Dune (Frank Herbert)

In order to enjoy Dune you have to enjoy complexity. All authors create little worlds in their stories but Herbert created a world. He puts people on the planets, governments, conflicting cultures, conflicting religions & conflicting ways of life that are thought out to the Nth level above and beyond anything else I’ve ever read. You could write a sociology dissertation on the societal relations Herbert conceived for Dune. Most authors need more than one book in order to tell an epic coming-of-age story. Herbert did it in one. Part of his genius as an author was his ability to imply far more about his world than he actually showed. 

Now is complexity itself a thing to be admired in a work of fiction? No, but Dune is so immense and so detailed that it creates and inhabits a category of its own. The very fact that it often reads more like a National Geographic article than a sci-fi novel speaks to its charm. Dune isn’t a light, enjoyable read. But it is one of the best examples of the hero’s journey in fiction. At times it reads more like excerpts from geology, ecology, zoology, sociology, psychology, and political textbooks. The characters are more like mega-archetypes than real human beings. And amidst all this complexity lies a kind of new myth that blends mysticism, religion, and crass real-world politics. And the fact that it plumbs the intricacies of Muslim/Arab/desert culture adds another layer of exotic flair to the work. Frank Herbert spent five years writing this treasure, working and reworking it until he published it at age 25.

What makes Dune superior to most sf books is the quality of the world building. Frank Herbert went into painstaking details of Arrakis without ever bogging down the story. During the main body of the novel (excluding the appendices) he did not once resort to making info dumps. How many modern day sf authors can do that? Still, world building alone can not possibly account for the legendary status of the book. Herbert places equal emphasis on the characterization, plot and prose. The book is full of memorable characters from the badass Lady Jessica, to Paul Atreides who starts off as a fairly generic Luke Skywalkerish “chosen one” kid to a messianic figure always ready with a sage comment for every occasion. The villains are even more colourful, especially the super-sized Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, so fat he needs anti gravity devices to help support his enormous girth.

And his psychotic nephew Feyd-Rautha who is a ruthless natural born killer and seems kind of gay for some reason. When I read it as a teen the book seemed very long, but by today’s gigantic epic sf/f books standard Dune’s 896 pages length does not seems like much of a challenge if you take into account almost 100 pages of appendices and glossary. It is a highly readable and accessible book that transports the reader to a very vividly realized place. If you are looking for a bit of escapism you can not beat reading Dune for the first time. Dune in and of itself, regardless of later sequel books, is by general consensus the greatest sci-fi novel of all time. Its usually on or near the top of any S/F list. You may not agree, and one book can not please everybody but statistically Dune comes closest to achieving just this. Take out one element and the story loses its cohesion. Despite all the ridiculous amounts of detail there is nothing extraneous in this novel. It has all the right world building in all the right places.

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Comments

  1. i can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read Dune. picked it up for the first time when I was in high school, have been addicted to science fiction ever since. The first 4 books in the Dune series are great, but man, those last two? not what I would describe as fun to read.

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