Frank Herbert Opens a Cosmic Saga for the Ages
The science-fiction genre has undergone, in my personal observation, more transformation in terms of trends and ideas than anything else in the realm of books. By its very nature, the genre pushes us to prod into the limitless possibilities which life might hold for us, both realistic and unbelievable.
As much as the modern novels love to push the envelope, from time to time it’s nice to take a trip back across the decades and look at the titans who have, by sheer virtue of their ideas, single-handedly dictated the genre’s evolution. I think we can all agree Frank Herbert belongs on this list of titans as much as anyone could, with his novel Dune being realized once again into a movie by Denis Villeneuve (the first one was directed by David Lynch), now seems like a perfect time to revisit the novel many qualify as the Lord of the Rings of science-fiction.
The premise of this story which spans multiple long books is, in essence, simple enough. We are introduced to the young Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family which rules the desert planet of Arrakis, perhaps one of the most inhospitable environments with human life.
The sole thing of value on the planet is a drug called “spice”, imbued with some otherworldly properties, including life extension and the expansion of one’s consciousness. Because of the immense value “spice” holds, the otherwise worthless planet finds itself at the centre of the known universe’s attention, and not everyone is keen on simply buying it.
Perhaps rather inevitably, house Atreides is betrayed in a power game of politics, and the young Paul manages to flee with nothing more than his life… and a great destiny ahead of him he could have never dreamed of.
Thus begins his epic journey across the years as he begins the process of evolving into the oppressively mysterious and powerful man destined to be only known as Muad’Dib. However, the quest for power isn’t Paul’s alone to complete, and there are more than enough fanatics, political, religious and otherwise, to stand between him and his destiny.
The Cosmic Grandiosity of Dune
Before you ever pick up this hefty novel, I think it’s very important to know what exactly what you’re getting to, because this is the type of story which, I believe, can end up turning the unprepared away from itself.
What exactly do I mean?
For starters, this book is about nine hundred pages deep, and its sequels are of comparable length as well. It’s not simply about telling a story where characters go from point A to point B, but it’s also just as much about building a grandiose and epic world filled with technological concepts and wonders we could scarcely dream of.
In turn, this means the pace, while being fairly consistent, is probably slower than what we’ve grown accustomed to in the modern age. I think this is especially true for the first hundred or so pages, where Herbert is mostly concerned with building up the world. If you’re not expecting this, you may find yourself bored and lost in all the ideas he’s throwing at you.
However, if you know what to expect, then you’ll find you’re entering an epic world of massive space ships, intelligent alien species, innumerable tech ideas I’d be hard-pressed to say I’ve seen elsewhere, as well as many radically-different social, political and religious structures all begging to be explored in-depth.
In other words, you’re in for a rather long ride if you choose to invest yourself in this universe, but in my opinion it rewards the reader’s patience and dedication very generously; you just need to have them in the first place.
A Saga of Human Insights
As amazing and profound as the world might be, it would have certainly gone to waste if it didn’t have an actual story to go along with it, and thankfully Herbert was very much aware of this. To begin with, I think we’d all be very hard-pressed to recall a comparable book simply in terms of the scope of the characters we are presented with over the course of the journey.
We literally meet people (and aliens) of all imaginable kinds, and while I do know the realm of ideas is, in theory, infinite, it feels like Herbert exhausted much of it when making his cast. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the characters (we’d be here all day if I did), but I can say the heroes are likeable and nuanced, the villains are hateable yet understandable, and the extras always have something more to add.
My only knock, if you could even call it such, is how difficult it becomes to remember everyone as you move on through the pages, to say nothing of when you go from one book to the next.
This actually brings me to my next point about the story: how re-readable it is. For most novels, we generally read them once, carry a vague memory of the events or impressions it left on us, and shelve them for evermore.
Dune is one of the few novels which, in my opinion of course, is worth reading time and time again. For starters, there is simply too much information in it to retain in one reading, meaning you’ll have things left to rediscover the second time around.
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The other reason you would have to read it more than once is the amount of insight Herbert tries to give us into the human mind, often commenting on our own religious and political systems with analogies and whatnot.
On my second time reading this I found I was able to draw many more parallels between our world and the one of Dune, and I can only guess what a third reading will bring.
The Final Verdict
Dune by Frank Herbert is, without question, one of the most important works in science-fiction to this very day, telling an epic, insightful and full-realized story like few others will ever be able to match.
If you consider yourself a fan of the genre, and especially if you enjoy slower, more methodical, thorough and thought-provoking works, then as a fellow science-fiction fan, I say Dune is a book you simply must try, at least once in your life.
(October 8th, 1920 – February 11th, 1986)
Frank Herbert was an American author who primarily wrote in the science-fiction genre, with the 1965 novel Dune and its five sequels being considered as his magnum opus.
He also worked as a newspaper journalist, a photographer, book reviewer, lecturer and ecological consultant.
In addition to being made into two movies, Dune also won the 1965 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1966 Hugo Award.