Series: Dune Chronicles #1.
Writer(s): Frank Herbert.
Publisher: Ace Books.
Release Date: August 2nd 2005 (first published June 1st 1965).
Genre(s): Science-Fiction, Fantasy.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★★.
There’s always that one novel that everyone recommends if you’re a die-hard fan of a certain genre. Going against what is deemed conventional during that era, utilizing themes that seemed disjunctive at first but conjunctive in the hands of the right creator, drawing up characters that convey the emotional and psychological depth of humankind. Only a few individuals per generation are capable of such a feat. Thus, what Tolkien was to fantasy, Frank Herbert is to science-fiction. The 1965 novel that went on to win the Nebula Award and to share the Hugo Award is the first installment in the Dune saga and remains the world’s best-selling science fiction novel today. Serving as the foundation to countless pieces of literature, Frank Herbert’s visionary tale is a gust of relentless triumph as it continues to stand tall to the test of time and depicts one of the most multi-layered classics set in a far future that isn’t too ideologically divergent from our own.
What is Dune about? Under the oppressive power of a galactic emperor reigns countless noble houses ruling different planets. Amongst these worlds lies the ocean planet Caladan where rules the Duke Leto Atreides. Ordered by the emperor to move his rulership to the planet Arrakis, also known as the desert planet Dune, to harvest a valuable source of melange (spice) that has been at the heart of many disputes, he prepares his voyage into what is hinted as a trap alongside his son Paul Atreides, the ducal heir, and his concubine Lady Jessica, as well as some of his most trusted followers. As he discovers the peculiar challenge that arises from any attempt to harvest the spice in this world, gravely limited in water and infested with giant sandworms, inevitable alliances are established with the planet’s natives known as the Fremen, while the House Harkonnen continue with their mischiefs and form the spiteful rivals.
This masterpiece can be dissected and analyzed through many lenses to demonstrate all of its endless truisms. While the scope of this epic ranges from individual psychological beliefs to the universal religious mythos, there isn’t a single moment of overwhelming conceptual scrutiny throughout this novel. Amongst the many themes that are developed, one that stands out the most throughout my reading experience is that of heroism that is divulged through the coming of age fable of young Paul Atreides. Although he was molded from birth—inviting us to reflect on the notorious nature versus nurture debate—to become the most reliable and skilled ruler, he remained in the shadows of his father and he watched one of the greatest strategists work his way through the political web of deceit and treachery that arises from the regime of their reality. As the story unfolds, his endeavor through the dreaded dune reshapes and refines him into a man with the ambition and instinct to overcome evil, one who could be the messiah from prophecies and the future of civilization. His transformation from child to man isn’t, however, born from intent but the result of survival, and that’s what makes his predicament so special, as he learns the hard way how to become a leader and defeat fear along the way.
Notwithstanding its historical and political relevance with the various inspirations that bolstered Frank Herbert’s imagination into conceiving such a chef-d’oeuvre, the setting merits a standing ovation. The life on Arrakis allows the reader to sense its chocking grasp on its characters as it makes it mandatory for them to work in tandem with the limited resources and remain aware of the presence of creatures as they try to transform a deadly ecosystem until a promised land. To meddle with the existing life on it, however, leads individuals to suffer consequences that are sometimes beyond their control. With an overwhelming quantity of spice at the disposal of those who are ambitious enough to take the risk of encountering giant sandworms, while acknowledging the limited quantity of water on a planet where sand is the ruler of all, understanding your environment is key to survival. Although the setting takes a life of its own, the people on it also organize themselves to build their religion and culture around the dunes while others look to mold their economy and politics around its resources. It is how Frank Herbert polishes his novel to interlace all these spheres of life that make this novel such a stroke of genius.
Dune is a science-fiction tour de force presenting an epic and near-perfect mélange of religion and politics through an ecosystem in which evolves the coming of age tale of a young hero.
Although the only movie adaptation of Dune was released in 1984 and was directed by David Lynch, it flopped at the box-office and garnered numerous negative reviews. However, a 2020 movie adaptation by one of my all-time favourite directors, Dennis Villeneuve, is currently in the works!