Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of science fiction’s most famous novels. It’s the first book of the Dune Chronicles series of novels, and although published nearly 50 years ago, it still holds up very well.
I don’t know why I always feel wary about reading older science fiction novels, but it may have to do with the fact that I am very scientifically literate, and older sci-fi tends to be incredibly corny and scientifically inaccurate. Well, I didn’t have to worry so much about Dune. It does wonderfully and exposed me to so many interesting ideas. Dune doesn’t rely on technology so much, although it is several thousand years in the future. In fact, computers are illegal in this universe. Selective breeding to create powerful minds is of the utmost importance. Technology takes a backseat to culture, and this is incredibly well-thought out. The cultures and religions are based on present ones, particularly Islam. I was very surprised. The book takes place mostly on a desert planet called Arrakis, and many terms from Islam are used, including Jihad, hajj, and Ramadan. However, as this takes place several thousand years in the future, the religions of the book are very different than their modern counterparts.
As I said, the setting of Arrakis is very well done. There are two other planets that feature, Caladan and Giedi Prime. Caladan is a paradise, and is home of the House of Atreides, which gains the power of Arrakis. Giedi Prime is home to the House of Harkonnen, which was previously in charge of Arrakis. Arrakis itself has a native people, the Fremen, who feature very prominently in this book. Arrakis becomes a very real place, it’s so wonderfully described. The sandworms are incredible creatures that prove to be more important than I’d originally thought.
The main character is Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine and Bene Gesserit Jessica. The Bene Gesserit are women who are trained from a young age for powerful mental and physical skills. In the employ of the House of Atreides are Thufir Hawat, the Mentat (basically human computers), Duncan Idaho, Dr. Yueh, and Gurney Halleck. These characters all show incredible depth and development throughout the book. The main antagonists are Vladimir Harkonnen and his nephew Feyd-Rautha. They’re written in such a way that you can’t help but hate them. I felt no sympathy toward them. Also important are Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen and Chani, a Fremen girl who becomes more than a simple girl. The cast of characters is so great that I can’t list them all. I liked Halleck quite a bit, though. He was one of my favourites.
The story follows Paul as he develops from one of the few males getting Bene Gesserit training to the man known as Muad’Dib, a prophesied leader of the Fremen. I’d actually seen the movie many years ago, but I barely remembered any of the plot, so it felt fresh to me. The complexity was quite high, and I was often having to guess what was going to happen. There were a lot of surprises. I can see why this is considered one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.
One thing that I consider to be a sign of a great book is its ability to draw me in emotionally. I felt many things, particularly in the more tense moments. During the final part of the book, I was so involved, I felt like I was there watching everything happen. It was that powerful.
So, how would I rate it? I have to give it a full 5 out of 5 stars. It truly is an amazing story. Recommended to every science fiction fan, and even fantasy fans. It may have been sci-fi, but it had strong fantasy-like qualities. It has broad appeal.