Why I love Dune

I first came across Dune, if I remember correctly, in late fall of 2002, when I was still in high school, 10th grade to be exact. It was a time when I was really getting to explore the wider world of speculative and contemporary fiction than just Animorphs or Enid Blyton. To give a few examples, this was when I discovered Warhammer 40,000, John Grisham, Dungeons & Dragons, Raymond E. Feist, Isaac Asimov, George Orwell’s 1984 and many, many other things. Dune, and the entire Dune-verse, has been obsession of sorts for me for ages now, going on 10 years, and when I was listening to the first half hour of the Dune audiobook yesterday, narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Mortan, Simon Vance & Co., I started to think about why I liked Dune so much.

After all, in the summer of 2007, on my 20th birthday, when I was out and about at The Grove mall in Los Angeles and me and my friends walked into the Barnes & Noble there, I held up the book to them and told them that Dune was the best Science-Fiction novel ever written. An old gentleman who was browsing the same shelves turned to me and said: “You got that right, kid.”

In general, critics and fans alike have immeasurably lauded Dune. The amount accolades and awards that Frank Herbert accumulated before his death, and posthumously for his Dune Chronicles series are nothing short of astounding. There have been detractors aplenty, more so now then in those days, 1965 and on, but they are a rather small minority in my experience. Almost inconsequential. And I don’t say that with any kind of malice or anything. I get that. Nothing in this world can get universal acclaim.

Anyways.

Dune is the story of a young boy who has to grow up fast in a world that is utterly inhospitable for someone like him. From his “humble” beginnings as the son of a Duke, Paul Atreides of House Atreides, leads a revolution against the established social order, destroys the power of the ruling Padishah Emperor, and takes the galactic throne for himself.

That in itself sounds like a fairly standard story, and is something that is independent of genre, be that science-fiction or fantasy or something else. But of course, this is very much a science-fiction story, for it is surrounded in and clothed in the trappings of such. We have an Emperor who rules a galactic empire of a million worlds, we have desert planets and water planets, we have planetary ruling families who are always at each other’s throats, we have advanced medical science, interstellar space travel, psionics in the form of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, that one rare substance worth more than anything else in the galaxy – spice or melange, we have interstellar trading conglomerates and a governing board of directors. And rounding off all that are exotic monsters.

So much. There is just so much that is packed into this novel.

The first thought that comes to mind is that Frank Herbert wrote something that was far, far ahead of the times he lived in. I would even stand by that statement and use it to describe Dune and its sequels and prequels as such. But I’m not well-versed in the SF works of the time so I cannot give you an informed judgement. But consider that this is a novel that won the 1966 Hugo Award, as well as inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. And in the years since, there have been something like 15 more novels at the least, numerous short stories, a live-action film in the mid-80s, two limited television series, and a host of video games, not to mention at least one comic series. That is the kind of legacy that Frank Herbert gave us in those early years.

Is that all why I like this series, and this first phenomenal book in particular? I don’t know.

There is so much to like in this novel. I’ve never read the book with the critical eye that I now possess. However, I’m planning to read the entire series starting in October, in chronological order from the Butlerian Jihad trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, all the way to Sandworms of Dune, which is the eighth and final installment of the Dune Chronicles, also written by Kevin and Brian. It promises to be a really fun time. I remember reading the original 5-book series at least twice and also remember that I really enjoyed them then.

One thing about Dune-verse is that the stories is that their social, cultural, and political context is just as valid today as it was when Frank Herbert first wrote them. We have a handful of individuals leading a revolution against an oppressive, complex political order that is based on greed and power. The Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring anyone? We have organisations motivated by either religion or advanced sciences attempting to take over the running of a galactic empire. I’ll forgo giving any examples of that but the context should be apparent to you, the reader. We have clans of oppressed and subjugated and ostracised people asserting themselves and getting their freedom. And it all just keeps going on and on. The Butlerian Jihad trilogy also explores humanity’s long-rooted fear against the power of the thinking machines, and the pitfalls of that issue.

Seriously, I don’t know of any other author who has explored so much in so few pages and has kept it all coherent and focused on the end-game. Perhaps there are writers out there today who actually do all this. I confess that I’m not as widely read in the genre as I’d like to be. So I put that question to you all: can you name an author like this?

Since I started writing this article, I’ve listened to another half-hour of the audiobook. I am still amazed at how approachable Frank Herbert’s prose is. The imageries that it conjures up. The mood, the atmosphere, the variety of his characters. As much as I praise all the books I’ve read this year, even ones such as Rob Sanders’ Legion of the Damned, or Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar or any other high-ranked ones, Dune holds a special place in my heart.

Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke expanded my reading horizons and showed me places of wonder through their stories. Frank Herbert took it all, combined it together, and produced a masterpiece.

Thank you, Frank Herbert, for such a wonderful experience.

Posted on August 20, 2012, in 2012 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Damn, I had the chance of picking the first Dune novel up in a second hand bookshop a few days ago. Don’t know why I passed the chance over. I’ll try and get stuck into this series by the end of 2012, and if I can’t do that, then I’ll make it a Reading Resolution to pick it up in 2013. I don’t know why I haven’t read Dune yet. Come to think of it, I need to read a lot more sci-fi outside of SW/40k settings. I haven’t read Peter F. Hamilton, nor Orson Scott Card, nor Iain M. Bank’s Culture novels outside of the first book. And the Foundation Trilogy, but I’ve got a copy of the first novel (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m getting around to it soon).

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    • I briefly read a few pages of one of Hamilton’s novels, the first Void Trilogy book, in the bookstore the other day when I took some pics (posted on FB). Seemed decent enough. My interest was piqued by Gav Thorpe’s status update on Goodreads about reading The Reality Dysfunction, or w/e the title is. Card, I’ve read Earth Unaware as you know. I’m not really motivated to read Ender’s Game really though. Iain M. Bank is a possibility but not sure. Angry Robot has definitely provided a great avenue to read stuff other than SW/BL.

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  1. Pingback: August Report « Angels of Retribution

  2. Pingback: Legends of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert – Book Review [Shadowhawk] | The Founding Fields

  3. Pingback: Dune by Frank Herbert – Book Review [Shadowhawk] | The Founding Fields

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