Saturday, 10 August 2013

Dune - Frank Herbert


Dune. Here's a book that needs no introduction, and I'm sure that many of you have heard of it to some degree (even if it is just been in passing until now). It is Frank Herbert's timeless science fiction classic about Arrakis - a desert planet with so little water on its surface that is it almost uninhabitable for human life; a desert planet that is inhabited only because of the unique melange spice mined there because of the vitality it brings to human health.

It is a planet where only the strong have been able to survive, and only then by adapting to conserve each and every drop of the living-giving water that is worth far more than gold. The Fremen they are called, tribal warriors that have managed to endure and eke out a living where few other could; who have been down-trodden and suppressed by the long and cruel regime of House Harkonnen. The rule of the Harkonnen's ends, however, when House Atreides is gifted with Arrakis and its melange-mining rights by the great Padishah Emperor himself.

Duke Leto Atreides is reluctant to accept the gift, especially because it involves leaving his water-rich home world behind, but knows that he has very little choice - he can feel the jaws of a Harkonnen trap closing tight and begins to realise that Arrakis provides an answer to the danger, despite also being the cause. This answer is the Fremen, the warrior people who have hatred for Duke Vladimir Harkonnen in their very blood. It is the Fremen that he must win if he is to save his son, Paul, and beloved consort, Jessica.

The Good
I have to say that I was very impressed with Dune and think that Herbert has done a superb job with this book. He has managed to develop an impressive ensemble of characters that I really warmed to; has put a lot of thought into the workings of Arrakis and how humans could survive in such an arid environment; and has developed a believable future society for us (once we have finally ventured into the stars).

I admit that some of the stuff Herbert has imagined has to be taken with a pinch of salt (such as his whole concept of the Bene Gesserit), but, over all, he has developed a believable level of technology that isn't too far fetched like many science fiction authors do. This technology is interesting to read about as Herbert really shows how it fits into society and adds to the story as much of it is necessary for survival on Arrakis.

The story itself is also excellent and exciting, although it is predominantly political intrigue so I can't give much away about the plot without ruining it. Rest assured though, that Dune is a real page-turner that is full and twists and action!

The Bad
I think that one of the biggest problems Dune has is its complexity. It's not the story itself that's complex, but simply the sheer scope of the world that Herbert has created. He literally throws the reader straight into the deep end of his universe and begins talking about all these fictional objects of technology, religious rites and social connotations that he has made up with very little explanation of what they are (almost as if he just expects the reader to know). Admittedly, this is a brave method of writing and clearly shows Herbert's confidence as a writer, but it did make following the book a little difficult at times. Herbert has included a glossary at the back of the book to help us out, but I've ever really been a fan of authors doing this and found the continuing necessity to keep flicking back to it a bit irritating really.

In addition to this, Dune also has a weird chronology and is actually split into three novellas that are set years apart from each other. Although each story follows the same overall story arc, it does mean that there are huge 'gaps' in the characters' lives that would have been enjoyable to read about. Really, I got the feeling that Dune is actually two normal length novels that Herbert has tried to condense into one (in three parts).

My Thoughts
The problems I had with Dune did little to mar my enjoyment of it, however, and I still think that the book is brilliant. It is imaginative, exciting and Herbert has really delved into the science that surviving on such a hostile planet as Arrakis would require. Dune is definitely a book that all science fiction fans should invest in and has set the scene for the rest of the Dune Chronicles to be an interesting read.


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