Author: Frank Herbert
Published by: Hodder
Publication date: August 1965
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Private Collection
The Duke of Atreides has been manoeuvred by his arch-enemy, Baron Harkonnen, into administering the desert planet of Dune. Although it is almost completely without water, Dune is a planet of fabulous wealth, for it is the only source of a drug prized throughout the Galactic Empire. The Duke and his son, Paul, are expecting treachery, and it duly comes – but from a shockingly unexpected place.
Then Paul succeeds his father, and he becomes a catalyst for the native people of Dune, whose knowledge of the ecology of the planet gives them vast power. They have been waiting for a leader like Paul Atreides, a leader who can harness that force …
I picked up Dune, partially because of the upcoming movie and partially because the roleplaying group is going to be playing Dune: Adventures in the Imperium, in the very near future and I didn’t want to be completely in the dark when it comes to play-time.
Dune follows the story of Paul Atreides and his Mother, Jessica, throughout the trials and betrayal of their glorious house. Their fall from the lofty heights of their established Great House and the integration within the Freman, the native people of Arrakis where the novel is set and the uprising they bring forth once again – to put it briefly.
This book took me nearly two weeks to read – a fair while considering my usual speed – and I feel like I should have DNFed it before I got to the half way point, but I kept waiting for the book to pick up the pace orfor something to happen that would make the story ‘click’ with me. Sadly, this wasn’t the case and I ended up finishing the book feeling like I had wasted my time and energies wading through it.
It’s not that Dune is a bad book; there is a lot to praise in it. I enjoyed the ground-work that went into the World Building; the setting of Dune is what made it feel reading to the end worthwhile. Along the convoluted plot there are some real gems to discover. The Bene Gesserit and Mentat elements to some of the characters made them stand-out from others, in addition to their appeal, the Fremen added their own complexity to the world of Arrakis; and considering their late entry in the book, it made the pages turn a bit easier. A bit. It’s these small elements of world building that make Dune an interesting read, but that’s about it.
I absolutely struggled to connect with any of the characters in the book and most of all with main character, Paul Atreides. What attracts me, as a reader to settings like Warhammer 40k, is the fact that the characters have personality and flaws. Paul, has neither. Everything that happens to him is taken easily within his stride and nothing feels like a threat to him; there was no sense of peril towards him, or those around him. Because he is absolutely perfect at everything – he has Bene Gesserit training (Which is usually reserved for women) through his Mother. He is a Mentat – a ‘human computer’ – so has a logical reasoning on-top of his special maternal upbringing. He is accepted easily in the Fremen society because he easily beat one of them in a fight due to his Great House training… at no point did I ever feel like he would encounter difficulty or have anything really ‘go wrong’ for him. It made him really rather dull to read about. I also found this carried over to Jessica, his mother and other central character. She was another flat character that didn’t carry any grit to her, either. Trained in the Bene Gesserit way, concubine to Leto Atreides and accepted into the Fremen – a high position within their society, no less. Much like her son, everything seemed to come to easily and at no real loss to her as a person. These characters do not change nor develop in the book; but just continue on their power-trips pressing the ‘auto-win’ button as they go along.
The other reason I didn’t connect with Paul Atreides is that I didn’t see him as a particularly likeable protagonist. He breezes into a society that isn’t his own – Freman – gets himself in a high position within that society and just uses the people for his own goals; reclaiming the lost Atreides claim on Arrakis. with very little regard to those he uses and abuses along the way. Getting an established society in the setting behind his personal crusade, only to seemingly ditch them once that goal was achieved. Maybe this was the entire point of the story, but it didn’t make for an engaging main character.
The weaving of political intrigue was what kept me going throughout Dune – as much as the world-building – seeing how the Great Houses used and abused the trusts of one another was akin to the political manoeuvring in Game of Thrones, I’d have loved to see more of this throughout the series; seeing the Houses pitted against one another in the struggle to obtain favour with the Imperial Emperor or be destroyed by him; however, compared to Paul, the Emperor and his fighting warriors were as nothing – considering his Fremen could beat them in battle and Paul could best any of of them in single combat… Again, with everything feeling too easy for the main character and there being no sense of struggle.
However, my main gripes with the book was the writing style and choices that Herbert made along the way. At the beginning of each chapter there is a written quotation. An extract from the written words of Princess Irulan. Each of these excerpts spoils what is to come in the next section of the novel. Telling you who’ll be a traitor, and vaguely, what will happen before you’ve read it. It was so detrimental to the entire story that in the end, I started skipping them, just so that there was an element of surprise left in the book – however, this in itself was a bit of a mistake, as the plot then just started jumping about from one concept or scene to the next. At one point, Paul was making decent headway in integrating with the Fremen, the next he was laid up poisoned.
Further to this, there is so much time spent inside each of the characters thoughts that it all felt extremely repetitive. I felt as though I was being told, rather than shown, what was happening. There was little room left for my imagination to work, as every intricate idea, every original thought was so brutally rammed into my head that there was nothing left for me to picture for myself – which is what made the world building feel so successful; there was enough ground work done without over-bloating it that there were a few blanks left for me to imagine. The writing style felt as though the reader was being treated poorly and unable to do any of the work; it didn’t make for a very fulfilling experience. That and the repetition of basic points; Spice runs the world, Fremen have blue eyes, Paul fears the lack of control of a jihad. Everything, writing style and story-wise in this book felt extremely jarring and overall, unenjoyable.
While some of the above can be applied to Baron Harkonnen, he was at least an interesting – if not well-considered – antagonist. His scheming is distasteful. He is openly pedophilloic. He isn’t a likeable character by any stretch of the imagination, but at least he had a personality of his own!
I enjoyed Arrakis as a setting for the novel. The struggle against the arid landscape made for a wonderful read. The stilsuits, the fight for water, the spice and (especially) the worms! There is fabulous setting here that makes is easy to understand why Dune receives the acclaim that it does. There is a language written into the novel that describes different elements of the world-setting and while this pads out the book in terms of page-length and glossary; it does very little to aid the readers sense of imagination; having to check the back of the book what ‘Uniquely named item number 76’ is, really disrupted the immersion. Sometimes, it’s alright to call a curved sword a scimitar – we already have that familiarity. I understand, the use of language adds a sense of the unknown to a science-fiction novel, but it’s not always necessary to delve so deeply. Also, giving the same character 6 different names/titles feels like overkill!
Dune really tore me in half. I was blown-away by the world building and enjoyed discovering what made the setting unique. However, at times this felt over-bloated. There was too much time spent inside a characters head repeating things that should have been shown, rather than out-right told to the reader; leaving little room for imagination to take effect. Terrible, flawless main characters that seemed to have everything handed to them on a silver-platter; where their perfection over-rode any hardships they encountered.