Set in a sweeping science fiction universe, the human empire is vast and complicated. Spice, from the planet Arrakis (aka Dune) powers it all, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in not so subtle ways. For years, the Harkonnen family has managed Dune for the Emperor, but now the Emperor has handed control of that planet over to House Atreides. Of course, the Harkonnens will do whatever they can to take down the Atreides. Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica will have to learn how to survive the most harshest zones of this desert planet in order to survive the Harkonnen.
I have read this book so many times over the years and each time I take something new from it. I was originally fascinated by the book because of the desert planet, which holds such great significance for the plot. Having spent most of my life in one desert or another, I really appreciated that Herbert built real desert life into the scenery. It’s not all sandy dunes, dry heat, and wind. Plus there’s giant sandworms and who doesn’t love giant worms of any kind?
This book is full of cool SF tech as well. There’s the small transport ships for collecting the Spice in the desert, the enormous space going vessels, personal protective shields, assassin’s tricks and tools, the specialized desert suits that reclaim and recycle the body’s water, and plenty more. If you’ve only seen the various movies/mini-series based on the book, then you are missing out.
The characters are also fascinating. While some are drawn simply, they still have motives and are useful to the plot. The main characters are layered, complex, have faults and foibles. Duke Leto, Paul’s father, comes across as a capable ruler who is worthy of respect. He is sure in his priorities and his code of honor. Jessica, Leto’s concubine and most trusted companion, is Bene Gesserit trained. Yes, she does scheme but her reasons are solidly good. Still, she miscalculates and makes mistakes. Paul starts off as a smart but somewhat sheltered boy. His story arc tosses him into a world of danger, literally, and there are so many ways he could have ended up dead. Gurney Halleck, Paul’s troubadour warrior trainer, is also a favorite. He has some of the roughest humor but also pushes Paul the hardest.
For a book that has staunchly remained in the SF genre, there is a mystical side to the story. The Bene Gesserit is a long-standing sisterhood that has spread it’s seeds of religion throughout the human universe. Most are trained from birth in mental abilities as well as history, languages, and martial arts. They also have the Voice, which allows them to compel most people to simple actions. The Bene Gesserit use the Spice to peek into the future (a talent called prescience) and thereby have kept humanity from being snuffed out by this disaster or that (or it’s own stupidity). Yet there is a place they can’t look, a place that terrifies them. Paul will play a role in helping them discover what is hidden there. Since this mystical element to the story can’t be nailed down by science, it has fascinated me the over the years.
There is so much to love about this book. The desert people, the Fremen, have their own well-formed culture, shaped by the environment of Dune. Indeed, Dune itself is like a character in the story because it’s nature has such a strong influence on the story. The little touches of various languages throughout the story are also appreciated. I find it immensely sensible that House Atreides would have it’s own battle language, making it that much more difficult for their enemies to figure out what they are doing during a fight.
If you haven’t given this book a read yet, I highly recommend it. There is plenty to be discovered and enjoyed in this classic SF novel.
The Narration: The narration on this book is a little odd. There are chunks where multiple narrators are giving voice to the characters and then chunks where it is only Simon Vance narrating all the characters. I wonder if a trimmed radio theater version was recorded and then the publisher went back later and had Vance fill in all the in between spaces for an unabridged version. Vance’s performance is really good and the multi-cast parts are really good, but I found myself not liking switching between the two. I would get used to a character sounding a certain way and then have to get used to Vance’s performance of the same character, and then switching back and forth throughout – it was an unnecessary annoyance. Still, I love this book enough to tolerate it and for the most part, I still enjoyed the narration.