Dune … Arrakis … Desert Planet
Dune has been one of my favourite movies for a long time, despite all its flaws, so I was intrigued to learn how it holds up against Frank Herbert’s novel. As it turns out, it does not do so well.
On the surface, Dune deals with the impact of political intrigue on a noble family, the Atreides. The Duke Leto Atreides is tasked by the Galactic Emperor to take over the administration of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the drug called Spice. The most important application of Spice is for the purpose of intergalactic travel; the navigators of the Spacing Guild use it to send their ships safely through folded space.
However, the former rulers of Arrakis, the Harkonnens, have engineered the whole affair to get rid of the rival Atreides. With the support of the Emperor, who fears the Atreides’ growing power, they invade Arrakis and destroy the Duke and his forces. Leto’s concubine Jessica and their son Paul manage to flee into the desolate wilds of Arrakis, where they find help among the indigenous Fremen people.
Sifting through sand
The summary of the plot does the book no justice. There are so many things going on here that it is impossible to describe them in such a small amount of space. Herbert discusses colonialism, political intrigue, religion and religious fanaticism, genetic manipulation of human beings, terraforming and a whole swath of other issues. The narrative is very dense. Often, the characters sit or stand around talking to one another. A lot of the action happens in the background. For example, while the final battle with the Fremen riding on the back of immensely huge sandworms may have once looked quite impressive in the movie, it is not described in the book at all, because it does not matter for the story Herbert wanted to tell.
Despite all this, Herbert managed to write a gripping novel, even though his language seems to be a bit stilted at times, especially when he describes his character’s feelings. One also has to take into account that the novel was first published in 1965; a few of the tropes and some of the language might feel outdated.
Additionally, Herbert invented quite a few new terms or borrowed them from other languages – mostly Arabic. The book does feature a terminology index (along with some appendices dealing with the ecology of Arrakis and the religious beliefs of the Fremen), but it was a bit annoying having to look up words that did not became clear in context. That is a minor complaint, however.
Dune does rightfully hold a place among the best science-fiction novels of all time. Frank Herbert masterfully wrote a very involved story dealing with a lot of different, yet interconnected themes. It will capture the readers’ interest and keep them thinking long after they finished the book.
My final rating will be shown as 5 stars, but I will detract half of one because of my distaste for repeatedly having to consult the index.