A Blast from the Past, or my review of Dune

 

Dune

Dune

By: Frank Herbert

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: June 1st, 2006 (first published 1965)

Format: Kindle E-Book

synopsis

Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the ‘spice’ melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.

Published in 1965, it won the Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling sf novel.

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review

4 star (griffin)

 

I’m still not entirely sure where to categorize Dune. Is it Sci-Fi? It takes place several millenia ahead of our own time, in a world (or rather, galaxy) where space travel is possible. Is it Fantasy? It has numerous references to a near-religious ‘chosen one’, a sacred quest, something that very much appears to be magic, and an ancient familial feud. It defies categorization. It is, however, one of the classics of Sci-Fi or Fantasy. 

So, let’s begin with the beginning. There is a world, called Arrakis, which is a desert world. It has no natural vegetation, only JUST enough water to sustain human life (there are things called stillsuits, which you wear in the desert and recycle all water lost from your breath and sweat and stuff so you don’t die from dehydration), and the only native life forms are GIANT worms that live in the sand. There is no reason at all why anyone would want to live here, except that Arrakis also has a natural supply of this weird spice stuff called melange, which is the most expensive drug in the universe and has lots of very strange, creepy qualities. Anyways, the person who controls Arrakis controls the supply of this extremely expensive, extremely popular drug, and Duke Leto Atreides has just been granted governorship of Arrakis over his hated enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

This means, naturally, that Duke Leto and his entire family/staff move to Arrakis, including the central character, Paul Atreides. Paul is fifteen, although small for his age, and has a host of uncanny abilities, like being able to see bits of the future. Other uncanny abilities are helped along by his mother, the ‘Bene Gesserit Witch’ Jessica. The Bene Gesserit are a slightly creepy organisation determined to genetically engineer humanity to an optimal point, which they have done so far by making/training a whole bunch of beautiful women, and insisting that various important/powerful/relevant men take them as concubines with the knowledge that the offspring will also be Bene Gesserit. Paul, despite being a boy, has been taught pretty much all important Bene Gesserit skills by his mother, which is a whole lot of manipulation and political awareness.

The backstory is, in a word, complicated.

Throughout the book, there are various hints that Paul is some kind of ‘Chosen One’. The Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit believes he could be the Kwisatz Haderach, the idea of humanity they have been working towards. His father believes he should begin Mentat training (a Mentat is a super-politician-advisor guy, basically trained to know everything and analyze everything with perfect logic). The Fremen, the natives on the planet of Arrakis, believe Paul is their prophesied Messiah who will make them known and their planet habitable. In the first part Paul holds back from this, feeling unease at any mention of destiny. And yet, by the end of the book we have him fully embracing the role of ‘Chosen One’, despite what exactly it means to do so–war.

It’s a book that stumbles a little bit in producing a smooth story. There’s the ‘before’ section, of their first few days on Arrakis and the event that destroys the Atreides family. There’s a few small in-between sections, largely focused on Jessica and Baron Harkonnen. And then there’s the ‘after’ part, where Paul is fully dedicated to pursuing his revenge. But this stumbling is more than made up for by the richness of the book. The story is superbly told, highly detailed and with true thought put into every aspect. The quotations at the top of the book make it feel somewhat biblical, or like what it is, a heroic origin story designed to lead the way into a series.

Furthermore, as you can probably tell, it’s a book that’s chock-full of world-building. Herbert has created a culture that is fully different from any we in the Western World might feel comfortable with, and it takes time to ease one’s way into the series. However, all this world-building pays off in a big way later in the book, when you truly feel as if you could be at Paul’s side, experiencing things as he does.

I’m still not sure how I feel about finishing the series. My general impression from internet research is that, while Dune is fairly normal, the rest of the series spirals out of the ability to suspend disbelief. If Frank Herbert’s writing is anything to go by, the synopses are probably less ridiculous in the books than they are typed up in an internet article, but I’m still hesitant. It’s also a bit hard sometimes to get past all of the made-up words–I think I reread the first five pages three times, trying to make my brain understand, before I gave up and just kept on reading. This seems to be par for the course, though–with fantastic world-building and great imagination comes made-up words.

Despite this, I enjoyed reading this sort of blast-from-the-past fantasy/sci-fi book, and think that we shouldn’t let it molder in the seventies. It’s a wonderful book, and the issues Herbert brings up are just as relevant today as back then.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

 

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