Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review: Dune - Frank Herbert

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." page 15

Sometime in the distant future humans scattered to the winds and now live all across the universe, ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Trade and travel between inhabited planetary systems is made possible by spice. Spice is life and can only be found on the inhospitable planet of Arrakis, backwater of the universe. It's covered in sand and in the deep desert, giant worms roam at will. It's here that Duke Leto and his family of the House Atreides are sentenced as Shaddam fears his popularity among the Great Houses. Leto's consort the Lady Jesscia is a Bene Gesserit, a group of women who practice a type of eugenics on the bloodlines of the Great Houses and hold the strings of power behind their backs. Their son, Paul, has been ripped from a homeland with an ocean and must adapt to a new and harsher reality.

Shaddam isn't the only man worried about House Atreides. House Harkonnen decides now is a perfect moment to strike and remove a rival House. Shortly after their arrival the planet is attacked by Harkonnen troops and what is left of House Atreides must retreat to the desert and regroup if they hope to survive. Throughout the book author Frank Herbert delivers detailed information on how this universe operates and frequently makes references to the past, allowing readers to piece together how things have come about. In fact, he creates a world real enough to grind between your teeth.

I first learned of Dune after watching the Space miniseries and then the 1980s version with Patrick Stewart. A blasphemous way to be introduced to a classic I know. But after watching the story unfold on my television, I decided to pick up the book and was not disappointed. As a story it stands out, not only for the obvious time and effort put into it - Herbert spent five years on the story - but also because the reader is treated with intelligence. Herbert doesn't waste time explaining everything. Instead he respects the reader enough to let them puzzle out the details and culture of this universe. Every time I re-read it, the story leaves me with new insight into the history, politics and culture of Herbert's world.

The writing isn't just scientifically technical though, it's also quite beautiful and easy to visualize. It's obvious that Herbert took great care in writing his world to life. "She glanced out to the right at a slope humped with a wind-troubled graygreen of bushes - dusty leaves and dry claw branches. The too-dark sky hung over the slope like a blot, and the milky light of the Arrakeen sun gave the scene a silvery cast-light." page 67


"Now she only saw the circle of stars. They were like the luminous tips of weapons aimed down at her. A shower of meteors crossed her patch of night. The meteors seemed to her like a warning, like tiger stripes, like luminous grave slats clabbering her blood. And she felt the chill of the price on their heads." page 213

It's a book I highly recommend if only to experience Herbert's world and blend of politics, religion, fate, ecology and symbols. If you're interested in sci-fi and don't know where to start then begin here. Many consider it to be the best science fiction book ever written and I find it hard to disagree.

Rating: 5/5

3 comments:

mister anchovy said...

I read Dune many years ago after several friends told me how much they loved it. At this point I don't even remember why, but I do remember that I found the book irritating. Maybe I just didn't want to like it. I wonder if I would have the same reaction if I read it again today?

theduckthief said...

It's not the easiest book to get into because Herbert doesn't always explain himself. That said, it might be worth a re-read if you can't remember why you disliked it.

teflonjedi said...

I first read this back in 1981 or 1982 (I was in grade 7), and have re-read it several times since then. It's a distinctly cerebral book...despite the action and adventure, the reader must *think* about what's going on, in order to fully engage with and understand the storyline.

My favourite as best-in-genre still remains Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, because of the cerebral nature and because of the scope, and its influence on modern-day culture. Worth taking a look at, if you haven't already.