Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: The Dune Encyclopedia

A month or so ago I came stumbled upon a veritable gem of a book in a second hand bookstore- 'The Dune Encyclopedia'. For anyone else it would be nothing more than a stuffy pseudo-scholarly book (encyclopedia, after all) with a weird cover, but for Dune lovers like me, it's nothing short of a triviagasm.

Though it's called an 'encyclopedia', it's no Encyclopedia Britannica. It has interesting bits and pieces here and there, but you won't find every single item mentioned in the novels- key plot concepts like Secher Nbiw (Golden Path) and Kralizec (Ragnarok), for example, don't get their own entries, which I feel to be rather odd.

The Encyclopedia has it's highs and lows- I haven't finished it yet, but so far I've enjoyed the character biographies, histories, and an entertaining description of the 'Rakis Find', the fictional archaeological dig from which the book 'sources' its data. Meanwhile, the geological study of Arrakis and the biology of sandworms were rather dull, though I should probably qualify that statement by saying that wildlife features on NatGeo never interested me much.

That being said there's been a big argument- frighteningly passionate, to say the least- over the book's canon status in the light of the recent 'Prelude to Dune' books. 'Word of God' says the Prelude novels are canon, while the Encyclopedia is just 'interesting'. Many fans, however, would hear anything of it.

If I'd read the Encyclopedia before reading the Prelude novels I might have sided with the rebel group. I don't blame them for how they feel- they've treated the Encyclopedia like... Word of God by Proxy for years, and then out comes a set of novels which makes fundamental changes to the universe they believed in.

There are some things I don't like, which I prefer as portrayed in the Prelude novels- but that might be because my perception is clouded by my belief in which one is 'canon'. The saving grace for me in reading the Encyclopedia, however, is that some entries seem to contradict each other- not surprising given that it is supposed to be more a collection of essays than an encyclopedia.

I've concocted a reading method/philosophy that helps me ignore the bits I don't like while retaining the bits I do like- since the book is written as if by the finders of the 'Rakis Find', it's simply a gamut of opinions of on-field researchers, each of whom have their own set of prejudices. Secondly, most of the material in the Rakis Finds is the work of the God Emperor Leto II (all hail)- who wouldn't have been above inserting some falsehoods in his hidden library for the sake of a cosmic joke.

That's that. I'm happy with both my Prelude novels and my encyclopedia- never mind the disgruntled fans out there. Even better, I got it for a paltry 12 bucks, and I wasn't even looking for it in the first place- much like the fictional finders of the fictional Rakis finds.

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