28 July, 2009

Review: Dune, by Frank Herbert

"Brilliant, stunning, better than sex."
- Anonymous

Dune (1965) [US] [UK], by Frank Herbert, is often hailed as the best science fiction novel of all time, and with good cause. While the world we discover in Dune is expanded upon in further installments to the series, it is the first book that captures the imagination and ruthlessly demands to be finished. From breathtaking scenery to insidious assasinations and plots for galactic domination, Dune has it all, and more.

The Setup

Set in a far distant future where feudalistic capitalism is the order of the day, the novel centers around the harrowing destiny of young Paul Atreides, heir designate of a galactic fiefdom and sworn enemy of the Harkonnens, a rival noble family. Herbert seamlessly meshes thousands of years of galactic history into an unbelievably compelling narrative where one's genetic parentage is determined by an obscure society of prescient 'witches', known as the Bene Gesserit. The tightly knit story sets a remarkable standard for what can only be described as epic science fiction, rife with political, social, and religious commentary.

My Take in Brief

Dune is to science fiction as The Hobbit (1936), by J.R.R. Tolkien, is to fantasy--well, as long as you substitute Worms for Dragons. As with many readers of Fantasy, I was introduced to the genre by the Hobbit, and after having read Dune, I feel like it was my first honest encounter with science fiction--this is what the genre should be like and what all authors should aspire towards. I can quite literally still taste the sand in my mouth from being stranded in the desert on Arrakis, the planet where the story unfolds. Without giving more away then you would discover in the first chapter, there are a couple of themes I want to quickly touch on, and hopefully, for those of you who have read the novel, get some feedback on as well.

The first of these themes is the control the Bene Gesserit, a secretive organization of female 'witches' whose powers derive from intense physical and mental conditioning, exert on the breeding of noble families. Given their name (Gesserit = Jesuit = Jesus?), it is not difficult to view them as a Messianic cult devoted to creating the perfect vessel for their savior, and so hasten his arrival. For those of you familiar with R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy, Kelhus would, for all intents and purposes, not be out of place playing the role of Paul Atreides. The training and upbringing of the two protagonists are remarkably similar: they are both hyper-intelligent products of genetic manipulation and they both harness religion, loosely defined, to their own ends. The parallels between the two and the books don't stop there, but my discussion of them does for fear of getting off track!

My general infatuation with Dune has seriously impaired my ability to describe it to you; I feel like a besotted teenager unable to do anything but sigh and think loving thoughts. What lies beyond this haze is a deep appreciation for the staggering amount of research that must have gone into the novel and the rest of the series. Mr. Herbert's knowledge of ecology, religion, and economics is instrumental to the success of the book. The harsh dessert environment of Dune plays a central role in the plot by contrasting the scarcity of water, the most valuable resource on the planet, with the abundance of spice, which is the most valuable resource in the rest of the galaxy--as well as the simultaneous source and byproduct of political power (*cough* oil). Today's reader will in no way be shocked to learn that the natives of Arakkis share many cultural traits with Islam. Prescient statement describing the clash of civilizations, or a lucky shot in the dark, I leave it up to you to decide.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book, and for the moment it deserves the top spot on my personal top ten list--that might indeed change after the book has had time to settle in my mind, but for the moment that is where it is going to stay. I have made slightly snarky comments about how important it was to read a couple of the books I have posted here in the past, but this time around I absolutely mean it, no snarky comment included. Read this book or forever be in ignorance of what science fiction can achieve; it is not the most original dish out there, but any five star restaurant would be honored to serve it.

Ratings and Links

Overall Rating: 5.5/5

What is this you ask?! No, it is not a mathematical paradox that will shortly destroy the world but the showing of appreciation for a book that was, for lack of a better word, amazing. Whoever wrote the anonymous quote at the top sure knew what she was talking about! There are an infinity of reviews of Dune floating around, some recent and some not, with a couple being more detailed then others. For a convenient centralized resource you may choose to click here, but be warned, this site is known to lie.

Piqued Your Interest?

You may obviously ignore my recommendation and proceed with your life as is, never regretting your blissful ignorance of one of the masterpieces of epic science fiction, or you may choose to grab destiny by the horns, scream "FREEDOMMMMMMM" at the top of your lungs, and read Dune the way it was meant to be read. That didn't make much sense... but check out the 40th Anniversary Edition of Dune.

5 comments:

ediFanoB said...

Great review!
I read the German edition of Dune more than 30 years ago. But I still remember the giant sandworms of Arrakis, the Fremen, The Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, the Navigators and Paul Atreides who later on used his Fremen name Muad’Dib. I have been impressed. Must be cool to read it again after so many years… But therefore I need to buy it :)

Bi-la kaifa = Amen

Dan Geilman said...

Good review. Just finished reading it again a few months ago.

Just a heads up, you might want to check your formatting. On my computer, your text disappears into the column on the right.

OnlyTheBestSciFi/Fantasy said...

Hey Dan, thanks for the heads up. Which browser do you use?

Krista said...

Awesome review. It seems I'm missing out, so I've decided I'm ordering it! Man, this review really was some of the best work I've seen around lately....cool, very cool!

Alec said...

Thanks a lot Krista. The book deserves nothing less. To answer you question, no serious writing dreams just yet, but I'll let you know.