The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

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Naïve mind
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The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Naïve mind » 22 Dec 2013 11:48

Review: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Morbid curiosity. That's the reason I started on this book. The hope that I could make fun of the book here was the only thing that made me continue. In the end, I neither my curiosity or this hope was satisfied. The Race for God is a story about representatives from all world religions commandeering a starship to the center of the Galaxy to meet God. If this sounds familiar, it's because he cribbed the idea from a story conceived by William Shatner. It takes some skill to steal a story idea from William Shatner, yet not improve on it. I'm not sure if it was because of legal concerns about plagiarism, or if he was frightened of angry followers of the world's religions knocking at his door, but this story doesn't actually take place on Earth.

It takes place on D'Urth.

If you just cringed--congratulations. That emotion summarizes the entire book, you don't need to read it anymore. The world religions aren't Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, but Krassianism, Isammedanism, Hoddhism and Nanduism. Each religion is obfuscated in detail, of course. Not Catholic Christians, but KathoLu Krassians. The holy book of Isammed is the Kooraq. The Reborn Krassians swear by the holy writ of the Babul.

The novel tries to explore the differences between the world's religions with witty, subtle humor. The best thing about witty, subtle humor—in Brian Herbert's case—is that it's less embarrassing when it doesn't work. Herbert doesn't add the literary equivalent of a drumroll or a laugh track to his prose, so the humor isn't actually a source of annoyance. A less pleasant thing is that it puts the focus on what remains. In the absence of a gripping plot (Brian Herbert manages to make a subplot about a murderous cyborg that can reform itself after being destroyed—that way—positively yawn-inducing), what remains is his intelligent commentary about the commonalities between the world's religions.

Oh dear.

Let's forget that Brian Herbert doesn't display deep knowledge about the world's religions in this book—not far past what you would learn reading the first paragraph of an encyclopaedia. But in his criticism, his analysis, he doesn't improve much upon the Golden rule. Which is not surprising, better men than him or me have debated the relative merits of religions to death. But by making his characters 'observe' this over and over again, it becomes sanctimonious and condescending.

The good parts

It's fairly clear that Brian Herbert doesn't write the Dune Pre-/Se-/Interquels. His style of writing prose is so much more palatable. Exposition isn't repeated ad nauseam, characters have actual thoughts and personalities. He has a talent for writing trippy scenes that's eerily reminiscent (in a good way) of his father.

This suggests to me that KJA and BH could achieve a better division of labour. KJA thinking up fastl-paced plots, BH doing the actual writing. I'd still prefer it if they confined themselves to the Hellhole universe, though.

The characters are fairly interesting. Herbert shoots for (and achieves) a band of merry eccentrics. There's the opium-addicted necrophile, the insecure trigger happy bible-thumper, and a morbidly obese schizotypical prophet. None of these manage to actually save the novel from being a snooze-fest, but it's certainly a more diverse group than you'd ordinarily find in a sci-fi novel.

In summary, yes, it was about as unpleasant as I expected it to be. But I've read worse.

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lotek
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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby lotek » 23 Dec 2013 06:36

Krassianism

:lol:
Spice is the worm's gonads.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Serkanner » 23 Dec 2013 06:57

Thank you for the review.

I am not the least surprised you think it is TheHack that writes the Atrocities and not Brian Herbert. For quite some time we (the OH ) have expressed our ideas that Brian is just collecting the revenue of the collaboration.

I applaud your bravery for reading this book and am glad I don't have to.
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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Omphalos » 23 Dec 2013 16:44

I really think Herbert was trying to be funny with this book, but wound up making something that is remarkably unfunny.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Naïve mind » 25 Dec 2013 07:56

Omphalos wrote:I really think Herbert was trying to be funny with this book, but wound up making something that is remarkably unfunny.


Yes, although humor is a very subjective thing. I remember a short essay by Isaac Asimov in which he argues that writing humor is very difficult. Laughter normally exists as something that emerges in social groups, and jokes normally include many non-verbal cues. A writer can't see if his reader is in a receptive mood for a joke, can't change the pitch of his voice to indicate he's saying something in jest. He doesn't even know if the previous joke went over well--he just has to write them and pray they work.

Herbert is trying to write humor, while lampooning religions in a way that isn't perceived as offensive, while similarly trying to something interesting and new ... all these things are challenging in and of themselves, for any author, and The Race for God is a novel-length attempt to do them all at once.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby inhuien » 26 Dec 2013 03:54

Naïve mind wrote:and a morbidly obese schizotypical prophet.

I want one of those for next Happy Winter Solstice day. And when I say want what I really mean is need. I think its parallel body dysmorphic issues could create the Event Horizon we've all been hoping for.
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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Omphalos » 26 Dec 2013 16:16

Naïve mind wrote:
Omphalos wrote:I really think Herbert was trying to be funny with this book, but wound up making something that is remarkably unfunny.


Yes, although humor is a very subjective thing. I remember a short essay by Isaac Asimov in which he argues that writing humor is very difficult. Laughter normally exists as something that emerges in social groups, and jokes normally include many non-verbal cues. A writer can't see if his reader is in a receptive mood for a joke, can't change the pitch of his voice to indicate he's saying something in jest. He doesn't even know if the previous joke went over well--he just has to write them and pray they work.

Herbert is trying to write humor, while lampooning religions in a way that isn't perceived as offensive, while similarly trying to something interesting and new ... all these things are challenging in and of themselves, for any author, and The Race for God is a novel-length attempt to do them all at once.


You're going to Asimov for advice on writing humor? Sorry, stopped reading when I saw that.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 27 Dec 2013 12:08

Omphalos wrote:
Naïve mind wrote:
Omphalos wrote:I really think Herbert was trying to be funny with this book, but wound up making something that is remarkably unfunny.


Yes, although humor is a very subjective thing. I remember a short essay by Isaac Asimov in which he argues that writing humor is very difficult. Laughter normally exists as something that emerges in social groups, and jokes normally include many non-verbal cues. A writer can't see if his reader is in a receptive mood for a joke, can't change the pitch of his voice to indicate he's saying something in jest. He doesn't even know if the previous joke went over well--he just has to write them and pray they work.

Herbert is trying to write humor, while lampooning religions in a way that isn't perceived as offensive, while similarly trying to something interesting and new ... all these things are challenging in and of themselves, for any author, and The Race for God is a novel-length attempt to do them all at once.


You're going to Asimov for advice on writing humor? Sorry, stopped reading when I saw that.


NM didn't say he was getting advice from him. He only said that Asimov's essay on humor was a smart one. Even if Asimov was never humorous in his fiction, the points which Asimov makes sound insightful to me. Personally, I'd look to Kurt Vonnegut, or even a better alternative, Stanislaw Lem, in writing well-done humor with serious intent. Either Vonnegut or Lem would've written the concept for A Race for God better than Brian Herbert.

This little essay on the archive of a Lem appreciation cite sums up why Lem was so good at his form of sci-fi comedy than I ever could.

http://web.archive.org/web/20051217173019/http://world.std.com/~mmcirvin/cyberiad.html#adams
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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Freakzilla » 27 Dec 2013 13:50

To be fair, Frank made me groan with his humor sometimes.
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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Omphalos » 27 Dec 2013 14:16

Whatever. Apples and oranges. Lem was into the absurd. Asimov, when trying to be funny (and yes, he wrote some "humorous" works), relied on puns, turns of phrase, and really, really bad insider fannish jokes. Herbert is more wooden than Asimov was, and can't carry humor if his life depended on it.

My original point about BH failing to write something funny relied on the notion that technique is more important in mass market writing than anything, and that good writers know that. The naive one responded that humor is hard (duh!) and illustrated with something Asimov said that you can't see the author's raised eyebrows or funny faces. Kind of misses the point. And no, I still don't give a shit what Asimov said.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Jodorowsky's Acolyte » 27 Dec 2013 17:34

It's because I'm a Panda, isn't it?

No, I absolutely agree with you Omphalos. I really am fascinated with your expertise, and I think it's cool that you know Lem's work as well. You don't have to care about what Asimov said.
'...all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: "My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail."' -Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby SandChigger » 27 Dec 2013 17:40

Naïve mind wrote:The Race for God is a story about representatives from all world religions commandeering a starship to the center of the Galaxy to meet God. If this sounds familiar, it's because he cribbed the idea from a story conceived by William Shatner.

It's also reminiscent of the plot of one of the Star Trek movies, right?

Haven't read this one and probably never will. Sindey's Comet is the only solo BH work I've made it through, and you're right, the style of writing is totally unlike anything in the McDune trough; I didn't think it was that bad at the beginning. If I'd read it back when it came out, I might have found it amusing; as it is, it gets really old by the end and it's too dated now to be anything more than a curiosity.

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Re: The Race for God, by Brian Herbert

Postby Naïve mind » 28 Dec 2013 05:24

Omphalos wrote:Whatever. Apples and oranges. Lem was into the absurd. Asimov, when trying to be funny (and yes, he wrote some "humorous" works), relied on puns, turns of phrase, and really, really bad insider fannish jokes.


Exactly right, but that's what conversational humor is usually about. Sarcasm and irony are much easier to carry over to writing, but that's not what BH was trying to do. Herbert shoots for situational humor; zany characters, crazy situations. The one writer that comes to mind that could pull off what he was trying to do is Harlan Ellison.

So yeah, Herbert's skill is lacking, but it's also a case of setting his sights too high. And nobody at the publisher saying "No." to him, as they should have.

Omphalos wrote:My original point about BH failing to write something funny relied on the notion that technique is more important in mass market writing than anything, and that good writers know that.


You have a way of compressing remarkable depth of meaning into a single line.


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