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Dune 101

Saturday, May 06, 2023 at 4:11pm

What is Dune?

Dune is a science fiction novel published in 1965 by Frank Herbert. It was well received immediately, winning both the inaugural Nebula and sharing the Hugo in 1966. Dune is often called one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time; it has never gone out of print.

The novel is set in the far, far future when interstellar travel is possible thanks to “melange” or spice, a consumable substance which allows a specialist guild to navigate the complexities of faster-than-light travel. Galactic society is feudal in structure, with large Houses competing for economic dominance, all of whom hope to control the planet Arrakis, the only place in the universe where the spice can be found. The beginning of the Dune saga follows House Atreides as they take over stewardship of the planet only to be dismantled from within by spies planted by rival House Harkonnen. Duke Atreides’ son, Paul, survives the attack and goes “underground,” where he is trained in the ways of the desert by the Fremen people, the original settlers of the planet thousands of years earlier. Paul Atreides grows in power, fulfilling a prophecy thousands of years old that a Messiah who can see and think forwards and backwards through time would unite the galaxy. But first he must defeat Baron Harkonnen and his House and free Arrakis from ecological collapse due to demand for melange.

Herbert’s masterpiece is deeply philosophical, rife with deep thoughts about the nature of power, politics, religion, free will, technology and ecology. Dune has often been credited with bringing explicit ecological concerns to the field of science fiction. A deeply humanistic novel, Dune tries to consider how power shapes individuals and how individuals can shape society, for good or for ill. 

Where Should You Start?

With the first book of course! Herbert’s universe is complex and somewhat daunting at first, but he lays out everything you need to know in the first few hundred pages of the first book. Armed with that knowledge you are ready to take on the rest of the action packed second half of the novel and the rest of the series. 

After Dune, What’s Next?

Herbert took years and years to devise the sequels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, and the time and care he put into them show. Some folks argue all you need is the first Dune, but we think books 2 and 3 have their delights. Dune Messiah and Children of Dune should be read together, one after the other, not only because that’s the order they were published in, but because they were conceived as tightly bound, one plot flowing into the next. Dune Messiah follows Paul Atreides, the Muad'Dib, as the Emperor of the galaxy, but the remnants of House Harkonnen and new enemies conspire to remove him from power. Paul is tormented by foreknowledge: that he must do despicable things to set humanity on a millenia-spanning course with distant utopia as the goal. Dune Messiah is shorter than Dune, but more focused, with less worldbuilding and more intrigue and action. Children of Dune is longer, but not quite as lengthy as Dune. In it, Paul’s children have come of age and the religion around the Muad'Dib has coarsened and veered from the path Paul worked so hard to put humanity on; the utopia promised will never come to pass because Paul refused to make the necessary sacrifice. Leto, his son, has the same foreknowledge as Paul but does not shy away from what must be done. With Children of Dune’s denouement and end, the trilogy is complete, and the story can be closed.

Aren’t there more Books in the Series?

Yes, the fourth book is God Emperor of Dune, set 3,500 years after Children of Dune, with Leto still living as Emperor. This novel, published five years after the previous one, is a bridge between what Herbert envisioned as two trilogies: the first Dune trilogy, then a second, comprising Heretics of Dune, Chapterhouse: Dune, and Dune 7, which was left unfinished after Herbert passed away in 1986. Dune 7 was completed by his son, Brian Herbert, and his collaborator Kevin J. Anderson as two books, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. While the reception to these last two was decidedly mixed, completionists may want to delve in just to see how Frank Herbert saw the series ending. 


There are quite a few adaptations of the books, despite their legendary status as impenetrable or difficult. First is David Lynch's 1984 version known simply as Dune. Critically reviled and disowned by its director, the 1984 version features Kyle MacLachlan as Paul and a score by the band Toto. Recently, the film was restored and reissued by Arrow Video in 4K UHD.

After that, the Sci-Fi channel did two TV mini-series with the intent of adapting the source material more closely. Frank Herbert's Dune and Frank Herbert's Children of Dune starred Alec Newman as Paul and then James McAvoy as Leto II, Paul's son. While these adaptations were closer to the book, a network TV-sized budget and rudimentary computer graphics held them back from being great.

Famously, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve adapted the novel into two parts: 2021's Dune: Part One and the forthcoming Dune: Part Two, starring Timothée Chalamet as Paul. Critical reception was high and more importantly, it reignited interest in the Dune books.

While the books have never been out of print, they have enjoyed a huge sales boost in the last two years and we hope to bring even more fans onboard! But how to start?

Categories: Site News, Staff Pick, Fun, SciFi & Fantasy, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Book Lists, Literature


Difference: Comemadre & The Blurry Years

Saturday, Jan 12, 2019 at 10:44am

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” — Haruki Murakami

Roque Larraquy’s Comemadre begins in a questionable institution in Buenos Aires in 1907, when its staff, more reminiscent of the Marx Brothers than of a functioning ward, set out to lure in terminal cancer patients to serve as guinea pigs in a grand experiment. The experiment? To plumb the liminal space between life and death by offering up a quack cure to the hopeful, only to encourage said patients to dedicate their bodies to science once the medication inevitably fails. The doctors are convinced that by interrogating severed heads during their nine seconds of post-decapitation consciousness that they can interpret the poetry of their utterances and gain insight into the life beyond. The venture is, expectedly, a failure, but one full of impressively deadpan slapstick and grand guignol set pieces. Somehow, that only covers the first half of this inventive combination of fiction and theory, horror and humour. The second begins a century later, when a performance / installation artist with a surprising connection to the clinic draws inspiration from this legacy to turn his own body into his ultimate artwork. Immaculately translated by Heather Cleary, Comemadre is a unique and thrilling book.

We first encounter Cassie, the young narrator of Eleanor Kriseman’s The Blurry Years as she huddles with her mother on a bed in another small, rented home, listening to the mice in the walls and eating reheated spaghetti. It is just another day in her “blurry years”: a seemingly endless procession of time spent following her alcoholic mother as she listlessly moves from place to place, her only child caught up in her gravity. All too often, Cassie is stripped of her agency and subject to the whims of those adults around her. When she does assert herself as a teen, her struggle to free herself from the proscribed role of ward and victim is as messy and affecting as one would imagine, but free of the usual platitudes that haunt this type of writing. Not simply another coming of age novel, The Blurry Years has a momentum not simply driven by narrative but by a combination of place (Florida itself is a vital character) and voice. Kriseman brings Cassie to life on the page, finding in her journey the story of a life coming into its own and freeing itself of the past. It is a shimmering evocation of adolescence and marks the unveiling of an exciting new voice.

— John Toews

Categories: Staff Pick, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Difference

Difference: Gander and Gerard

Tuesday, Feb 17, 2015 at 11:36am

"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."
-- Haruki Murakami


Forrest Gander’s latest novel, The Trace, is a haunting look at loss and loneliness and a meditation on the intersection (and collision) of different worlds. Dale and Hoa, a couple recovering from a traumatic incident involving their son, decide to travel into Mexico to investigate the three possible fates Ambrose Bierce might have faced when he disappeared in 1913 while covering the Mexican Revolution. The trip is an excuse to escape from the despair that dwells with them at home and an attempt to bridge the distance that has arisen between them. Their journey is threatened by a break down in the middle of the desert and the presence of a ruthless group of drug smuggling narcos. A spare, elegantly written novel interspersed with Gander’s award-winning poetry, the humanity in The Trace is raw and real.

Forrest Gander was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his 2011 poetry collection Core Samples for the World. Trained in both English literature and geology and born in the Mojave Desert, his sense of both the landscape of the desert and the interior landscapes of his characters is masterful.

In the word of Publishers Weekly: “As in his previous works, Gander shows he is keenly aware of the loneliness that imbues human suffering and sets grief alight using beautiful, tense, haunting prose.”

This piece written by our very own bookseller John Toews.


A binary star is a system containing two stars that orbit their common center of mass. Binary stars are gravitationally bound.

An unnamed narrator and her long-distance boyfriend embark on an aimless road trip across America in Sarah Gerard’s debut novel Binary Star. Both vow to leave their vices behind, her eating disorder and penchant for pills and his alcoholism, but those promises cannot be kept. In Portland they happen upon a book on vegananarchism and in it find their cause. She fixates on the stars, both celestial and celebrity, and as such astronomy provides the baseline allegory in this short novel; the couple as binary stars, the anorexic as a shrinking white dwarf burning unreplenished fuel. Binary Star is a portrait of lovers who cannot live together or apart.

This is a work that defies the boundaries between poetry and prose, between fiction and non- (the novel began life as a memoir). In a lyrical style that is both hypnotic and arresting, Gerard crafts a haunting story of consumption beyond control.

This novel burns bright. A truly stunning debut.

This piece written by our very own bookseller Devon Arthur.

This article originally appeared on page 10 of the January/February 2015 edition of our news magazine, The Bookseller. You can pick up a free copy of the magazine in our bookstores, or read it online here.

Categories: Staff Pick, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Something Different

Review: The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem

Thursday, Nov 21, 2013 at 3:02pm

Sholem Aleichem is perhaps the most pre-eminent name in Yiddish literature, and among the immediate figures that come to mind in Jewish writing in general. Fiddler on the Roof, based on Sholem Aleichem's endeared Tevye the dairyman and the longest-running performance on Broadway, sealed the Yiddish writer's name in North American pop culture.

Dubbed the Jewish Mark Twain (Mark Twain would respond, calling himself the American Sholem Aleichem) and deemed "a worthy heir to Gogol," the iconic Yiddish author and his influence is explored in a new biography, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye by Jeremy Dauber.

Sholem Rabinovich was born in 1859 in Ukraine, at a time when the so-called Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment, was growing and adversely altering the Yiddish-speaking world of Eastern Europe. The young Rabinovich aspired to be a writer, witnessed how a new body of literature and art was emerging in that "jargon" called Yiddish, and adopted the pen name Sholem Aleichem, a traditional greeting meaning "peace be upon you." He could have easily been one of the characters that shape his fiction, having come from an impoverished childhood, married into wealth, and lost everything.

Writing with a notion of "laughter through tears," Sholem Aleichem's works spoke to his Yiddish-speaking brethren, addressing the hardships and discrimination his people often faced in the old country, tales that came with a unique dash of humour, layered in critical thought and gems of wisdom. He was so popular that at one time he was writing simultaneous premieres for two competing Yiddish theatres in New York City. When he died in 1916, his funeral was one of the largest New York had ever seen. But the Sholem Aleichem story doesn't stop there. The biography looks at the amazing afterlife of Sholem Aleichem in English translation, and beyond.

The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, hailed as the "first comprehensive biography" on the beloved author, is a finely-written work, illuminating a Yiddish-speaking world coloured in a certain joy, of course sorrow, and yet still touches so many Jewish North Americans. The book makes for a wonderful gift on the Hanukkah holiday.

This review was written by bookseller John C. The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, which was released in October, can be found in our Judaica section in-store, or you can purchase it here on our website.

Categories: Reviews, Staff Pick, Authors, Saskatoon, Winnipeg

Staff picks now on our website

Saturday, Sep 14, 2013 at 2:26pm

Our booksellers are also book readers, so you can imagine we've each got a title or two (or ten or fifty) that we love.

And now we're sharing them with you! On this page you can find an ever-growing selection of Staff Picks supplied to us from both our Winnipeg and Saskatoon booksellers. These books are highly recommended by the booksellers that chose them, and each is available in-store or to order.

Contact your nearest McNally Robinson bookstore to check current availability. Or if you're in the store, keep an eye out for our Staff Picks displays throughout!

Categories: Site News, Staff Pick, Saskatoon, Winnipeg
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