Dune is perhaps one of the deepest science fiction books I have ever read. The only other books that can compare to it, are its sequels. I began reading the series because of the obvious success it has had, with five sequels written by Frank Herbert and eleven more books written by his son Brian Herbert with Kevin J. Anderson. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Paul Atreides is the heir to his House which has been given charge to oversee the production of Spice on the planet Arrakis. The Spice is the most valued substance in the universe due to its mind enhancing powers and the ability it grants to bend space and travel instantly anywhere in the galaxy. The Spice, therefore, attracts many greedy hands, including those of House Atreides’s biggest rival, House Harkonnen. It is this greed that leads to the murder of Paul’s father, Leto Atreides, at the hands of House Harkonnen.
Paul and his mother are driven into the desert and presumed dead. There he bands with the desert people called Fremen, and he must learn to deal with the harsh desert, as well as the giant sandworms. All the while he forms his plan to retake his rightful place as Duke of Arrakis, and restore peace to the planet. But, Paul’s destiny is greater than this. As he is exposed to the raw spice in the desert, he begins to wonder if he is the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach, who will be blessed with the ability to see what no one else can see.
The plot involves very big events and organizations. The upside to this is that the plot is very rich in ideology and philosophy. The downside is that much of what we read seems unbelievable, due to the fact that many of us have never experienced or even heard of such events. Therefore, we have no real idea how the plot would really play out if it were real.
The characters are going through very traumatic events and Frank Herbert does an excellent job of making their reactions as believable as is possible. I particularly like the cognitive awareness that Herbert paints into many of the characters, allowing them to detect from the slightest clue everything they need to know about a person or situation. It’s a lot like a large group of Sherlock Holmes’s. The only drawback is that such awareness is not very realistic but Herbert counters this argument with the phenomenon of the Spice which increases brain capacity and awareness. I might add that the primary villain, the Baron Harkonnen, is perhaps the most revolting villain in history. He displays all of the power-hungry attributes common to most villains, but add to that the fact that he is both homosexual and grotesquely fat.
The plot itself is not too original. The idea of an heir to a throne being driven from his home and then having to retake it with the help of those he has befriended elsewhere, is an idea used in many stories. However, the story is told with an original setting and many other original ideas that a lack of an original plot is easily overlooked.
The world of Dune is extremely detailed and complex. Complete with deep philosophical and religious ideologies, the world becomes very believable and complete. Each culture is unique in its own way, particularly that of the Fremen, where water is precious and much of the culture is centered around the preservation of water.
Overall, Dune is a must read for fans of science fiction. However, it is not a book for those who want a quick enjoyable read. The ideas in Dune are deep and enfolding. Much like Lord of the Rings it is not a book to be read lightly but to be studied.