A classic in the Sci-Fi view Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the best and most well known books out there. Made into a movie, a tv movie and more Dune is currently still going strong today by Herbert’s son.
Brought by guest reviewer Christopher
Book One: Dune Series
Summary & Review
Dune is one of the few books I’ve ever taken the time to read through three times. It is a masterfully told tale of humanity’s future as seen through the eyes of a prince and his family.
Paul, even beyond being a prince, is an extraordinary person to begin with. From a young age he was trained as a close combat fighter by some of the best warriors in the galaxy, but more importantly he was also trained to be able to view situations objectively, to be completely detached essentially as a computer would, weighing all inputs equally without distraction even from his own emotions. On top of this, his mother taught him the amazing ability to totally control every muscle in his body and prepared his mind for a life of political intrigue. Paul’s training, while impressive, was nothing compared to the supernatural ability he was born with, which let him see and pick the path the future would take. From this ability came Paul’s two overall drives throughout the book. The first of which he calls his “terrible purpose” and his “race consciousness”, it’s a vision of the future in which humankind essentially de-evolves and which Paul will do anything to prevent coming to pass. The second vision of the future is of the galaxy in flames as fighters from Dune go from planet to planet in a wave of destruction chanting his name, which Paul abhors the very thought of.
Before I get to the plot, one of the best features of Dune’s universe is the complex intermingling of its politics, religions, and all the different parties which use both to get what they want. One of the main groups, the Bene Gesserit, is an order of politically minded mind readers, to which Paul’s mother belongs. The Bene Gesserit ran a ninety generation long breeding program, using humans, to get a set of genes that’d allow a person to see the future; Paul being the premature end result. Besides being the cause of Paul’s greatest ability, they also planted the religious seeds on Dune that allowed Paul to rise to power within the Fremen culture and eventually become their leader.
All that exposition is making this a bit long so here’s the short-ish version.
The story starts with fifteen year-old Paul, moving with his family, at the Emperor’s order, from their lush garden planet to the hellish desert planet of Arrakis. Arrakis, until recently, had been under the rule of the Harkonnen, who’ve sworn a blood feud with the Atreides for generations. Shortly after arriving, Paul’s father is betrayed to the Harkonnen and Paul has to flee for his life along with his mother. As he hides among and learns from the native people, the Fremen, he becomes one of them and in return trains the already formidable group to become unstoppable fighters. The longer he is with them, the more respected he becomes. Also due to his mother’s twisting of the Fremen’s religion he became revered, as their promised one. During his time with the Fremen, Paul’s mother, Jessica became Reverend Mother, a Fremen religious leader. Paul, using pure spice, gained a better view of the future paths ahead of him. Using his battle training and his prescient abilities, Paul leads the now deadly Fremen against Harkonnen forts and villages. As Paul and his Fremen reach the capital, the Emperor and the Harkonnen, combine forces to oppose him. The book closes in the aftermath of that fight as terms of surrender are discussed.
The reason Dune’s worth reading and re-reading, beyond the compelling story and characters, is what it says about science, religion, and humanity’s base wants and needs. The abuse of religion and superstition by the Bene Gesserit has always struck me as an especially true reflection of how religion is used as a tool by people for their own non-religious ends. With regard to science, Dune is unlike most other sci-fi, as there are no computers. With that simple change the story becomes much more personal. There are no techno babble powered escapes at the last second and no robot saviors to interfere with the drama of the story. The de-emphasis on technology allowed more room for intrigue in a world where knives, not guns, were the weapon of choice. But more importantly, for me, reading a lot of older sci-fi is difficult, since their conceptions of computers are so far astray from reality, taking me out of the narrative. But with the destruction of all computers from their universe centuries before, it deals with that problem neatly allowing me to read without distraction.
Frank Herbert’s Dune, is difficult read at times, especially at the start. His quick introduction of cultures and languages makes the first act hard to read, let alone pronounce! (Reviewers Note: don’t try reading the first act to a sleepy, unassuming, and unprepared girlfriend. She will definitely yell at you to “shut up” and pillows may be thrown.) That introduction’s difficult wordage takes the reader on a path that mirrors Paul’s discovery of his new home on Arrakis. I can easily see first time readers being upset with what seems like the author purposefully trying to confuse them, but if you stick with it you’re in for a great story with some of my favorite characters. (Review Note: Bitchy editor says you don’t rate your book reviews, but I say 11 out of 5 dammit!)