Before I get into the full review I have a quick housekeeping note to bring up. This weekend I’m bowling in the USBC Open (national tournament) and I’ll be out of town until Wednesday of next week. That said, of course I’m taking a book with me (it’s a long drive from Ohio to Louisiana).
On to Frank Herbert’s Dune. This is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of literature ever, not just Science Fiction. When NPR collected votes for their top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy list last year the Dune Chronicles came in 4th, behind only The Lord of the Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Ender’s Game.
Dune also holds a high place in the history of Science Fiction, winning the first ever Nebula award as well as sharing the Hugo Award. As such, I’m using this book to qualify for my Back to the Classics challenge for this year. As much as possible with that challenge I’m trying to work in books that I was already planning on reading and fitting them into the categories. Anyway, we’re finally up to the full review.
First in the Dune Chronicles
The central character of the book is Paul Atreides, a young man who was born on Caladan and then moves with his family to the desert planet of Arrakis. Paul was an interesting character, if at times a little bit too close to being a superman. He has been trained since birth in a variety of different skills, and is almost never caught off-guard throughout the course of the novel. Another main character is Jessica, Paul’s mother and a Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit are a group of women who serve in advisory positions throughout the galaxy. In many ways they are the controlling force behind the universe. While I enjoyed reading about Paul and Jessica, I had a big problem with one of the other characters, Baron Harkonnen. Throughout the book you’re regularly given the Baron’s thoughts, and to me he came across as being a flat character who is just evil, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It’s a fairly minor weakness to the book, but it is there.
The book takes place on the desert planet of Arrakis. This is a brutal world where every drop of moisture must be accounted for if people are going to survive. The only redeeming quality of the planet is that it produces spice, a highly valuable product that can be found nowhere else in the galaxy. Even with the weather, collecting the spice would be easy enough if it wasn’t for the worms. Giant sand worms that grow to be hundreds of feet long inhabit Arrakis and they often attack the large machines used to collect spice.
When the book begins Paul’s family is being sent to Arrakis to oversee the planet, having control of the planet given to them by the Emperor after he removed house Harkonnen from being the ruling house of the planet. This ends up being a plot to try to destroy house Atreides which leads to Paul being exiled to the desert to live the with native Fremen of Arrakis. The book follows Paul’s plan to avenge his family and to regain power over the planet of Arrakis.
“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.”
Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear from Dune
This is a deep book. There are so many layers of meaning behind everything going on that you could read this book 100 times and come away with something new every time you read it. One of the first things you’ll notice about this book is that it’s written in an omniscient viewpoint. In one scene you’re given the thoughts of every character in the room, which is a little different and may take some getting used to, but overall I thought it worked quite well. While there was a lot of interesting stuff in the book, parts of it didn’t work out for me as well as they could have. The beginning of the book was a bit slow, but now that I think about it that was probably because it takes some time to get used to the omniscient viewpoint, which does read a bit slower than the more common third person limited or first person viewpoints. I was also a little puzzled with the awaking of Paul’s powers, it came across as happening extremely quickly and I don’t think it was particularly well explained until the later sections of the book. Part of the ending of the book also came across as rushed to me, perhaps it’s explained more in the later books.
It’s not easy to sum up this book. It’s a very well written book that deals with a lot of very deep topics.