Dune is your typical coming of age story. Meet Paul. Paul is 15 years old. Paul and his family are being moved because of his dad’s work. Paul is going to have to get used to his new surroundings and make new friends all while going through the regular problems of being the son of the Duke ,a male Bene Gesserit, the potential Kwisatz Haderach, and developing his powers of seeing the future and telling if people are telling the truth. Ok so maybe its not “typical”. Oh, and he and his family are the targets of a political assassination plot. And the new place he’s moving to… its a planet with very little water. Such little moisture that they have to wear special suits to keep the moisture with their body. You might even say the whole planet is a…. “Dune”!
Written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965 Dune is said to be the best selling science fiction novel of all time. Before I started this little project, all that Dune was to me was a movie that I had no desire to watch. When I saw that it was based on a book and the book had such high accolades I decided I had to read it. It took me several hours to get through, but it was well worth it.
The main character, Paul, and his mother, Jessica, are the only ones with normal names. Other characters have names like Leto, Dr. Yueh, Thufir Hawat, and Gurney Halleck. I thought for sure I would have difficulty differentiating these characters, but Herbert gives the characters such depth and reality that it really helps you get to know them quickly and start to care for these characters. In fact, he does such a good job that when certain characters die (I won’t say who, if you haven’t read it) despite it being obvious they will die, I was torn apart inside. The only time I can remember feeling this connected to a character was when Edard Stark gets killed in Game of Thrones.
The story follows Paul and his mother fairly closely, with other characters entering or leaving the fray. At times, certain characters would separate from the main story and I would think to myself “well that sucks I really liked that character, I hope they aren’t gone for long”. But then a new character would be introduced that you would like just as much and forget about the other character until their return.
Part of how, I felt, he developed these characters well, and really helped you get to know them, was by letting you enter their thoughts during events and discussions. This is not uncommon in literature, but I haven’t seen it delivered quite like this. When a conversation is being had between two characters and you are reading both their spoken word and their inner dialogue simultaneously it makes things really interesting and fun. One scene in particular I really enjoyed, was a dinner hosted by Pauls parents, Duke Leto and Jessica. They are new to Arrakis (the dune planet), and are trying to maintain their power among people who think themselves more important than the duke. Frank Herbert writes a complex dialogue between many of the characters as they all try to show off their authority, build diplomatic relations, and insult those they do not like, all whilst stay within the confines of tradition and etiquette. It would make for an exciting scene to witness, it was even more exciting knowing how some where analyzing the scene, how some where planning their next vocal assault and how some were squirming and trying to hold onto any chance of maintaining respect at that table.
Dune is an intricate tapestry, weaving politics, relationships, nature, business, minor character arcs and larger character arcs (some of which are cut to short) into Paul’s story. One thing I appreciate about the book is that little time is wasted on very detailed descriptions. Herbert explains what is going on without having to give paragraph after paragraph of the whys and hows. The characters are always doing something and everything is explained through dialogue or thought rather than expositions.
Reading this book gave me constant reminders of why I like reading. The first is that I love when its late, I’m tired, I have to be up early in the morning, but I have to keep reading because it is getting so good and I won’t be able to sleep until I find out what happens next. When a day of exhaustion is worth a couple extra hours of reading, I know i’m onto something good. The second is the moment when they make a big reveal or have a really mind blowing moment. This book, especially the end of the first part, was like watching the season finale of one of my favourite tv shows. The episode is chalk full of awesomeness to ensure that you come back next season. But Herbert wasn’t looking for shock value to keep you coming back for next season, it was just shocking you and giving you the best book he could. At least that is what I got out of it.
Dune is the first book of several in the series. It won the 1966 Hugo award and Nebula award. Frank Herbert wrote 5 more books and his son Brian Herbert along with Kevin J. Anderson have written many more that take place throughout the original timeline. Dune has also been adapted into comics, a film in 1984, and two Emmy winning TV miniseries: Dune and Children of Dune.
Picture from newrafeal.com