Reviewed by: Terry
5 out of 5 stars
Is it space opera? Is it political commentary? Is it philosophical exploration? Is it fantasy? _Dune_ is all of these things and possibly more. One thing I do know: it's a kick-ass read!
I've loved this book since I first plunged into it's mightily constructed, weird and obscure world. Of course it's hailed as a classic, and I am one of those that agrees. The sheer magnitude of Herbert's invention, his monumental world-building tied with an exciting story of betrayal, survival, rebellion and ultimate ascendance are more than enough to guarantee that.
His characters too, are worthy of note: Paul Atreides the young heir to not only a ducal throne, but the hopes and desires of the oppressed population of an entire planet and the strange otherworldly powers of prescience and command that are his unique birthright; his mother Jessica torn between devotion to her family and her pledge to a generations-long plan spawned by a secret order bent on controlling the universe from behing the scenes; Chani and Stilgar the wild yet honourable representatives of a dangerous people just waiting to burst their chains and explode onto an unsuspecting universe. Add to these heroes the malign Baron Harkonnen and his debased nephews Feyd Rautha and "the beast" Rabban, the spiteful and covetous Emperor Shaddam IV, masterminds of the fall of Paul's House, and we have the recipe for an exciting contest of wills with no less than the future of humanity at stake.
Even without an exciting story to drive it, the book is almost worth reading just to experience the world created by Herbert. 10,000 years in the future mankind has experience the "Butlerian Jihad" wherein all "thinking machines" were destroyed and the hatred of the technological has a religious conviction. In their place there are the Mentats, the "human computers" able to utilize the human mind to nearly it's full potential, drawing accurate inferences and conclusions with minimal data. There is the Sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, a community of women who have honed their mental powers to the point of a near magical ability to coerce, tied with a training in politics and influence that would make Machiavelli proud. Finally is the Guild: a community of mutated humans, the sole "pilots" able to bend space and foresee their path amidst the void and thus keep interstellar trade and community together.
Both the Siterhood and the Guild owe their great powers to the mysterious spice Melange, the only product of the planet Arrakis (known colloquially as Dune) and the society of the Empire in general also depends on it for its "geriatric qualities". Dune is thus the linch-pin for all Imperial power. Without the spice, travel ceases, trade stops, life ends. He who controls the spice controls the universe.
Upon this stage is born Paul Atreides, the son of the Duke who is to take control of Arrakis as a fiefdom for the emperor. Paul is not merely the heir to political power though, for he is the last link in a chain of breeding that has been going on for generations, part of a plan created by the Bene Gesserit in the hopes of breeding a superhuman whom they could control. But Paul was born too early, his mother's rebellion against her orders have brought about an unforeseen occurrence. Now in the midst of political betrayal and the loss of all he has known Paul must also fight for survival amongst the most merciless tribe of humanity the universe has formed. Greater powers than any human before him has known will be thrust upon the young man, and the mantle of messiah will be his to accept or reject.
Did I mention that I love this book? Well I do. I highly recommend it to any and all. I must admit that there is the occasional infelicity in some of Herbert's prose (and a too-heavy reliance on inner monologues to either state the obvious or convey information to the reader), but overall I can forgive him this for having crafted such an excellent tale. Woven into the story of a tottering space empire are real questions about ecology, responsibility and human life that are well-worth thinking about. Politics is not just a veneer, but the lifeblood of this story and, to me at least, it makes it all the more exciting.
I'll admit right here that I am one of the few who actually likes all of the original Dune books, though I must admit that after the original trilogy Herbert seems to lose some of the strands of his narrative thread and my admiration is mostly due to one of the main characters (name removed for spoiler reasons) and the world-building. (But please avoid the prequels and sequels written by Herbert's son and Kevin Anderson in an attempt to cash in on the franchise, they are worse than anathema.)
Also posted at Goodreads