Dune is epic, in the truest sense. It’s lofty and brilliant. The story is rich, a fully detailed and realized universe. I felt like a part of the world where the setting takes place. I was there, on a desert planet, getting sand in my hair and shoes. I felt the biting winds. Distance, danger, and isolation were familiar companions as I traversed the lands and anxiously avoided giant worms. The scent of spice teased my nostrils.
The protagonist’s story arc is a fulfilling journey. You join the main character, Paul Atreides, on his personal and grand quest to discover his many titles and roles to fill. And the dialogue is the best I’ve ever read, both in its content and form! That is no hyperbole; it’s magnificent.
But many times, I wasn’t sure what was happening. The levels on which the story plays are multiple. It’s full of religiosity, mysticism, politics, tribalism, and a solid cast of characters intertwined in the intricate plot’s schemes. There’s a lot going on in the story. If I didn’t already have an endless to-read list, I’d want to re-read Dune, peeling back layers.
Summing up the story synopsis well, here’s an excerpt from the Dune Wikipedia page:
“Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of melange, or “the spice”, a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Melange is also necessary for space navigation, which requires a kind of multidimensional awareness and foresight that only the drug provides. As melange can only be produced on Arrakis, control of the planet is thus a coveted and dangerous undertaking. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its spice.”
Dune is said to be the gold standard of modern sci-fi. That’s what intrigued me enough to take on a book in the same caliber as The Count of Monte Cristo.
Some of the characters have pseudo-psychic superpowers that are very similar to the Jedi’s abilities of Force manipulation in Star Wars! If I’m not mistaken, George Lucas was inspired by Dune when he “learned the ways of the Force.”
But my disappointment with Dune was the lack of science-fiction that I was expecting. Very early on, I was met with technology that seemed primitive by our modern standards. I thought maybe this was because the book was written in the 1960’s. But apparently it was a literary choice.
From Jon Michaud at the New Yorker, “Dune” Endures:
“Perhaps one explanation for “Dune” ’s lack of true fandom among science-fiction fans is the absence from its pages of two staples of the genre: robots and computers…This de-emphasis on technology throws the focus back on people. It also allows for the presence of a religious mysticism uncommon in science fiction.”
And from the Wikipedia page:
“The Dune series is a landmark of soft science fiction. Herbert deliberately suppressed technology in his Dune universe so he could address the politics of humanity, rather than the future of humanity’s technology.”
So the sci-fi is underwhelming. In its place are politics and ecology, which propel tribal feuds.
I first started reading this book in October last year. At the same time, I was preparing to write for NaNoWriMo while also blogging a lot. So reading-time for a somewhat disappointing and daunting book dropped off. Dune became buried in a pile of life.
But I’d read far enough into the book that the sandy story had wormed its way into my mind. Despite technology being downplayed, I was already entangled in the grand scheme of the people in the plot. The main character, Paul, compelled me. His story arc, his fate, somehow tied to the planet and all its inhabitants, was too big to ignore.
And I totally don’t want a DNF book (Did Not Finish).
So I returned to Arrakis, read in earnest, accelerating through the third act.
The concluding action in the final scenes was less climactic than I expected for such an intricate build-up. It held my attention while various plot lines came down to the last point. All was very good, but I wanted spectacular. I thought it would have more…spice!
Dune gets a 5-star rating from me because I recognize that it’s a superb story written in excellence. Taking my sci-fi disappointment and my denouement dissatisfaction out of the equation, I appreciate the magnitude of this novel.
I’m not a literary critic, so my review doesn’t do justice for Dune. I tasted its breadth, not its depth. But I do recommend it for an involving read. You will be sent to another planet, filled with strange perils and intrigue. I honestly feel like reading it again someday, to put myself into the book more and get more out of it. I’ve only scratched its sand covered surface.