I revisited this novel I first read in college because a new movie will soon be released. I’ve never been an avid sci fi or fantasy reader, but I remember Dune having a big impact on me. It’s the story of the teenage Paul Atreides whose family is sent by the Emperor to rule the fearsome desert planet Arrakis, the universe’s single source of mélange, a highly addictive spice-drug that prolongs life and enhances consciousness.
But the Atreides are walking into a setup and their enemies, the Harkonnens, kill Paul’s father, the Duke Leto, leaving Paul on the run with his mother, Jessica, a trained Bene Gesserit with incredible powers of perception and mind control. The book focuses on Paul rising to power, realizing he’s been bred and trained to be a future-seeing savior to the native Fremen on the planet, and marshaling his new fanatical Fremen allies to take back the planet.
What most impressed me was the imaginative world-building of Frank Herbert: Dune with its scarcity of water, forcing the local population to wear stillsuits to reclaim their body’s moisture. The giant sandworms (hundreds of meters long) that are related to the production of mélange. The blue within blue eyes of anyone who eats a spice-based diet. The highly-disciplined Fremen population who have learned mastery over the inhospitable desert conditions. The mystical and powerful Bene Gesserit “witches” that can control others with the timber of their voices. It’s all incredibly imagined and carefully narrated.
The first half of the novel when the world, major conflict, and betrayal are established is stronger than the second half. Paul eventually becomes god-like, and religious fanaticism, ritual, and mysticism become a big part of the slowing plot. The final battle to retake the planet is anticlimactic. The archenemy Harkonnens are more cartoonish than villainous in the way they are presented.
I don’t think many women will appreciate the novel. Female characters are either witch-like or chattel to be passed among men who win them in fights to the death. Oh, well. It was written in 1965.
I’m glad I reread the book. I have a huge appreciation for Frank Herbert’s talent and am now looking forward to the film. I’m keeping my expectations in check, but reading a novel and then seeing the film right after is a favorite thing for me to do. I’m fascinated by how the material is repurposed—successfully or not—from one artistic form to another.