Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dune - Frank Herbert

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. 
                                                                             -Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

Paul Atreides is not the typical protagonist. He is the only heir of Duke Leto Atreides, and trained in the mental conditioning ways of Bene Gesserit by his mother, Lady Jessica. More importantly, his superior mental abilities and reflexes cause Jessica to suspect that he is Kwisatz Haderach: The One who could unlock genetic memory and access centuries of collective past, who could bridge space and time and see far into the future. It is clear from the very beginning that there is no trace of the underdog in Paul. Yet, an act of treachery by one of his father's aides topples his life and sets him on a perilous course in this exquisitely crafted Duniverse, as fans refer fondly to the world of Dune. 

It is some time in the distant future, when faster-than-light interstellar space travel - now controlled by the Spacing Guild - has allowed the discovery of several galaxies and civilizations. The Padishah Emperor, supreme leader of the universe, shares power with the Guild and the Landsraad, a council of noblemen. This triumvirate is united in their need for Melange: a spice that is addictive and highly expensive, for it makes safe space travel possible, and enhances mental awareness and longevity. Melange, that is found in only one place in the universe: the desert planet Arrakis, or Dune, of which Paul's father has recently won fiefdom.

Inhabited by the tough weather-beaten Fremens, Arrakis is precious beyond measure for its monopoly over spice production, and yet a barren wasteland. Acute water scarcity is part of the Fremens' life, influencing their lifestyle, customs and even evolutionary patterns. Soon after their arrival, Paul and his family find themselves entrapped on this harsh and oppressive planet, where gigantic spice worms surface all over the desert and the emperor's feared army of Sardukars is out to end the Atreides line, while the Fremen continue to be hostile as ever. 

The plot may make it sound like the perfect sci-fi + action book, but it can hardly be classified so. Dune is classic, classic science fiction, true to its name and form. Unlike most sci-fi, (or worse, modern dystopian fiction masquerading as sci-fi), the science is not superficially limited to gadgetry, mutated life-forms, aliens and the like. References to evolution, ecological conservation, genetics, chemistry, the underlying physics of space travel, and even distortions in the time-space continuum and future prediction algorithms are beautifully interspersed throughout the book.

It's not just about science either; Dune delves into the complex interplay between religion, philosophy and politics in a frank and unapologetic manner, warranting comparisons to Ulysses. Dune, they say, is science fiction's answer to Lord of the Rings, and I wholly agree. They parallel each other in the sheer scale of it all, and the stupendous imagination that went into creating a universe so mindbogglingly complex and detailed. It is also touted to be a major influence on subsequent science fiction (think Star Wars and The Matrix), and is, not without reason, considered to be the true meeting point of science, fiction and literature.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Arrakis, here I come!

I'm in a very happy state of mind right now, the reason being my latest haul from the library! I've been waiting to lay my hands on Frank Herbert's Dune for a long time now, especially because I was forced to return it the last time; someone had the gall to reserve it while it was still in my possession. So I'd dropped it off with a heavy heart, promising myself that I would get back soon to the epic that's touted to be sci-fi's answer to Lord of the Rings. And finally, after a long long wait, life has come full circle: my place hold has been successful this time. Ha! :)
So, one fine Saturday afternoon, I dropped by the library with the sole intent of picking up my precious Dune, but apparently...

So I ended up at the Tolkien shelf, and had to get The Silmarillion (fantasy and sci-fi go hand in hand, right?). And when I was just about to check out and leave, Naipaul's A bend in the River called out to me. I must admit: I've never read Naipaul before, and was quite curious to know why this man is such a phenomenon. But I couldn't decide which scandal-afflicted Indo-Brit author I was more intrigued by: Naipaul or Rushdie. And so, in an attempt to be impartially intimidated, I got Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories too. I now have a great deal of reading to catch up on, but hey, who's complaining? :)