Dune — Audiobook Review

Frank Herbert’s Dune is such a good book that it transcended being a bad audiobook.

For many years I’ve put off reading Dune. I’m not really sure why, perhaps because it was big, perhaps because it was adored by so many fans. I know it felt like an overwhelming prospect. But since I’ve decided that I really should read more classic sci-fi, I checked out the audiobook (again, I love OverDrive) and gave it a go over the holidays.

Dune itself was amazing. It lived up to its promise. The characters and world were richly nuanced and the plot was exciting. I plan to continue reading the rest a little later this year, after I’ve caught up on the Miles Vorkosigan novels.

I found myself asking a lot of questions about gender and wondering how certain aspects of this book would’ve been received at the time. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can articulate those reflections yet. Reading the rest of the Dune series may help.

Now…about the audiobook. The audiobook is done in a style which I’ve rarely seen executed well. There is one primary narrator to read the text and a series of voice actors read the actual dialog. I believe that things like “he said” and “she said” are cut out, though the narrator will tell us if it’s something more complicated.

I don’t know if the actors could’ve helped it. I wish some had been cast differently, but others would’ve probably been good if the recording hadn’t been choppy. It felt more like watching a video game’s cutscene than listening to a book. Video games sometimes have good voice actors too, but it was the choppy, broken-up quality that made me think it. Probably because they were trying to combine voice acting with audiobook reading, or because of recording issues, or simply because of the nature of this kind of audiobook.

The first hour was painful. My brain couldn’t settle into it. But I pushed on because we didn’t have an EPUB version for my Nook and I wasn’t feeling up to lugging Dune on the metro. After the first CD or so, the plot drew me in and I didn’t want to stop. After a few more CDs, I hardly noticed the problems, even though I was still aware enough to know that the actual recording hadn’t improved. The book was like a juggernaut, drawing me onward.

In the end, I enjoyed the whole thing very much. I don’t look forward to encountering the same thing in the next audiobooks, but I think I’m used enough to it that my brain won’t protest, so long as the cast is the same.

Do I recommend it? I recommend the book very much, it deserves its accolades. It’s a great piece of sci-fi.

As for the audiobook, I recommend it if that’s the only way you’ll be able to get through the story. It may be tough at first, but the story is good enough to make putting up with the voices more and more bearable until you don’t care about anything but the plot.

Anyone else listened to the Dune audiobook? Did you make it through or give up?

8 Comments

  1. jeff says:

    That must be different than the one I got off a buddy, it was one reader and very badly dubbed. As if someone played old cassettes and basically stuck a headset mike up to his speakers to record it. It was very dry with just one voice, and a bit hard to follow, but I have a lot of time where I don’t have to talk to people at my job. So it works out.

  2. Spring says:

    I’ve never listened to an audiobook in my life, but man, do they make some awful movies based on Dune. Too bad. Dune is one of my favorite books EVER.

  3. imabug says:

    Haven’t done the audiobook, but I have read the Dune series several times. the series starts getting kind of weird after God Emperor though.

  4. Chuck says:

    Hi, I stumbled across your site here searching for the order to read the Vorkosigan series. I only have a few left and wanted to stay in order (thanks by the way). Anyway, as it relates to this topic, Dune was performed oddly and was a bit hard to follow. The one thing I discovered while listening was Simon Vance, the main narrator. I am an Aud_ible subscriber, and I listen to a LOT of books. As a result, I find myself choosing books based on who is reading. Simon Vance did the Stieg Larsson books, and was amazing. Another reco is Scott Brick doing Ender’s Game, and while it was a small ensemble, it was the best I have come across.

  5. Maggie says:

    I just finished the first Dune audiobook today. Did any one else notice the switch in readers? At the beggining the voice actors did the dialogue but through some parts the narrator read the dialogue. This took me a while to pick up on and I’m very confused now. What made me catch on was one of the voice actors had a deep rich sultry voice but then other parts he was played by the narrator. I am starting it over again and am going to see if I see a pattern…
    Overall I thought it was a very interesting story line, I was completly sucked in! I am excited to listen to the rest of the series!

  6. Michael says:

    Maggie, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this, it makes the listening experience very disjointed and confusing, especially when the actors give the characters strange Americanish accents. I much prefer the narrator to voice all the characters.

    It is difficult when the delivery of a story gets in the way of enjoying the story itself.

  7. Brian says:

    Both the Barron and Lady Jessica fell victim to the problem Maggie and Michael mention.

    I started to wonder if they guy that did the voice for the Barron died or something halfway though, but that would mean it was recorded out of order I think. Anyway, I agree with you guys, for a while I was trying to figure out if there are two Barrons in the story line, since the voice of one that almost got whacked by the Duke’s nerve gas tooth is different from the voice used elsewhere.

    Overall though I did like this audiobook and would have zero complaints other than the above issue. It is nice to be able to associate a distinct voice with each character. I also enjoyed the way they did Princess Irulan’s readings. (and at least that part was consistent.)

  8. Martin says:

    at first i thought, wow what an excellent audiobook – with different actors giving voice to different characters – sounded so authentic, but then they disappeared and the same narrator read everything, im very disappointed !!!!!

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