Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

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Title: Dune

Author: Frank Herbert

Publication Date: 1965

Genre: Science Fiction

Overview: Duke Leto Atreides is moved to Arrakis to oversee the production of spice and the maintenance of the local desert people, the Fremen, much to the chagrin of the Baron Harkonnen. The Baron sets out to assassinate Leto and succeeds. Paul, the Duke’s heir, and Paul’s mother escape to the desert, a treacherous place filled with sinking sandpits and carnivorous worms the size of spaceships. Renamed Muad’Dib, Paul becomes a leader of the Fremen and seeks revenge on the Baron who assassinated his father and the Emperor who gave his tacit approval.

For Fans Of: Dune (the Movie), Herbert, Orson Scott Card

World-Building: Herbert relies heavily on desert imagery. He constructs the Fremen people around existing ideas about nomadic desert clans and Middle Eastern historical events (i.e. Byzantines). In this regard, his base is strong.

The ecological theory that riddles the novel is interesting. It creates the underlying motivation for the current Fremen state. Their utter belief in their ability to change Arrakis is not only necessary to help build a sense of religious fervor, but also lends credence to Arrakis as an empire’s colony (The netted dew-catchers is an old concept that has been drawn on both in Herbert’s science fiction and in today’s scientific developments.).

Current netted dew catching prototype

My only real problem with Dune’s world is Herbert’s quite obvious struggle with the concepts of genetic determinism and free will. Paul is consistently reminded that he is destined; Herbert often refers to this as Paul’s race consciousness (Note: this is not meant by Herbert in the more nuanced social scientific sense). Paul is genetically foretold and has powers that were granted to him. He has very little choice but to become the fabled Muad’Dib that the Fremen have waited so long for; every move he makes simply takes him closer to this fate. However, Paul is supposed to have choice, free will. We see this from the very beginning with Paul’s struggles with the oncoming potential for religious revolt. These two concepts are difficult to resolve and make parts of Paul’s journey frustrating because Herbert is unclear which he believes to be driving Paul. It’s a type of idealism that’s distracting in Herbert’s tale.

Character Development: Paul’s character becomes very flat the moment his full powers are unlocked. Though the Bene Gesserit parts of Paul should be allowing him insight into his own emotions and those of others, Paul seems to lock them out completely. He relies far more heavily on the Mentat (purely logical, analytical) ability to think and block out emotion. I think this is to the detriment of his development. For instance, it makes his romantic relationship and its intimacy seem very unbelievable.

Plot: The plot was interesting. The calculating nature of the world’s leaders is made very clear as well as the intricacies of their strategic decisions. This makes the plot easier to follow and gives it a sense of intrigue.

Rating: 3.0

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