Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Well, I finally made it through Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. Coming in at 831 pages, it’s a whopper of a novel.  Published in 1965, Dune is widely considered a classic and was ranked #1 science fiction novel in a Wired reader’s pollDune won two science fiction awards—the Hugo and the Nebula—and was adapted as a film in 1984 and a mini-series in 2000. It has five sequels (none of which I will be reading).

The story, which is set on the desert planet of Arrakis over 20,000 years into the future, chronicles Paul-Muad’Dib’s rise to power. When the novel opens, the Atreides family has recently gained control of Arrakis. (Paul’s father is Duke Leto Atreides.) Soon after, though, most of the Atreides family is killed by the Harkonnens, and Paul and his mother escape to live with the desert-dwelling Fremen.

Arrakis is a desolate place. There is little water to be found, and the deserts are inhabited by enormous sandworms. These worms create melange, or “spice,” which is the most valuable substance in the universe. Essentially, spice is a highly addictive drug that affords some users with the ability to see beyond the present time and place.

234225There were so many different threads running through this novel—my short summary is only the barest outline of it.  It has political, ecological, religious and mystical overtones. It made me think a lot about the way time is perceived, as Paul can see all possible future paths. I found it interesting that Arabic-sounding words (and some real ones, like “jihad,”) appear everywhere in this novel. It’s a well-developed world, complete with appendices describing the religion and ecology of Arrakis, which I appreciated.

Even though I’m not a fan of science fiction,  I do like to go into a book with an open mind.  (After all, I don’t really like fantasy novels, but I love The Lord of the Rings and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.)  But I just really didn’t like Dune. There were several factors beyond the genre that left a bad taste in my mouth. For one, there were very few female characters, and none of the women were as highly regarded as the men in the novel. Even Jessica, the respected Reverend Mother, was quickly overshadowed by her son Paul, whose abilities became greater than hers. The Bene Gesserit women were scorned as “witches” and often mistrusted. Men often had both wives and concubines and used marriage as a political strategy.

I was disappointed, too, by the writing style. The narrator provides the reader with the thoughts of so many characters that the events of the story are largely spoiled before they take place. For instance, I knew who the Atreides traitor was before (I believe) he was even introduced. There was no suspense!

I know several people who absolutely love this book, though, so if you enjoy science fiction, don’t take my review as the final word on Dune. Try it. It’s a classic, and it’ll make you think. And the worms are pretty awesome.

This is book 5/60 of my classics conquest.

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