By: Frank Herbert
My Rating: Three out of Five Stars
Best for: 14 and up
You know how there are some books you hate to admit you’ve never read?
That’s me and Dune.
Except now I’ve read it.
So take that, irrational, self-imposed guilt and embarrassment!
Dune, published in 1965, winner of the Hugo, the Nebula, and victim of an unfortunate movie from 1984, inspired much of what we love today about science fiction in books and movies. BTW, if you ever want to see the great Patrick Stewart literally yelling “Pew! Pew!” while shooting people with laser guns, watch the 1984 Dune movie. If you don’t want to see that, don’t watch the movie. It’s an abomination.
Sorry, but it’s true: Luke Skywalker wasn’t the first moisture farmer. Kevin Bacon wasn’t the first person to get eaten by giant sand worms. James T. Kirk wasn’t the first outside the good old Milky Way. Harry Potter wasn’t the first chosen one.
If you’re like me and have never read Dune (or started but couldn’t get through the tedious first 200 pages) and need to pretend you know what you’re talking about with your Dune-obsessed nerd friends, here’s a primer.
Dune is set 10,000 years in the future. Noble houses rule, and answer to a ruthless galactic emperor. Duke Leto, the good guy, head of House Atreides, is forced by the emperor to move his household from their beautiful home planet to the desert planet Arrakis, a.k.a., Dune, where water is so scarce that people living there wear suits that capture body moisture and recycle it for drinking (Ew).
The bad guy is Baron Vladimir, Head of House Harkonnen. He’s so enormously fat he can’t move under his own power. He wears anti-gravity clothes that let him float around instead of walk around. Baron Vladimir and House Harkonnen were the previous rulers of Dune.
Why would anyone want to live on a desert planet, you ask? Because it’s the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe: the spice Melange. The economics of the universe revolve around the spice. Of course, spice mining is deadly, and not just because of the sandstorms that tear skin from bones or the ferocious natives. The biggest threat are the giant sandworms that travel through the dunes like whales through the ocean, eating anything that makes vibrations on the sand.
The Harkonnens haven’t really given up Dune. It’s a trap to rid themselves of Duke Atreides. Treachery follows tragedy, and Duke Atreides is killed. His son Paul, our hero (and the Chosen One) survives when the natives take him in because they think he’s the one who will fulfill their most sacred prophesies. Paul becomes leader and Prophet of the native Freman and spends the next 500 pages plotting his revenge.
Dune tackles heavy (and boring) topics like anthropology, sociology, political science, environmentalism, ecology, religion, and economics. There’s actuality very little by way of imagined science (which surprised me), but plenty of Zen inspired, psychedelic-drug induced weirdness (which also surprised me).
Content-wise, there is nothing inappropriate. The cheap, grotesque tricks from the movie aren’t part of the book. You could feel comfortable reading Dune out loud to your youngest readers–if they would enjoy 800-pages of boring.
That’s actually harsh. Dune wasn’t awful. I enjoyed it, in fact, and found many of the ideas clever and interesting. I didn’t like the heavy reliance on religion and prophecy, though. And I found Paul to be a dry and single layered hero.
So, there you go. Now you can either read the book for the details, or you can pretend the next time someone says, “You like to read? Obviously you’ve read Dune, then? It’s only the most important science-fiction book of all….”
Sorry, I just fell asleep writing that.