Tag Archives: From the Sci-Fi


An  Ambitious  Screen  Adaption  of   Frank Herbert’s Epic Novel Dune is in the Works

By Dennis Greene 

Dominick Mayer, of COS, a Chicago based pop culture blog, recently announced that Denis Villeneuve, fresh off his recent successes in Bladé Runner 2049 and Arrival has announced that he has agreed with Legendary Pictures Production to direct a new adaption of Frank Herbert’s epic novel.   Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for Forest Gump and four other best picture Oscar nominees, has already written a first draft of a Dune screenplay. This is great news for Dune fans. There is no completion date set, but it is not expected earlier than 2019 at best.

It has been fifty years since the publication of this sweeping and complex novel, and a number of imaginative filmmakers have tried to bring it to the screen, but the task has proven difficult. The highly regarded filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky invested extraordinary time and effort in 1973 in his aborted adaption, and David Lynch’s 1984 rendition is considered by many to have fallen short of the mark. Several TV series based on the novel have been only moderately successful.

Frank Herbert has said that he was greatly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” and by the life of T.E. Laurence  (i.e. Lawrence of Arabia) when writing Dune, and  George Lucas, in turn, admits that Dune greatly influenced his Star Wars.  When reading the description of the Arrakas’ landscape, Lucas’ Tatoine jumps instantly to mind. Villeneuve has noted that a number of Star Wars’ original plot elements and world building details–like the massive desert planet, the seemingly futile rebellion against an omnipotent empire, a young man destined to overthrow the Emperor, and the similar roles of the Jedi and the Bene Gesserit–all show at least surface similarities with Star Wars.  Though it is hard to imagine challenging Star Wars’ success, Villeneuve has taken a swipe at the mega franchise by stating that he intends his upcoming adaption of Dune to be “Star Wars for adults.”

I am rooting for Mr. Villeneuve to be hugely successful. The novel itself has won science fiction’s highest awards–the Hugo and the Nebula–and, as recently as 2012, it was named the top science-fiction novel of all time in a Wired readers’ poll. It has sold millions of copies and spawned eighteen sequels and prequals, but Dune has not penetrated the popular culture in the way that The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars have. Jon Michaud, in a New Yorker article, noted that there are no Dune conventions, and catchphrases from the book have not entered the language.

At the other extreme, Dune is not given its due as literature, a wonderful tale well told. The epic scope of the military and political conflicts in Dune make the mere skirmishes in  War and Peace seem trivial. The relationship between Duke Leto and Jessica, and between Paul and Chani make the coupling of Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky seem shallow, selfish and unimportant. Vladimer Harkonen in Dune would be capable of holding his own in the sordid corridors of power in Westros, and the assortment of unique, well defined characters existing on Arrakas would rival those populating Dickensian London. Yet, every high school English class at least mentions Tolstoy and Dickens, and Game of Thrones dominates our pop culture while Dune languishes in obscurity.  Perhaps Mr. Villeneuve’s efforts will change this.

If you haven’t read Dune, you have plenty of time to do so before the movie or movies are released. If you have read Dune, now may be a good time to read it again.  It will still hold your attention.  And if you would like to share the Dune experience with others, you might consider reading and discussing the novel with others this fall in a study group at BOLLI.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  



by Dennis Green

Miriam Allen deFord

Miriam Allen deFord, an American writer of mysteries and science fiction in the early 1900’s, is credited with saying “Science fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities.”  The line is sometimes attributed to Rod Sterling, the screenwriter, producer, and narrator of The Twilight Zone.  He may have been the first to recite it on TV, but I’m guessing he stole it from Miriam.  Lots of other well-respected writers–including Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and H. G. Wells–have tried to distinguish science fiction from fantasy, but none of their efforts have been fully successful. Therefore, the characterization of any given work is not clear cut.

The reason it is so difficult to distinguish among the genre of “speculative fiction” ( the term now used to include science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery and horror), is because they have many “tropes” in common.  Tropes like space travel, time travel, alternate universes, alternate history, new worlds, aliens, epic scientific or social changes, telepathy, telekinesis, resurrection, artificial intelligence, artificial life, and human evolution are just a few that come to mind. The effort to distinguish between science fiction and fantasy goes on, causing much confusion and discussion, though I don’t understand why anyone cares. Maybe it serves some marketing purpose.  If a work of fiction is entertaining, engrossing, and stimulating, people will tend to read and enjoy it no matter how it is labeled. Is Harry Potter science fiction or fantasy? How about Game of Thrones? Or A Princess of Mars? Let’s try to label some well-known examples.’

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The central trope of Twain’s novel is time travel, and astronomy is also important. The protagonist is placed in an alternate world similar to mythical medieval England. Though it might certainly be classified as science fiction, it rarely is thought of as such.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings certainly involves an alternate world with its own plausible geography, environment, political history, and characters, but since it also involves magic, elves, and imaginary beasts, it most probably should be classified as fantasy.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth is an alternate history story, but it doesn’t occur to most readers that they are reading science fiction.

Dune involves space travel, imaginary worlds, terraformIng, genetics, futuristic weapons, and many other science fiction tropes. The story is grounded in science, and the advances are plausible. I would classify it as science fiction, though there are strong threads of sword and sorcery appearing throughout.

Kurt Vonnegut’s books Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse Five contain sci-fi tropes such as time travel, aliens, and space travel, but many readers who deny reading or liking science fiction, admittedly read and enjoy these novels.

Frankenstein is well known as classic literature and is even included in many high school curricula without a science fiction label. But in science fiction circles, it is often identified as the first science fiction novel.  Certainly the story’s central theme, the reanimation of life based on Galvin’s electricity experiments, clearly fits the definition of science fiction.

The list could go on, but it’s not worth the effort. If the description of a work is intriguing, or the author is someone you enjoy, or a literate friend suggests a book, read it and decide for yourself if it is entertaining. Don’t worry about how it is classified.

Our BOLLI Matters Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Swords, and Sorcery Aficionado, Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.