by Frank Herbert Published by Penguin
on 1990 Genres: Coming of Age
, Science Fiction Pages:
Sandworms in space! I decided to reread Dune before the new film adaptation is released this October. Rereading is always a great test to see whether books are good or excellent. For me, an excellent reread is when I can identify new layers and themes that I did not catch the first time. Dune performed well for me on the second read. Frank Herbert does an exceptional job of cramming many themes between the pages of Dune. Politics, religion, the human impact on the environment, gender, coming-of-age, power, and fate vs. free will are all touched upon. The world building Herbert achieves within only one book is impressive. I cannot get enough of Arrakis, its sandworms and the character of Lady Jessica in particular. Please beware this review contains spoilers.
Dune begins when Emperor Shaddam IV assigns Duke Leto Altreides to rule over the planet of Arrakis. Arrakis is a desert covered planet where water is scarce and giant sandworms roam. Arrakis is important to the surrounding galaxy because it is the only planet where the spice melange can be mined. This spice is a valued resource that can expand human life and improve vitality. The planet is occupied by the native Fremen people who have mastered living in the harsh desert climate. House Altreides has an enemy, the House Harkonnen, led by the Baron Harkonnen. The Harkonnens previously had control of Arrakis. Unbeknownst to Duke Leto the Emperor and Baron Harkonnen are plotting to destroy the Altreides family after they move to Arrakis. Duke Leto’s partner, but not wife, is Lady Jessica a Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit are a group of women who are trained to have powerful mental capabilities. The son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica is Paul Altreides. Paul has been trained by his father’s swordsmen and by his mom in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, he is the main protagonist of Dune.
Now let us talk about my favorite things in Dune. First, sandworms! I love them and will read anything about them. They are simply awesome. Discovering the relationship between the spice, the Fremen, and the worms was fascinating. For those of you that have read the series’ fourth installment, God Emperor of Dune, you know that the sandworms’ story takes a weird turn (which I adored). My favorite character in Dune is Lady Jessica. She is such a powerful force and complex character. While many of the men hold major positions of leadership in Dune, it is the Bene Gesserit who pull the strings behind the scenes. Another aspect I love about Dune is how the most intense scenes play out within characters’ minds, rather than in physical battles. These scenes include Lady Jessica and Paul consuming the Water of Life, Paul facing the gom jabbar and Paul’s ability to see across time and space after becoming the Kwisatz Haderach. Having so much of the action take place within characters minds instead of in external fights makes Dune unique from other science fiction epics. The environmentalist themes in Dune are arguably more relevant today than when the book was published. The Fremen’s efforts led by Stilgar to change the climate of Arrakis, by bringing more vegetation and water to the planet’s surface, was exciting. I wonder if our scientists will be making similar efforts in the future as the effects of climate change worsen.
My initial thought was to rate Dune five stars. But upon rereading I have three major critiques with the book. The first problem is uneven pacing. The last fifty pages of the book feel extremely rushed. Especially the sections where the Fremen defeat the Harkonnen and Sardaukar forces and the duel between Paul and Feyd-Rautha. I felt like Frank Herbert got tired of writing and wanted to wrap up the story as quickly as possible. My second criticism is Frank Herbert commits one of my biggest literary pet peeves. I detest when a major conflict between characters boils down to a misunderstanding that could be solved with one conversation. The conflict between Halleck and Jessica is exactly this. By the end of the book most characters are aware that Yueh, not Lady Jessica, was responsible for the betrayal of Duke Leto. Yet somehow Halleck remains unaware and seeks revenge on Jessica for something she did not do. I find it difficult to believe that upon reuniting with Halleck no one filled him in on Yueh’s actions. My last critique is the biggest. The Baron Harkonnen is a harmful gay stereotype. Frank Herbert decided to make his primary antagonist a gay pedophile. This is a dangerous stereotype that needs to be squashed. I really (really!) hope that the Baron’s character is rewritten for the new film. His character can be given new quirks and personality traits without impacting the story. Now let us be clear, I love this book. But because of these critiques I decided to give the book 4.5 stars.
Dune is one my favorite books and I am hoping the new film creates new fans of the series. I managed to make it about halfway through the Dune books written by Frank Herbert (I hear the ones written by his son are not worth the read, is this true for anyone who has read them?). After this reread, I would like to make a go at reading the series again. I am super stoked to watch the movie later this month. Please check out my musing “What am I Hoping to See in the New Dune Film?”