Written By: Frank Herbert
Published By: Ace
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
When the latest film version of the Frank Herbert science fiction novel, Dune, hit the theaters, I listened to my friends’ enthusiasm and wondered at it. My father had this book on our shelves when I was a kid and even though he let me read all of the J.R.R. Tolkien, Clive Cussler, and more, he never offered me Dune. My friends wondered how I could be a science fiction fan without reading any of Herbert’s Dune series. I commented on this to my significant other and, lo and behold, Dune ended up under the Christmas tree this year.
Dune takes us to the desert planet of Arrakis, a dangerous planet whose chief export of spice is a lucrative business. Spice can be used in many different ways: as fuel, as medicine, and more. It is often used as a recreational drug that can offer heightened awareness. For years, the Harkonnens have controlled the mining of spice, a rather difficult task as the greatest veins are often in the most dangerous areas of the desert, subject to raids by the desert people known as the Fremen and to spice worms, giant creatures attracted by noise and energy shields. Unfortunately, it is due to those very issues that the Emperor decides to make a change.
Liet Atreides and his family are chosen to journey from their water world of Caladan to Arrakis, a land where water is precious. Liet is very wary of this new assignment. He has a feeling that treachery is about and perhaps the Harkonnens will not let go of their spice operation willingly. He has no idea how deep and how high up the treachery goes, but he has men in place that he can trust, a concubine with special Bene Gesserrit powers and their son, Paul, heir to the Atreides fortune and, if the Bene Gesserrit prophecies are to be believed, a very powerful young man. Liet goes about attempting to fix what the Harkonnen’s have destroyed and earn the trust of the Fremen in an effort to create a better life for all living on Arrakis.
But, alas, it isn’t meant to be. Liet and most of his people are killed and Paul finds himself and his mother, Jessica, on the run. They are discovered and saved by the Fremen, who believe that Paul is the one that has been prophesized about – the one that will bring balance to the planet of Arrakis. The longer Paul is on Arrakis, the more expansive his powers become, offering him the ability to see into the future with his new spice-induced heightened awareness. But bringing balance to Arrakis also means finding water in the most impossible places without letting the Harkonnens know that he is still alive. Can Paul help the Fremen recreate their planet in their vision or will the Harkonnens and those they conspire with find and destroy all he has fought to build?
As I first started reading this, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. At over 900 pages, Dune is a rather daunting brick-like novel to get through, especially the first few chapters which contain words and phrases lost on simple Earth creatures like myself. As I got further into the novel, I began to see parallels between the people in the novel, their beliefs and the world around me. That helped a bit. Then the action took over and I was hooked. Frank Herbert’s writing is extremely descriptive, and the action scenes were quite easy to picture in my mind’s eye. Herbert has a way of writing his characters that gets the reader invested in their outcomes – the biggest to the smallest roles are important to the reader. He weaves quite the web of deceit in this novel and one is never quite sure who Paul should trust, but we root for him to succeed at every twist and turn of the storyline.
Dune is more than a science fiction novel with a bit of action and suspense. It is a social commentary on how human greed and consumption can destroy the very planet we live in. The release of the film adaptation of this novel is quite timely. One only hopes that the movie closely follows the book and that the lessons taught in the novel are not lost in translation. I may never know why my father didn’t offer this book to read when I was younger, but I am truly glad I had the chance to read it now. My friends were right – I never knew what I was missing. Now that I do, I’ll have to get my hands on Frank Herbert’s other Dune novels!