A young man with awesome genetics grows up on a desert planet, trains himself to see the future and ends up ruling the galaxy. Also sandworms are the best giant animals evar.
|Frank Herbert in 1965|
There are seminal works of science fiction. Blade Runner, War of the Worlds come to mind, as well as titles like 2001, which blend futurology and science together. Then, along comes Dune, and does for science fiction what Lord of the Rings does for fantasy. Forget about the story, and come visit the world of Arrakis with Frank Herbert.
Dune is, in many respects not about science fiction. In fact, the whole book is devoid of fancy machines like robots or Star Destroyers. This was done deliberately, so that the human characters could take the stage front and centre.
The book focuses on House Atreides, most importantly, Paul, the heir to his father Leto’s fiefdom. They’re in the process of moving the Arrakis, or “Dune” as it’s coloquially known, which is the only source in the galaxy of the “spice”, which can lengthen one’s natural life. Of course, something so precious comes with a heavy price of politics.
The politics takes the lumpen and evil shape of the Harkonnens, an evil house that has had a feud with the honourable Atreides for centuries. As part of a plan to completely destroy the Atreides, the Harkonnens plan a sneak attack together with the Emperor’s own elite troops. The plan is mostly successful, except for the fact that Paul and his mother escape and find shelter with the natives of Arrakis, the Fremen. The Fremen have a prophecy that one not born of their world would become their leader and lead them to a glorious victory. No guesses as to who that is eh?
Now, Dune is no doubt a very influential work. The world of Arrakis, its people, extending to their culture and religion are beautifully wrought from Herbert’s imagination and life experiences. Simply put, this is a stunning setting for conflict and character development.
What’s not so good, and is actually a real drag, is the dialogue. It’s seriously crapola. Herbert uses the word “thing” in dialogue way too many times, and half the time, I expect the characters to fall over giggling because they’ve referred to a naughty part of their anatomy. Then, there’s the constant introspection from the various characters who inhabit the chapters. I mean, I get that introspection is good, but there are parts of this book where the introspection repeats itself, over and over again, across multiple characters. This means that Dune could have been much shorter, but isn’t.
So, in reading Dune, I have really mixed feelings. At once a beautifully imagined and constructed world, with supporting characters and history, it’s also stunningly hamfisted in the way its characters talk to each other and to themselves. My conclusion is that it’s a flawed masterpiece, in the same way that a well done steak is. They’ve probably overcooked some aspects of it, but the condiments and sides can distract a diner who’s not too picky.
I wish I could say I loved this book, but I just couldn’t love it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but only in the way one friendzones that person who’s secretly had a crush on you for years.
Read this if you…
Want to try it out and are able to bear the consequences of boredom and terrible dialogue. Oh and sandworms. Those guys are awesome!
Skip this if you…
Get the giggles (or the shits) when someone says “thing” too much.