I was in the mood for classic science fiction, so I selected Dune as my next book. Normally I avoid large series because I worry I won’t finish them due to the huge commitment required (I still have the first book in the mammoth Wheel of Time series sitting on my nightstand). Dune by Frank Herbert is heralded as the pinnacle of classic science fiction. I have fond memories of watching the David Lynch movie version back in my younger days (one of the rare instances where I watched the film before reading the book). One of the first works of science fiction I ever watched, I remember being blown away by the sheer scope and beauty of the film. A winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Dune recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Despite being labeled as “science fiction,” Dune is so much more as it is also a detailed family saga, a political thriller, and a philosophical/religious treatise that is truly epic and beautifully executed under Herbert’s carefully guided pen.
Dune follows Paul Atreides, a boy who leaves his home planet of Caladan with his parents to live on the barren desert planet of Arrakis where water is scarce but an ancient spice known as melange is plentiful. His father is the head of House Atreides and a respected leader among the other great Houses. Paul’s mother is the Lady Jessica, the Duke’s concubine who is also the member of a powerful group of women known as the Bene Gesserit. These women are trained in the nuances of human behaviors and possess powerful abilities, such as uncovering lies and controlling others with just their voices.
Paul has been trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit with many believing he may be the the subject of an ancient prophecy as the one male who will be powerful in their abilities. The young Atreides heir also has been trained by his father’s men, some of the galaxy’s best warriors. The enemies of their family are the Harkonnens who are led by Baron Vladimir, someone who is so grossly overweight that he relies on anti-gravity devices for movement. After someone close to House Atreides betrays them to the Harkonnens, Paul’s father is killed and he and his mother are believed dead somewhere on Arrakis. In this inhospitable world, Paul must grow up quickly as he joins forces with the native Fremen population to become the ruler he was destined to become.
I loved the epic world-building that Herbert accomplishes with Dune. It would take hours for me to begin to sum up all of the ecology, politics, and philosophy that comprise this story. Trust me when I say it is quite absorbing. There are so many little details behind every scene in this book. Not only is the world of Arrakis beautifully rendered, but the characters are as well. I really enjoyed the political intrigue behind every character’s actions. As readers, we are never left in suspense as we are privy to the inner thoughts of all of the characters and are aware of events that the characters themselves don’t even know yet. I thought this approach worked well for this type of story because it allows us to already know each character’s motives without having to guess. We can just immerse ourselves in the action. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Although Dune is under 500 pages, Herbert packs a lot of detailed information. Some parts are admittedly slower than others, but you are left with enough to keep you hooked until the end.
Of course, I have to mention the sandworms. These bad ass creatures are an important element to the story as well as a lot of fun to watch onscreen. I particularly loved the characters being able to ride them. Just this scene where Paul rides a sandworm for the first time is told in such lush detail. Through the natives of Arrakis, Herbert has made sure to give a through background into their ways and beliefs. Since water is limited, the Fremen rely on wearing special suits that recycle their bodies’ own moisture.
Another aspect that I really quite enjoyed was how there was a greater reliance on human abilities than on technology. The powers of the body and mind hold greater value than on futuristic equipment. Even the fighting styles are developed based on ancient ways.
Is Dune still relevant more than fifty years later? My answer is an astounding yes. The incredible detailed work on both setting and characters is what has allowed this book to remain at the top of science fiction lists today. Despite all of this incredible detail, I never felt like Herbert was wasting time with unnecessary scenes. Every chapter served a purpose in working towards the climax. While reading Dune, I could see its influence on future works. The political backstabbings are reminiscent of those we would see later in Game of Thrones. One cannot help but notice the similarities between Herbert’s work and that of George Lucas with Star Wars.
I’m using this review as my entry for an award-winning classic for the Back to the Classics challenge. I look forward to going out and purchasing the second book in this series. Trust me when I tell you that you have not read science fiction until you have read Dune.
“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”