Two weeks ago, I asked if Villenueve’s adaptation was Dune’s Kwisatz Haderach? You probably didn’t need (pumpkin) spice fueled prescience to look forward to this moment and see that I would write a review of the book that movie was based on . . .
But when you recorded the near infinite amount of data and minutiae, to compute a vision of this exact moment, what did you see? An argument against this book’s virtue and excellence which was but the strike of the match which triggers the revolution? Or did you see the blind faith of a fanatic who dares not look past the veil of his belief, but rather tear down any naysayer in a universe spanning jihad?
Or did this review hide from your prescience, appearing at exactly the right moment to make you doubt that you ever knew what I might write at —
Ok, I can’t keep that nonsense up any longer. I’m going to review Frank Herbert’s Dune now. Hop on your nearest sandworm, we’re going for a ride.
Catch Me Up!
Well, if you’ve never left the sietch before in your life, there’s a dry and dusty world out there just waiting for
a chance to eat maim or kill you to explore it called Arrakis. This terrifying and distinctly badass place is the setting for Frank Herbert’s debut (I think it’s his debut) novel DUNE. According to Herbert’s Wikipedia article it took him six years to research and write this massive tome, and while it was published in two parts by Analog, it took quite a while to find a publishing house, and commercial success.
Once it did take off however, it was quite popular, winning the Nebula Award in 1965 and shared a Hugo award in 1966 (maybe I’ll have to add this review to my list of Hugo related reviews). It’s continued to have a profound influence on the science fiction genre and regularly gets awarded accolades such as “Best of all Time” etc.
My personal history with the book was explained in my previous Dune post, but essentially I read it for a project in my high school science fiction class (I’m still amazed how lucky I was to have that) and loved it. But crashed and burned on the second book, Dune Messiah. I’ve watched the 1984 film with STING and even seen a ballet of Dune in a theater in Baltimore. My folks referenced Dune on and off throughout my childhood, but never as much as Starwars or anything else.
So . . . After more than decade?
After more than a decade, I’ll admit that his book did not hold itself as firmly in my esteem as it once did. In general I can still say that I enjoyed it, and am glad I read it (I have a book club discussion about it tomorrow so perhaps I’ll be a bit less hard on it after hearing about all the stuff I missed) but I often felt myself pushing through chapters, and looking to my TBR for reassurance while reading.
I’ll start with the parts I enjoyed, which was undoubtedly the worldbuilding. As a reader, Dune is an incredibly immersive experience. I’m sure there are holes in this world, but as a casual reader, you’re not going to see them, and what you do see is incredibly intricate, and just plain cool. Giant Sandworms, Ornithopters, and underground seitches? The Bene Gesserit? A hallucinogenic spice that permeates every aspect of the planet? Semuta music!
There’s just so much here to dig into that you can’t help but be in awe of the world that is Dune.
As a writer, I can also say that Herbert has more or less written the playbook for worldbuilding. He shows you how he built the world as he shows the world to you. There is a chapter in which we attend a Fremen funeral. This chapter to me specifically, was incredible because we really got to see just how far the sacrality of water/moisture really seeped (lol) into every aspect of Fremen culture. Stunning.
Where I think the book suffers, is in its ability to resolve the tensions it has built over its absurd amount of pages. And there IS plenty of tension, especially with Irulan’s words being sprinkled on top of the beginning of each chapter, always hinting, hinting, hinting. But somehow, I never really doubt that Paul and Jessica are going to pull through.
I think Paul’s prescience and Jessica’s Bene Gesserit ways actually do them a disservice in this area. While each have limits, I never felt we ever saw those limits reached, pushed, surpassed, anything. It was just like oh here’s a problem, and then Paul or Jessica solves the problem (at least IMHO).
Despite my misgivings, I still would cautiously recommend this one. If you love worldbuilding, here’s your book, go have fun. If you have trouble staying focused on things, this one is gonna be tough. At the very least though, you’ll be at least generally familiar with a significant work of Science Fiction history. I don’t normally think that is a great reason to read a book, but in this case I feel there’s enough there that it won’t be the ONLY reason you’re reading the book.
Anyway, that’s all I got. What do y’all think? Is this book the greatest thing to ever sit on a book store shelf? Just Meh? What’s your favorite part? Please let me know in the comments.
See you next time!
You’ve hit the nail on the head: the world building (specifically the Arakeen worldbuilding; the broader universe still feels intriguing smoke and mirrors) is great, but I felt there was very little narrative tension. Paul and Jessica were so strong, and Irulan’s hints strongly indicative, so it all felt rather inevitable. I can see why it’s a classic, but the first half in particular was a bit of a slog, until the Fremen took center stage and the world building dazzled 🙂
I’m actually wondering if the best way to experience DUNE might be through a video game or something. Somewhere where you can have a great setting but the plot isn’t as important. While reading, w/ all the intrigue and factions, and every character being a bit of a jerk, I was thinking the next Assassin’s Creed should be set on Arrakis. I just saw the Spice Wars trailer so . . . maybe that will suffice hahah.
I can see it as a solid roleplay setting – leave it to other people to wrangle plot and character and capitalise on the world building and factions 😉