finish them due to the huge commitment required (I still have the first book in the mammoth Wheel of Time series sitting on my nightstand). Dune by Frank Herbert is heralded as the pinnacle of classic science fiction. I have fond memories of watching the David Lynch movie version back in my younger days (one of the rare instances where I watched the film before reading the book). One of the first works of science fiction I ever watched, I remember being blown away by the sheer scope and beauty of the film. A winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Dune recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Despite being labeled as “science fiction,” Dune is so much more as it is also a detailed family saga, a political thriller, and a philosophical/religious treatise that is truly epic and beautifully executed under Herbert’s carefully guided pen.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Dune follows Paul Atreides, a boy who leaves his home planet of Caladan with his parents to live on the barren desert planet of Arrakis where water is scarce but an ancient spice known as melange is plentiful. His father is the head of House Atreides and a respected leader among the other great Houses. Paul’s mother is the Lady Jessica, the Duke’s concubine who is also the member of a powerful group of women known as the Bene Gesserit. These women are trained in the nuances of human behaviors and possess powerful abilities, such as uncovering lies and controlling others with just their voices.

Paul has been trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit with many believing he may be the the subject of an ancient prophecy as the one male who will be powerful in their abilities. The young Atreides heir also has been trained by his father’s men, some of the galaxy’s best warriors. The enemies of their family are the Harkonnens who are led by Baron Vladimir, someone who is so grossly overweight that he relies on anti-gravity devices for movement. After someone close to House Atreides betrays them to the Harkonnens, Paul’s father is killed and he and his mother are believed dead somewhere on Arrakis. In this inhospitable world, Paul must grow up quickly as he joins forces with the native Fremen population to become the ruler he was destined to become.

I loved the epic world-building that Herbert accomplishes with Dune. It would take hours for me to begin to sum up all of the ecology, politics, and philosophy that comprise this story. Trust me when I say it is quite absorbing. There are so many little details behind every scene in this book. Not only is the world of Arrakis beautifully rendered, but the characters are as well. I really enjoyed the political intrigue behind every character’s actions. As readers, we are never left in suspense as we are privy to the inner thoughts of all of the characters and are aware of events that the characters themselves don’t even know yet. I thought this approach worked well for this type of story because it allows us to already know each character’s motives without having to guess. We can just immerse ourselves in the action. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Although Dune is under 500 pages, Herbert packs a lot of detailed information. Some parts are admittedly slower than others, but you are left with enough to keep you hooked until the end.

Of course, I have to mention the sandworms. These bad ass creatures are an important element to the story as well as a lot of fun to watch onscreen. I particularly loved the characters being able to ride them. Just this scene where Paul rides a sandworm for the first time is told in such lush detail. Through the natives of Arrakis, Herbert has made sure to give a through background into their ways and beliefs. Since water is limited, the Fremen rely on wearing special suits that recycle their bodies’ own moisture.

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Another aspect that I really quite enjoyed was how there was a greater reliance on human abilities than on technology. The powers of the body and mind hold greater value than on futuristic equipment. Even the fighting styles are developed based on ancient ways.

Is Dune still relevant more than fifty years later? My answer is an astounding yes. The incredible detailed work on both setting and characters is what has allowed this book to remain at the top of science fiction lists today. Despite all of this incredible detail, I never felt like Herbert was wasting time with unnecessary scenes. Every chapter served a purpose in working towards the climax. While reading Dune, I could see its influence on future works. The political backstabbings  are reminiscent of those we would see later in Game of Thrones. One cannot help but notice the similarities between Herbert’s work and that of George Lucas with Star Wars. 

I’m using this review as my entry for an award-winning classic for the Back to the Classics challenge. I look forward to going out and purchasing the second book in this series. Trust me when I tell you that you have not read science fiction until you have read Dune. 

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

 

Have you read this book? Please comment below.