Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dune Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Frank Herbet
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Space Opera
Series: Dune Chronicles Book One
Pages: 896

“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”

I bought Dune about four or five years ago … around the time Borders was going under, ultimately deciding to pick it up for a bargain price.  It was recommended to me by a close friend and I was well aware of its reputation in science fiction, a popular saying being: what Lord of the Rings was to fantasy is what Dune is to science fiction. After reading this book I would whole heartedly agree with that.

Dune is the story of an all desert planet called Arrakis that has giant worms, colonizing spice miners, a very limited supply of water, and a group of mysterious natives that can be allies or enemies at times. Paul Atreides is the son of a powerful Duke,who’s tasked with ruling over the planet Arrakis, which his family uses to profit on the harvesting of spice. He gets caught up in revenge as his family comes under attack from the powerful Harkonnen house.

It’s hard not to miss the influence Dune’s had on science fiction, and even fantasy, since its 1965 release.  The epigraphs written by Princess Irulan that begin each chapter is a device used by many authors since, and can be found in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and in Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn Trilogy, amongst other works. In Star Wars Tatoonie resembles the all desert landscape of Arrakis, the Dune planet, and the sarlacc that eats Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi feels like a much lamer version of the giant sandworms that attack Arrakis’ population. The Fremen culture, or the native’s inhabiting Arrakis, basically laid the groundwork for the Aiel culture in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The warring between political families and other various powers has all the complexity and ruthlessness that can be found in A Song of Ice and Fire and a lot of other post-Martin fantasies.  The point is, I didn’t expect it to be this influential, but then again when you reputation states you’re the Lord of the Rings of science fiction … I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised.

Worldbuilding is a term that usually comes to mind when I think of fantasy novels, but in Dune it’s brilliant.  I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of one dimensional planets – Star Wars really has this problem – but if you’re going to do the whole one dimensional planet thing, then Dune should be your blueprint.  This is all possible due to the myriad of different conflicts, all of which aid in telling a story that deals with realistic social issues. For example, the economics which focus on spice – the material that allows for space travel – and water battle for importance with one another.  Powerful figures from the empire are only concerned with harvesting spice, while the natives care more about surviving, and thus water is more important to them. It inevitably brings the two sides into conflict with one another, as well as the value of those two resources.

Spice also turns out to be an addictive drug that’s popular amongst the wealthy, and it can enhance the magical abilities of certain characters. Religion is still prominent in this future society, and the Bene Gesserit, a quasi-witch society dictates their will not only through magic, but through the readings of sacred texts. The families inside the Empire battling each other for power adhere to a feudal mentality.  They also communicate their plans to each other through subtleties and secret messages. With all of these issues to keep track of, Dune can feel overwhelming, but it never gets to be too much.

The characters are multidimensional, even the secondary one’s.  Paul’s coming of age is handled real well, and while he’s a protagonist with a “chosen one’s” arc, he actively tries to resist the disturbing premonitions that are predicted for the “chosen one” while not denying that that is his role.  Something I really appreciated since a lot of “chosen one’s” stories really focus on whether or not that character is “the one” the whole time *cough The Matrix cough* instead of focusing on the specific role “the one” will ultimately end up playing in the world at large.

Even more interesting is Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica.  Jessica is not married to Paul’s father, Duke Leto, and instead is his concubine.  Despite having an illegitimate relationship, the two live together like a husband and wife, using the Duke’s bachelor status to gain more political leverage.  Jessica undergoes some drastic changes and as a character her arc was the most difficult to predict.  The evil Baron Harkonnen has a penchant for torture and young boys.  He commits a number of atrocities throughout the novel, and certainly makes a memorable impact as the chief antagonist.

Anyone who’s interested in the history of science fiction or fantasy literature must read this book. Anyone who’s a fan of any kind of fiction should read this book.  Written over fifty years ago, it still holds up well today; you even get the feeling it could have been written yesterday.

Score: 10

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