BOOKS + BEER: Dune and Budweiser
Why? Because a student handed me the book and suggested I read it? No. Students routinely want me to read books and they are usually this one, or Neil Gaiman and I’m not reading any fucking Neil Gaiman. I’m an adult. I read it because so many of my students are writing Sci Fi lately. From a genre trickle to categorical gusher. Could be my doing this semester. I instructed them to write a QUEST. I think some of their brains went quest=genre, though I showed them many, many quests that were just like two dudes trying to get to Hollywood or the latest Jennifer Aniston Must-Get-A-Man flick or just some guy swimming away into cognitive dissonance or a newlywed couple needing to rob McDonald’s but no/no/no they go genre, fantasy or Sci Fi. That’s OK. I mean we had no zombies. (Best zombie film to show students about genre irrelevant—characters matter.) I could be like some in academia (and literary publishing) and say no to genre. OR…I could admit many literary works are indeed gestures of genre…OR I could/should meet the students half way and feel a need to increase my knowledge base on Sci Fi, admit I haven’t read Sci Fi in many years (is Vonnegut Sci Fi?) and so feel a pedagogical necessity to read something and Dune is on all the lists and I know Sting is in the movie version (though I’ve never seen it and have no plans to) and so here we go into the box, the hour glass, the sand.
Three things we know: 1. You can show all the patriotic commercials in the world, but Anheuser Busch is still a company owned by Belgium. 2. Women die when they get near August Anheuser Busch IV. 3. Budweiser is Ok to drink. Not great. Not absolutely bad. (Fuck off, beer snobs, we know how much you blar this beer and, honestly, it’s a little ridiculous.) But OK, an OK beer, in certain situations…
Dune? Not a great book. And that might be a problem, since it’s recognized as a very great book–The King of Books?–in the Sci Fi genre. It’s not a bad book, either. I stop reading bad books. (Finally, as I’ve grown older, I’ve relinquished my compulsion that had me finishing every book I began.) It’s an OK book. What did I like? Well, it did assist my knowledge base—it will help me in discussing student work in the genre. Why? The technique work, especially in informing the reader of the “world” within the Sci Fi milieu. This is critical to Sci Fi, I feel. Having read many, many student Sci Fi drafts, this is most often the error: a neglect to inform. We need the “ground” of this new world. Geography, belief systems, demographics, history, etc. In Dune, I am interested in HOW the author established the ground. We get excerpts from religious, historical, educational texts. We get legend. We get the device of the “ignorant character.” The IC goes, “What the hell is a sandworm?” And the local guy goes, “Big-ass dangerous thing. Attracted to shields. There are some crazy rumors of people riding them. Blah, blah…” Why is this conversation happening? To inform not necessarily the character, but the reader. Dune does a good job of understanding this necessity.
Let’s say after a few amazing hours of Worldcon you hook up with a group of Glamazon storm troopers and drink a metric ton of Belgium beer at a bowling alley and even do two lines of coke off the top of the counter (risky!) where the bowling balls nestle like colorful eggs beneath and the night spins out of control, a little galaxy of huff/slick/slide/pop, and you wake up naked noon-thirty inside a Hyundai filled to the roof with popcorn. You are wearing one shoe, and it’s not yours. You slink home with remorse. Look, you feel like shit. Like what’s the purpose here? What am I doing? So you need something concrete. Something that will have clear meaning, a beginning, an end. You mow the yard. You’re grinding, pushing, sweating out wine fumes and self disgust. You look at your work and actually smile. Neat lines of green and a lighter green and a dusting of speckled leaves. You put away the mower. You are thirsty! Your tongue is furry. Sticky. But life’s OK. Hell, admit it, you had fun last night, and you can always go barefoot. You go inside, open the fridge, grab a Budweiser, pop the top, and gulp/gulp that entire, cold, sweating beer. In that particular situation, Budweiser can taste OK, though we both know it has the head retention of a remote control battery cover.
The glossary and map and appendixes of Dune are unnecessary and insulting to the reader. That move is one (of many) that makes people think what they think of Sci Fi. It’s a punk move, with a touch of nerd, with a touch of couch-speak. I don’t like it. Give me some credit. Don’t be so wonky. A fucking glossary? If I can’t understand a word by its context and placement in your novel, you did a shitty job, or I’m a shitty reader. Don’t give me a glossary.
You’ve had 8 good beers and still you’re waiting for that click to kick in. Standing outside in a front yard in _______. It’s the Sunday of the family reunion. You have a cooler in the truck. You keep slipping out the door—got to get that book, your jacket, etc—just slamming beers like an elevator on parade. Damn, you’re out of beer. BUT, your uncle has two Budweiser in the fridge, tucked back there behind the catsup and the pear wrapped in aluminum foil. Slip the two cans into your jeans, go to the bathroom, slam both—yes, the click kicks in! You put the 2 cans in the little garbage with the yellow, furry covering (why does a garbage can needs a scarf?), cover them with TP. (They’ll be found tomorrow, after the families are gone, for a classic WTF? situation.) In this scenario, Budweiser is fine, though it still smells like someone lost a brass instrument in a field of thin, yellow grass and then found the brass instrument a month later and filled the bell with tap water and then swirled the bell about to create a whirlpool effect, or what we call a vortex.
Sci Fi is supposed to about “ideas.” That’s my opinion. I think I’m right. In the end, all of this planetary spaceship flying animal thingy tasers or lasers or even the clichés: Fit, good looking people are GOOD, obese, ugly people are BAD. Knives and mail armor other medieval paraphernalia are key to combat in other worlds. Dukes and princes and…oh, never mind, you know what I’m saying. But, in all of this, Dune really, really goes for ideas: religion, environmentalism/ecology, free will, Zen stuff, gender, heroism, on and on. Most glow was the idea of honor and its cousin, treachery. Dune is rooted in treachery, an idea that obviously leads to great tension within the plot. These were the concepts that worked, the ones fused within the form of the scene, another reason the appendix was ridiculous. [I want to say the appendix sat there like the turd on the wedding cake (a simile I just stole from somewhere—Chandler? Maybe.)]
Was Dune ever funny? No, what’s your point? Why would it be? OK, one funny thing, these Sci Fi characters have all these crazy names, you know, Sci Fi stuff, Shaddam Corrino IV the Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe (the Imperium), for example, but then our protagonist, our hero, is named Paul. Hi, I’m Paul. Paul. Paul. Paul. I thought it funny. Yo, Paul, here comes Glossu “Beast” Rabban (AKA Rabban Harkonnen), so get your little knife ready. Paul? Paul, stop playing with Ringo, and get your ass over here…
Speaking of knives, here’s an annoying thing. Every time Paul is challenged to a knife duel (another medieval hangover), he accepts (with one exception). Over and over. He has to accept, because “It’s the way.” Basically, this is how it’s done. I found it grating. I wanted Paul to say, “You know what? I’m the fucking Duke, I’m all Kwisatz Haderach up in this planet, so no, no, I will not duel you today. I am sick of dueling just anybody and their Bene Gesserit mother, too. Go duel a sandworm, you pluto-brain. Go into a cave and lick your las-gun for all I care, but I will not be dueling today. Go. Eat. Sand.” Etc.
Seriously, though. Budweiser beer. Come on now. In the right moment, it’s OK.