In a galaxy far, far away…
George Lucas is reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Upon closing the final pages, Lucas happens upon a groundbreaking idea. Totally unique.
A space opera, set upon the backdrop of a desert planet, about warriors in tune with powerful cognitive abilities. A young mentat Jedi, faced by tragedy, is forced to undergo training in order to prepare himself for a fight against space fascists.
And thus Star Wars was born.
(Now, to be clear, and to avoid a tedious exchange in the comments section, I am being mildly facetious – but the similarities between Dune and Star Wars are rather striking).
The good news here is that if you enjoy Star Wars (the original trilogy anyway), you’ll probably enjoy Dune too!
But back to the serious stuff.
The house of Atreides, previously of Caladan (a planet similar to Earth), is tasked with ruling the fiefdom of Arrakis – an inhospitable desert planet that just happens to provide the only source of melange (a rare spice) in the universe.
To put this in perspective, the spice is akin to oil in our own times – highly sought after, difficult to mine, and often the source of conflict. Whereas the Atreides relied on water and wind power on Caladan, desert power reigns on Arrakis – known also as Dune.
Frank Herbert’s first entry in the so-called ‘Duniverse’, is the coming of age story of Paul Atreides – a man who’s descent from comfort and privilege into hardship is an undeniably compelling tale.
Along the way, Herbert examines complex topics such as planetary ecology and the politics of empire. Throw in some religious fervour and autocracy onto an already burning pyre, and you’ll get a glimpse into the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
The fascinating thing about this novel is that it’s Sci-Fi, but draws heavily upon fantasy, Shakespearean tragedy, Islamic mythology, and philosophy. Just to ensure it’s not too high brow, Herbert includes giant space worms because of reasons.
It’s a highly intellectual novel and surprisingly, aside from some of the writing getting in the way of a good story, it works exceptionally well.
The characters too are excellent, for the most part, with minstrel Gurney Halleck, swordmaster Duncan Idaho, and Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit being the real standouts. Gurney in particular acts as a delightful opposite to Paul’s serious, christ-like demeanour.
And then there’s Feyd-Rautha – a cruel, violent warrior with a predilection for poison, and member of the Harkonnens (the Atriedes’ rival house). He is delightfully cruel – a snarling, vicious individual who I only wish Herbert had spent more time writing about.
The Various Influences of Dune
In case it isn’t yet apparent, Dune is a highly thoughtful novel and like all the best Sci-Fi, it holds a mirror up to the reader, asking them to examine their own contemporary world. And bar a particularly orientalist presentation of the Fremen, the ideas and political discourse of Dune have aged well.
What perhaps hasn’t aged well is the pacing and writing. This is a novel that rewards patience.
Enormous amounts of patience.
Herbert has a tendency to overwrite dialogue to the point of tedium. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of it. Meanwhile the purple prose can grate. There’s also a lot of philosophical musing and portents of fate that couch banal writing behind the illusion of intellectuality.
Still, Dune absolutely rewards the patient reader with an utterly enthralling final third. A true epic in every sense of the word, it’s easy to see why Frank Herbert’s novel is a Sci-Fi classic.
Of course, with Dune being such a seminal piece of writing – its own influences upon contemporary SFF culture and creativity are obvious for all to see. The world-building, for example, is phenomenal.
So phenomenal in fact that Star Wars, and even Games Workshop’s own Warhammer 40k universe, borrow from it quite significantly.
Dune is one the most ambitious Sci-Fi novels I’ve read so far – or rather in this case, listened to, having downloaded the Audible edition.
It’s a bit of a strange production, sometimes feeling like an audio drama – at other times an audiobook. I wasn’t entirely sold on this edition.
Regardless, the story, characters, and depth of world-building are standout successes.
Yes, long stretches of the middle section drag, but Dune is a unique piece of writing with some phenomenal moments.
It’s is also packed with some absolutely belting quotes such as “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” – no doubt alluding to the events of the sequel, Dune Messiah.
If you love Sci-Fi, you need to read Dune. If you love fantasy, you need to read Dune. But really, this is a novel that any reader with a healthy scoop of patience should enjoy quite nicely.