I rarely return to a book. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve read a book more than once: Catcher in the Rye, The Mists of Avalon… uh…Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…. Harry Potter 6 (just as a refresher before Harry Potter 7 came out.) Aaaaaand that’s about it.But there is one novel I do keep returning to every few years – another one by Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s got Adams’s trademark humour, but the story seems to be so much more fleshed out than the hodge-podge that is the Hitchhiker “trilogy.” Really, this is some pretty clever time-travel stuff, crammed with ghosts and electronic monks. If you like SciFi and comedy, and you haven’t read this yet, you’ve done yourself a great injustice.
I’ve since found out that BBC4 is planning a TV series – which has me all atwitter. Not holding my breath since, like all Adams’s work, this book relies heavily on the narrator for its humour. That doesn’t necessarily translate to screen. But since Adams is dead, and the prospect of him writing anything new seems spotty at best, I’ll take what I can get – especially if it means new Dirk Gently stories.
Dirk Gently is the SciFi classic that’s never been rightly recognized.
And while I’m in book-review mode, let me rant a bit about another SciFi Classic – one that, in my opinion, is greatly overrated: Dune.I just finished Dune about a week ago, and that was no small feat. It was a real chore to get through it – but since it’s considered “SciFi’s classic masterpiece” I figured there had to be something to it. So I toughed it out.
In the end, the story of Dune is just okay – and there were moments that had me turning pages. But there’s was a heck of a lot more that left me wanting:
- Too much foreshadowing: I never felt like I didn’t know what was about to happen. Each chapter is preceded by an excerpt from “history books” written after the events in the novel. I eventually had to stop reading these because, not only were they pointless, they served only to spoil the story. I knew from the get go what was going to happen at the end of book 1 (The novel is split into 3 books) and who the traitor was. What’s left? To hear more silly names for fake technology? No thanks.
- Too verbose: Too many silly names for fake technology.
- Too much world-building: Get to the story! Yeah, an author creating a new world needs to explain how that world works, but within reason. Give me more plot and action, please. The story could have been told in half the time.
- Too little action: The author built up his chapters often culminating in the start of a major event. Then he would cut it off at a suspenseful moment. Fine. Justifiable if you’re building tension – but you have to deliver. Dune didn’t. Invariably the next chapter would usually start well after the event was over, and we’d hear some lame second-hand account of what happened. It’s like the author wouldn’t commit to writing any detailed action sequences.
- Too much book 2: Book 1 (aside from being spoiled) was entertaining, and book 3 wrapped up most things nicely, but book 2 just went oooooooon. It was all character development – but written in a way that was more baffling than clarifying. That’s where I almost put Dune down for good. If you’re just gonna write incoherent dream sequences, then I’ll pass, thanks.
- Unlikeable main character: When your character is “the chosen one,” you know nothing terrible is likely to befall him. And he seems to know it too, making him smug. The author tried to portray him through the eyes of other characters as compassionate, but any time we actually read from his point of view, he just comes off as a wanker.
What it came down to for me was that the chapters in Dune didn’t make me want to read on. It wasn’t well structured because I knew the next chapter wouldn’t answer my questions. In the end, I soldiered on merely because it’s so well regarded and I wanted to have read it.
I don’t regret reading it, but forget me reading any more of this series.