Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lana Reviews: Dune - Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert was the sixth book I read for my reading challenge, and will be the third book that I review. I chose to read it because, although I did not know anything about Dune or its universe beforehand, I did know that it has been an important book for both science fiction and the fantasy genre. (Plus I hoped it would help me understand the Dune-related spice jokes that sometimes pop up on my Facebook feed.) When first picking it up, however, I got a bit worried as the first thing it tells me on its front cover is that the only thing Arthur C. Clarke knows that is comparable to it, is The Lord of the Rings. Don't get me wrong, - I quite enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, at least on my reread, but I always felt it was a relatively difficult read so thanks to this Clarke fellow I kind of expected Dune to be the same. It wasn't.

Young Paul Atreides is a member of a noble family who has just been offered the stewardship of the planet Arrakis - also known as Dune. As part of an interstellar feudal society where all noble houses owe their allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, his father, the Duke, has little choice but to accept the offer, fully aware that it is little more than a trap he and his family is walking into. Arriving at Arrakis, they find a desert planet where every drop of water is worth a fortune. But what makes the planet so valuable to the rest of the Galactic Empire, is that it is the only source of melange, the 'spice of spices.'

When the story begins, Paul is 15 years old and described as small for his age. Those who meet him first think of him as a child, only to discover as they interact with him, that he thinks, speaks and acts like a grown man. From his mother, Lady Jessica, he has received Bene Gesserit training giving him, among other things, heightened senses and knowledge of martial arts. He has also received training in how to use weapons from some of his father's trusted men, and in being a mentat - a human computer. When his family is betrayed on Dune, he and Jessica escape into the desert where they find shelter with the Freemen, the extremely hardy inhabitants of the planet. Being thought dead, the House of Atreides believed to be nothing more than a memory, gives Paul the opportunity to gather his forces and resources, and take back what is rightfully his.

For anyone familiar with the monomyth, (or the hero's journey,) it is quite obvious from the very first few pages of the book that the young boy Paul Atreides has a great destiny ahead of him. Even those unfamiliar with the above pattern are unlikely to miss Paul's own feelings of having a terrible purpose, feelings he has even before he receives the visions revealing what exactly that purpose will be. Like with most heroes written in this way, he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter, but rather has unfortunate circumstances forced upon him, changing his life from the normal to the unknown. Some heroes will survive the unknown thanks to powers they suddenly acquire at this point; Paul survives because of the years of training he has received when things could still be considered normal. For those that are familiar with the pattern of the hero's journey, Paul's story will most likely be extremely predictable, - I guess that would be true even for those who have simply read similar stories based on the same pattern, without knowing that there is such a pattern. It is okay though, it was how the author meant for it to be.

The future interstellar feudal society of Dune does not seem to have come very far when it comes to gender roles. The galaxy is, based on what we are told in this book, dominated by the male gender, and even the exclusively female Bene Gesserit, a religious group, want nothing more than to bring about a male Bene Gesserit among them; it has been their goal for thousands of years. The women that do not have any special powers, are hardly ever seen or mentioned, and seem to stick to the traditional female duties and roles in society. Those that have special powers, like the Bene Gesserit, are feared and hated, and often referred to as witches. In addition, it seems their powers are only meant to be used to serve the men around them. This is not really criticism though, more of an observation.

As I was reading Dune, I sometimes wondered what kind of reception it would have gotten had it been written and published now, and not back in 1965. How would the world today have reacted to a book where the hero adapts into a society of fighters that have Arab-sounding names, Arabic and Islamic terms in their language, and won't hesitate to spend their own lives if it means taking out their enemies along the way? And what about the immoral and corrupt enemy who will do anything to get their hands on the one valuable thing on the desert-planet that these fighters inhabit; the substance that makes space-travel/transportation possible? In a way, I wish I had read Dune when I was in my early or middle teens, so that my reading experience would not have been colored by what has happened in the real world in the last 15 years. I do not think it made me enjoy the story any less, but it did add thoughts and feelings to it that I do not think Herbert had ever intended.

I really liked Dune. For a science fiction story, it resembles my favorite genre (fantasy) a lot more than I thought it would. Keeping most of the focus on the story and the characters made it more enjoyable and available for me than science fiction that focuses more on science or technology. I also felt that it is an easier read than many other books because of the language itself. Sure, Herbert uses a lot of words that is not actually English, but there is a glossary in the back for that, and the rest of the story flows nicely enough. I would definitely recommend this, both for science fiction and fantasy fans.

Book Details
Title: Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 609
Year: 2007
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-575-08150-5
First published: 1965

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