Dune

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.

Book Stats

489 pages

Science Fiction

First in the Dune Chronicles

Characters

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.

Setting

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.

Plot

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.

Quote

“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

Enjoyment

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.

Overall Grade

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.

7/10

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19 Comments

  1. I feel so out of touch with the literary world that I’ve never heard of this book. I have however read quite a few books on the Banned Books List, so I’m not a complete failure. I’ve added this to my Goodreads list, but at the moment it is number… oh 56 is higher than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t include the books on my Kindle that haven’t made it into my Goodreads list yet.

    Maybe it’s because I’m not a very big fan of science fiction. I much prefer near future, Earth based novels along the lines of The Hunger Games which I only loosely classify as such based on one scene in the very end.

    Thanks for sharing your review, I hope to get to it within the next three years lol.
    -Eliabeth

    Reply
    • I’m kind of in the same boat as you, I really prefer Fantasy novels to Science Fiction. If you’re more of a casual fan of Science Fiction you could probably pass on reading Dune. It’s a pretty deep book, and generally when I’m reading Science Fiction I prefer lighter fare.

      Reply
      • I’ll take that into consideration when planning when to read it. I’m an urban fantasy writer, but I’m not as picky with fantasy as with sci-fi. For example, absolutely love Robert Asprin’s Myth series which is high fantasy with dimension hopping and all that jazz.

        I don’t mind deep books at all. I’m enjoying Speculation by Edmun Jorgensen right now and the dark fantasy Nightside series by Simon R. Green was surprisingly filled with book club worthy discussion topics. I don’t get through them as quickly when they’re deep, so I don’t read them if I’m behind on reviews for the month.

      • This book did take a while to get through, but overall I’m glad I read it. I’m way behind pace on my reading for this month, with Dune taking a while and me being gone for the weekend bowling (I brought a book, but I only had time to read 50 or so pages over the weekend).

      • I do think that it read a lot like a fantasy novel though, probably because of the Houses.

      • I agree with Adam: if you aren’t a fan of hard Sci-Fi, you might struggle with Dune. It is a huge, very dense read, with foot notes and lots and lots of detail. You might want to try the film version first, to see if you can deal with it. The 1984 David Lynch version is quite good and fairly faithful to the book.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy list, I will be definitely attemping to read some more of these I think. I love the fantasy genre and have been considering diving into the science fiction area for some time now as I’ve somewhat neglected that field in my reading.
    Nice review, although I’ve never heard of the book… 🙂

    Reply
  3. I read Dune a long time ago, and didn’t personally take to it enough to read the followups. Your review kind of places it in context for me. As a pioneering work, written before we came to demand the character sophistication, even in genre fiction, that we do now. Thanks. And good luck in your tournament!

    Reply
    • It’s an amazingly well written book. I don’t know if I’ll get into the sequels or not, if I do it’ll probably be a while.

      Reply
  4. “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.”

    I’ve read it about 10 times, and I get something new out of it on every reread, which is amazing, since I nearly know the thing by heart by now! but the new things? they are all between the lines, not in them.

    Dune is an incredible read. Yes, it is very deep, and requires some concentration to be able to keep track of everything. But man, is it worth it!

    Reply
  5. hannahrose42

     /  May 12, 2012

    I bought this a few years ago in high school and have planned to read, but haven’t found the time. I used to be really into sci-fi over fantasy, but things have changed a bit. I just finished a book where the viewpoint was omniscient, and it really confused me for a while. I am definitely not used to it — so at least now I know to expect that when I get around to reading Dune!

    Reply
    • It’s definitely different reading a book written in an omniscient viewpoint, but I knew that it was going into it so I wasn’t quite as knocked out by it. (On the Writing Excuses podcast they point to Dune as an example every time they discussed omniscient viewpoint.)

      Reply
  6. Nice review of Dune! I agree that it’s incredibly difficult to sum up this book in a few words. I think that its main strength is in its world-building; I fully believed every detail of Arrakis, and I was astonished at how real it seemed. As cliche as it might sound, I thought Arrakis was as fully formed as Middle Earth. I also loved the characterization (Lady Jessica is a favorite of mine) and the dialogue.

    But I also agree that the beginning is a bit slow. I’m curious – did the use of the quotes at the beginning of each chapter bother you? I thought they made the beginning even slower because they told you what was going to happen to the Duke, and it took forever for that event to occur.

    Reply
    • I didn’t have a problem with the quotes at the beginning. While they’re not done terribly often, they’re common enough to where they didn’t bother me.

      The quotes worked well within the style and structure of the book. With an omniscient viewpoint, the tension doesn’t really come from what is going to happen, because you’re told what’s going to happen. The tension comes more from how everything is going to happen, and how people are going to react to strange situations.

      Reply
  7. I read this for the first time last summer as part of a big group read and we had a wonderful time. I so wish you could have taken part with us as we delved deep in our discussions and had a great time. I was familiar with the story from the film versions but had always put off reading it. I’m glad I finally did as it is an amazing book.

    Given the experience of the group read, I am not sure I entirely agree that this is a book a casual fan or a non-SF fan should avoid. Many in our group would not consider themselves fans of the genre or well-read in the genre and everyone got so much out of it, even the ones who ultimately didn’t love the book. Where I think Dune stands above so many other SF books that might be out of the realm of possibility for non-SF fans is that it tackles subjects like politics, religion, ecology in ways that seem very relevant today. I think one of the reasons this book continues to be regarded as a classic is its relevance.

    Reply
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