Dune was first published in two parts in a science fiction magazine called Analog in 1965. I read the ACE 2005 trade paperback edition (ACE is an imprint of Penguin Random House).
I read Dune because the movie is coming out this year (2020). The trailer looked cool and I wanted to check the book out. The ideal situation is to have already read the literary classic before the movie comes out so you can tell all your friends how you knew about it first. Total hipster move. But when it comes to Dune fandom, I’m a poser. The copy of the book I read even has the “Soon to be a major motion picture” sticker on the front. I hate that. The only thing worse is when a book has the movie cover. It’s like, oh cool, Brad Pitt is in this book. Bleh.
Dune is about a royal family that moves to a desert planet called Arrakis. Arrakis is the native planet to the Fremen desert-dwelling people and was previously stewarded by the evil Harkonnens. The Duke’s son Paul finds himself in a place where he must step up and be a leader or fall victim to the political and cultural circumstances around him.
After the first few pages of Dune I remembered why I never read science fiction. Annoying names like Thufir Hawat, Bene Gesserit, Ornithopter, and Fremen. I’m not even sure how to pronounce these terms let alone keep an image in my head of what they are. In my opinion science fiction requires a visual medium, like comics or film. A sci-fi novel is just not doing it for me. Maybe I have a poor imagination for things that don’t actually exist, I don’t know.
I liked the overall themes of the book, those being courage, leadership, family, identity and some environmental politics. I liked the world-building and creatures of the book. There are several other Dune sequels that I’m sure flesh out the world of Dune a bit more. Herbert created a religion that seems to borrow heavily from Islam and some kind of obscure Latvian Orthodox or something.
There’s a great part of the story that I can’t really discuss without a **SPOILER.** It’s how Paul handles the death of his father and is forced to grow up and be a leader. “‘Moods a thing for cattle or for making love. You fight when the necessity arises, no matter your mood.’ Perhaps that’s it, Paul thought. I’ll mourn my father later…when there’s time.” (p.240).
It reminds me of something Jordan Peterson talks about, how you should be the strongest person at your father’s funeral. It’s not about being an emotionally deprived jerk, it’s about being strong in the face of adversity and taking care of others before yourself. Paul is not saying he will not mourn his father, he’s saying he will mourn his father later, but right now he needs to keep fighting. Being able to compartmentalize our feelings like this is a lesson that our emotion-spewing, social media-induced culture desperately needs to hear.
I didn’t like how incredibly dull this book is. Like Star Trek level boring. There is no humor, the action is wooden, and the relationships are kept at arms-length. At 617 pages it was about 300 pages too long. Maybe not for a 1965 audience, but for the modern reader it was very hard to get through.
There was too much exposition. Everything is spelled out for the reader. Herbert makes sure we know exactly who the villain is by almost literally saying, “hey look it’s the villain!” As a reader, I don’t like to be so catered to. Make me need to pay attention and keep my attention. Herbert tells instead of shows.
Overall it was a good book. Herbert effectively told his story. Some of the characters were compelling. A bit cliche but that’s to be expected from a classic of any genre.
I’d recommend Dune to fans of old, classic 60’s and 70’s sci-fi and those who want to know the source material for the new movie coming out this year.