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.


  1. That's a pretty terrific review. Dune was an incredible first book. And I've been meaning to read the others too. I think I'll reread Dune and continue with the rest of the series after. So much to read, so little time!

    Sci-fi wise, also try the Ender's saga (the first book is a bit of a boy's action sci-fi, but the others are great), and the Mistborn series (of four I think) - also very interesting.

  2. Hey, thanks Keshav! So good to hear from you.

    I am so glad to have finally found someone who liked Dune! It's a pretty fantastic book, even in itself. I'm somehow not too keen on reading the entire series, as I haven't heard very good things about the other books. Dune Messiah is still on my to-read list though.

    You *must* read National Lampoon's Doon - it's a hilarious parody of Dune and Herbert's writing style, and really enjoyable if you've read at least a little bit of Dune. I think it's the best I've read after Hitchhiker's (can't thank you enough for the recommendation, so I'm trying to repay the favour :) ). It's not very easily found, but definitely worth the search.

    I recently watched a movie preview of Ender's Game. I didn't find it very interesting, but then I'm not sure if it's a faithful enough adaptation. Will try to get hold of it.