New Classics: Dune – Frank Herbert
Dune is one of the great science fiction works. Written in 1966 by Frank Herbert, it continues to prove to entertain and engage audiences, even some 50 years after it was released. It should be noted that although the novel is a classic work of science fiction, it is no light read, and has many elements that could very easily belong to a fantasy novel. Heavy going, both in style and content, it will soak up a lot of time, but the story is riveting and there are numerous philosophical, religious, and faux-religious/philosophical ideas that make Dune a fantastic read.
The book starts with very little exposition, so the reader is thrown into the Dune universe without an understanding of the complex world. For those looking to read it, here are the very basic fundamentals: at least 20 000 years in the future, humans have colonised numerous habitable (or barely habitable worlds). The place is officially run by the Padishah Emperor, although power is actually a huge balancing act between the monarch and the aristocratic houses. Other powerful organisations include CHOAM, which deals with the distribution of “spice”, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, a quasi-religious order which intends to guide the human race through selective breeding, and the Spacing Guild, which has a monopoly over transportation between worlds. Spice (or melange) is the most valuable thing in the universe, as it allows for space travel, as well as increased lifespan and, in some cases, heightened awareness and even prescience. It is located on the dessert world Arrakis, which is inhabited by the native Fremen and worms, as well as colonists.
So that’s the backdrop in the simplest form. Into this world springs Paul Atriedes, who turns out to be a prophet for both the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit. He is the son of Duke Leto Atriedes and his concubine Jessica, who is a Bene Gesserit witch. When Leto receives a lucrative deal from the Padishah Emperor, the family (and entourage) leave their home world of Caladan for Arrakis. However, an elaborate trap is set by the Padishah Emperor and his allies, the House of Harkonnen, led by the disgusting Baron Viktor Harkonnen. Eventually, Leto is killed, and Paul and Jessica escape into the desert with the Fremen. After a while, Paul leads a guerrilla uprising against the Padishah Emperor and Harkonnen household.
Paul is a teenager during the course of the events of Dune, which makes his adventures all the more breathtaking. Although his superhuman abilities make him somewhat removed from the average reader, his trials are still highly inspiring, and he makes an excellent hero. He overcomes intense obstacles with the help of other characters, but in the end it is his story. As a character, he is gripping and intellectual, and almost superhuman – but not in a manner that makes him perfect. He is still vulnerable to mistakes, and constantly tries to avoid his “terrible purpose”, which is alluded to throughout the entire book.
The book does delve into some philosophy and theology. Ideas such as what it means to be human, which is explored literally in the first chapter, are common throughout the book. The novel also explores concepts such as religion and identity, as well as duty. At the start of each chapter, there are various quotes which cover wide schools of thought, such as “Any road followed precisely to its end will lead nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little to test if it’s a mountain. If you climb to the top, you cannot see the mountain.” Whilst these deep and meaningful quotes can be inspirational, they are often also connected to the story. Other quotes in the book also provide good living advice, as well as creating character depth and move the story along, such as “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer”, which is healthy advice.
In conclusion, Dune is a very good book. It is a fantastic science fiction story, with adventure and treachery all around. It has a strong lead character, with brilliant supporting characters, and the villains are also wonderfully despicable. And the philosophical elements in the book are thought provoking. However, it is a very heavy read; therefore it should only be for those who are willing to put the time and effort into reading it. It isn’t a good book to flippantly pick up and breeze through, due to the heavy writing style, and confusing concepts. That being said, it is an incredibly rewarding novel, leaving the reader with numerous philosophical thoughts and satisfied by a great adventure.