I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked this book up. I had this preconceived notion of a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-type society on the sands of a distant planet. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Arrakis, the sand-covered planet in Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 science fiction novel Dune, makes Tattooine seem paradisaic. With water being such a rare commodity as to become a form of currency, it amazes me how life can still be possible, but Herbert found a way to make it believable.
This future, some 10000 years removed from our time, sees the human race divided across the galaxy, and run more or less by the Imperial Corrino family. The most valuable substance in the galaxy (with the exception being the water on Arrakis), is the spice melange that grows exclusively on Arrakis. It extends life and gives those who ingest it prescient awareness. The spice is crucial to the powerful matriarchal order known as the Bene Gesserit who have an aptitude for physical and mental abilities outside of the norm, and have been bred for generations to develop these traits. They’ve been conditioning the genetic line to produce a prescient superhuman male known as the Kwisatz Haderach, who would become somewhat of a messianic figure. Our protagonist, Paul Atreides, who is the son of a powerful Duke and a Bene Gesserit who we assume is this prophetic hero.
The interplay of feudal politics and a fully realized
world universe make Dune one of the freshest takes on the Scifi genre that I’ve encountered in a long while. Despite the books age being over 50 years at this point, it holds up with particular strength as some of the best science fantasy on the market.
My favorite aspect was indeed the value placed on such a common necessity like water, because it’s something we rarely think about too closely. When it becomes so valued that even the tears shed for the dead are sacred gifts, you know it’s something Herbert thought long and hard about. In retrospect, it’s such a strong physical necessity that when they spoke about it in such sparsity I often felt very parched myself, a testament to how it was presented.
The prose was often stunningly poetic, but I felt that at times Herbert neglected to fully detail certain scenes that I was excited to see. Many times he would skip full scenes that you’d expect any other writer to relish divulging, which he’d explain narratively as the passage of time. This really bugged me, and many times I lost the will to keep going with the story, so I’d put it down and do something else.
Of course, the end was the true climax of the tale: where every thread of the story lead and connected. And it was wholly satisfying, and gratifying. It was the reward for my patience. Now I can’t wait to read the next book.
One of my biggest peeves in literature is the prophesied hero, because we already know he’s going to be okay. We already know he’s going to succeed. Most takes on this approach present a hero that doesn’t believe he’s the messiah, the promised or chosen one, and instead have to overcome great hardships. I wasn’t a fan of how Frank Herbert approached this concept, making the character fully convinced of his place as the chosen one, and had full confidence in the correct outcome of the struggles faced. This doesn’t make for edge of the seat reading, but was interesting nonetheless. I guess that can’t be avoided in a story where prescient thought is key to the plot.
Overall, an excellent, classic read. I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to get to it and through it, but I’m happy I did.