Shifting Dunes

When it comes to epic book series impossible to film, first came Lord of the Rings, (which was done marvelously at last but needed more than 10 hours of screen time).

Then came Dune.

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is considered the best-selling Science-Fiction novel of all time (though it’s far more Game of Thrones than space ships), with more than 12 million copies sold in 14 languages. It tied for the 1966 Hugo Award. And like Lord of the Rings, getting it to film is a Holy Grail of filmmakers.

Dune tells the far-distant-future story of Duke Leto Atreides, who is given the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Dune is the only place in the universe where the spice Melange exists – a spice that not only can alter your mind, in some species it lets them fold time and space, creating almost instant space travel. “He who controls the spice, controls the universe.” Thus, Dune is a hotbed of politics and backstabbing. When the Duke is murdered, his son Paul, deemed an abomination by a powerful religious group, is seen as a prophesied savior by the natives of Dune. So begins the battle for control of Dune. The book is an immersive, detailed, visionary epic of grand scope (there’s a dictionary in the back). When you read the book, you are on Dune. This is a book that sticks with you for years to come.

Herbert wrote five books to the series; his son Brian added another twelve after his death. Dune – even just the first installment – is a novel of such grand scope (like GOT and LOTR) that putting it to film has been almost laughable – think of Rankin Bass’s 90-minute adaption of The Hobbit. Game of Thrones took 8 years and more than 73 hours to tell – can you imagine it as a three-hour theater film and have it make sense? It was tried in the 70’s, but after 3 years of attempts, the budget just couldn’t be managed. In 1984, David Lynch did make it, condensing much of the book to ethereal voiceovers, changing major points to condense action, and adding some now-cheesy early computer effects (the blue contacts of the Fremen didn’t work, and every frame of the film had to be colored by hand). It’s a film you either love or hate, with musician Sting as Feyd Rautha famously flexing in a winged bikini.

In 2000, SyFy channel did two Dune mini-series, which were much better received, won several awards, yet seemed to fade into obscurity faster than Lynch’s version, with the chief complaint it stuck too close to the source material, and dragged. Now, thanks to Warner Bros and HBO, we have a $165 million dollar spectacle by Denis Villeneuve that covers – only half the book, with a sequel (hopefully the second half) due in 2023. 

While the film has been viewed favorably, the scenery and cinematography spectacular, Villeneuve took many liberties with the material that once again changes the focus and depth of the story. To modernize it, he gender-swapped characters (which goes against the society Herbert wrote) and changed the roles of other women (no, the Bene Gesserit. He left out much of the religious aspect, the mysticism, even avoided the word jihad, used by the Fremen. It gives a sanitized, whitewashed view of the story, afraid of offending anyone. Herbert believed that modern societies will always decay back to a feudalistic society, and that the desert cultures, especially those of the Middle East, were more prone to messianic complexes and religious wars (remember, he’s writing in 1964 or so, when the Middle East was still rather bland politically. Think Star Wars and Tatooine, or The Great Humongous in Road Warrior, etc. There’s a lot to be said for that theory). To remove the root of the story – is it still the same story? Can anyone ever make a decent, book-abiding video version of Dune?

If you can’t wait for the new film to come out on DVD (or, rather, the first half of the book), check out the book series itself. Few things are better than the source material.

I can give up Sting in his bikini (though I thought he was a perfect Feyd), but there is no better Gurney Halleck than pre-Captain Picard Patrick Stewart. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!

Dune

Dune Messiah

Children of Dune

God Emperor of Dune

Heretics of Dune

Sandworms of Dune

Dune: House Atreides

Dune: House Harkonnen

Dune: House Corrino

Dune: The Machine Crusade

Dune: The Lady of Caladan

The Winds of Dune

The Sisterhood of Dune

Paul of Dune

Mentats of Dune

Navigators of Dune

 

November is NaNo Month!

It’s NaNoWriMo season again!

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, run by a non-profit group aiming to help young, new, and aspiring writers to find their voice and learn to hone the craft of writing. It began in 1999, with a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate each year. Once you sign up and log in, your progress is tracked in real-time, and you can reach goals and earn reward stickers.

Hundreds of thousands of people will try and may actually succeed in completing the challenge, but does it really get you anywhere?  Mmm, depends on how good you are. Water for Elephants began its first draft as a NaNoWriMo project. It was picked up, sold more than four million copies, and in 2011 became a major motion picture. So yeah, dreams do happen.

I must make this perfectly clear: Dreams do happen, after LOTS AND LOTS OF EDITING. Please don’t send your finished first draft to any non-family member to read. Poor editing will kill your chances before you even think of your book cover. Edit, edit, edit. If you can’t pay for a professional editor, then check out some books and learn to do it yourself.

But have no fear!  Cheshire Public Library can help you with that as well. Join us once a month for Cat Tales, an open group for writers of anything, beginner to published, playing with a rough idea or finished draft in hand. Talk about the ins and outs, the how-tos, editing, publishing, development, and more. Read us something you’d like feedback on, or maybe try a writing prompt.  Subject doesn’t matter – Memoir, non-fiction, fiction, romance, science fiction, action-thriller, young adult (Who doesn’t love Hunger Games?) – we can talk about them all. Learn how to take that NaNoWriMo novel and beat it into shape.

Cat Tales has been meeting virtually during the pandemic, but will be returning to in-person meetings this winter. Check the calendar for the next meeting!

Bundle Up With a Good Book

Do you like certain types of books – stories about dogs, or maybe vacations in Italy? Perhaps you like adventure stories, or space opera, or a good forensic mystery, but don’t know what to read next.  Do you like binge-reading a good series? 

Have you noticed the case of bound books in the middle of the lobby?

Take a closer look at our Book Bundles.

Book bundles are three books of a common theme bound together, so you can binge-read on a topic you enjoy. It might be outdoors, kidnappings, or WWII stories. It could be autism, award winners, westerns, Book Club Favorites, art heists, robots, or gothic horror. There’s always something new on the shelf, so check it frequently. Intrigued by a category? Check out the bundle and explore!

But not all of the titles seem interesting to me – what if I only want to check out one or two?

You can check out one or all three, whatever you’d like. Just return the unwanted ones to the desk and we’ll find them new partners. 

Don’t see anything to your liking? Prefer existentialist graphic novels? Right now you’re only reading novels that have cats in them? Trying to catch up on real-life medical stories? Let us know! We’d be happy to take requests!

There’s nothing like finding a good book, and it’s even better when you find three new favorites at once. A whole new world of reading adventures awaits!

9/11 – Twenty Years Later

There are several points in US history that are “fixed points,” dates and events which become so embedded in the minds and hearts of the people that they become part of our universal consciousness, whether or not we experienced them ourselves. July 4, 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. December 7, 1941, the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, “The Day That Will Live in Infamy.” November 22, 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And September 11, 2001, known simply as 9/11, when foreign nationals who had trained here in America, who bypassed airline “security,” hijacked four American jetliners and crashed them into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a field in Pennsylvania. The entire world stopped. On that day 2,983 Americans died, including 343 Firemen, 60 police officers, and 8 medical personnel – not counting the people who died from breathing in all the toxins released from the burning rubble. If you remember the day, you remember exactly where you were when you heard about it. People stayed glued to their TVs for days, hoping beyond hope that someone had survived the horror. So many people knew someone, or had ties to someone, who died that day. A friend of mine at Morgan Stanley by chance happened to be sent to a meeting at a different office that morning. Every one of his coworkers died. My husband’s cousin was just blocks away on her way to work when it hit, and wound up having to evacuate her apartment.

This year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a somber day for reflection. An entire generation has now grown up in a post-9/11 world, knowing the date as something only in a history book, no emotional ties to the day at all. Millions of New Yorkers are new to the city, with no experience of the unity the catastrophe created. Perhaps this is the most important memorial yet. 

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum at 180 Greenwich St. in New York City will be holding a ceremony for the families of the victims on that day. There will be six moments of silence, one for each of the tragedies that happened. Churches are encouraged to toll bells. The ceremony is private, but the museum will be open to the public from 1 pm until midnight. At sundown, the annual tribute in lights will commence. 

9/11 is a day that is going to be with us for a very long time, whether you remember it or not, whether you had any connection to it or not, whether you care about it or not. It’s still hanging over us, a Damoclean Sword we cannot take our eyes from. 

To honor the date, Cheshire Public Library invites you to share your 9/11 memories through our 9/11 Reflections project. As we approach the anniversary date, we are compiling the stories of local residents – where they were, what they remember, how they were affected that day. You can click on the link here, or pick up a paper form at the library. Select stories and photos will be displayed on our website on September 10. The deadline for submissions is September 3.

Be considerate about the date, even if you feel it doesn’t affect you. Hold that moment of silence, if not for the past, but for the future, that we – or anyone else – won’t have to suffer such an attack again. 

To learn more, check out some of these books and films:

Inside 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11

In Memoriam: NYC 9/11/01

Zero Dark Thirty

The Only Plane in the Sky

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11

The 11th Day

The Looming Tower

Kill Bin Laden

A Nation Challenged

Passing the Bechdel Test

Have you given anything a Bechdel test? Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test?
I’d never heard of it either (and I went to a women’s college!) until it popped up on an internet group I belong to, and I had to look it up.

The Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test) is a measure of representation of women in fiction. It first appeared in Allison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (I didn’t name it) commenting on films, brought on by a quote from Virginia Woolf, in that women in fiction might sometimes be mother and daughter, but rarely are two women friends in literature. Almost always, women were viewed by their relationship to men – wanting a man, chasing a man, depending on a man, chasing off a man, etc. (Hence Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”). Real women in real life talk to other women about more than just men (even if it’s only about their cat or dog).

Therefore, Bechdel gave three commandments for films to be considered women-friendly (and by default, TV and books):

  1. It must have at least two women in it (preferably with names)
  2. Who talk to each other (preferably for at least 60 seconds)
  3. About something besides a man

And the off-hand comment in a sarcastic lesbian cartoon strip surged until it’s become an almost a standard metric for the industry.

Seems pretty simple, right?

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Not passing the Bechdel test does NOT make a film bad, nor does it make it not worth watching. Not every movie is going to center around women – Dunkirk, for example, a splendid movie about a specific battle in World War II. Women were just not involved in that. Stand By Me – a magnificent story of four young boys on a quest. Girls aren’t in the story, and if you skip this movie because of that, then you’re missing one of the best American movies. Nor is every film required to pass the Bechdel test. Casino passes two of the three qualifications, but women are mistreated throughout the film. Inclusion is just that – inclusion, not a judgment of how women are treated by the story, not a judgment of female competence, not a judgment of feminism (Gravity, with a female astronaut who saves the day, can’t pass the test, though The Martian, with a male lead, does). A woman may love a movie that can’t pass the test, and a man can certainly love a film that does. Movies of every genre pass or fail; there is no specific type of film to look for.

All the Bechdel test does, really, is point out films in which women – a full 50% of the population – are a larger focus of the story, and even if they aren’t, they’re portrayed as real, well-rounded people who speak to each other about real subjects, even if it’s about burning a roast, not just love-starved buttercups who are nothing without a man. So, if you’re on the lookout for films that show women – important or background characters – in a more realistic light, here are 15 various films that do pass the Bechdel test:

The Finest Hours

Little Miss Sunshine

Wonder Woman

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Last Jedi

Girl, Interrupted

Hidden Figures

Kill Bill

Thelma and Louise

The Exorcist

Chicago

Frozen

Birds of Prey

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Knives Out