Dune by Frank Herbert is a classic science fiction novel that tells the story of a desert covered planet called Arrakis and the extraordinary journey of a young noble, Paul Atreides. It’s a story filled with fascinating political conflict, fantastic prophecy and drama on a Shakespearean level.
Here is my spoiler-free review of Dune!
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A Short Summary
I always start a book review with a short summary of the story. As it is a spoiler-free review, you don’t have to worry about me giving away anything major. For Dune, that is no easy task.
From the get-go, you are presented with an excerpt from a fictional book that refers to the story of Dune in the past tense. In doing so, it spoils itself. However, I was quite happy to find that these excerpts only spoil what happens in the first few chapters.
With that said, I’m still going to avoid mentioning anything other than the beginning of the story and establishing some important jargon and terms.
First, the story starts with the noble family of Atreides. The family consists of Duke Leto Atreides, his concubine (but practically his wife), Jessica Atreides and finally, Paul Atreides, Leto and Jessica’s son.
The Emperor, which you can think of as ruler of the galaxy, sends the Atreides to Arrakis, a desert planet. He puts the Duke in charge of the planet, to get it into order and manage the harvesting of spice. Spice is incredibly important, thus, incredibly valuable, so it’s an important task for Duke Leto to deal with.
Arrakis is not a forgiving planet and water, in any form, even sweat is considered valuable. Thus, the people of Arrakis, the Fremen, are hardened and dangerous. Not to mention, the giant sandworms. However, the greatest danger to the Atreides is their mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, another noble family, which is led by their monstrous Baron.
Paul Atreides, like his mother, has gone through special training thanks to a special order called the Bene Gesserit. You will learn more about them throughout the story, but know that it’s a big deal that Paul was trained by them, since they only train women.
All that I have talked about will help you in the beginning of the story. However, everything that I have discussed is only the tip of the iceberg. The story becomes grander with every chapter, with plenty of dialogue establishing key concepts, then explaining them in-depth. It’s an intimidating science-fiction in the first few chapters, but you will quickly grow to understand and enjoy its many intricacies.
Dune has an array of characters worth mentioning, many of which I would like to talk about, but simply can’t without turning this podcast into a discussion rather than a review.
However, I’m gonna try to touch upon the major characters nevertheless.
First, Paul Atreides. I’ve pretty much covered all you need to know about Paul. He is a teenager, an heir to Duke Leto and he has a fiercely intelligent mind. His perception is unlike any other, with big thanks to the Bene Gesserit order’s training. In a story filled with politics, these skills are of the utmost importance. These same skills also make Paul a very cold young man, thus an intimidating one as well.
Paul Atreides' story is a grand one, as he becomes something far greater than an heir to a duke. Enough said.
Secondly, we have Jessica Atreides. Jessica is by Paul’s side throughout the story, being probably the most human character. With a constant concern for all in her family, especially in such political conflict with a dangerous noble house, it is no wonder that she worries about her son, as any mother would.
Like Paul, she rises throughout the story with him, being his mother and advisor.
Thirdly, we have Stilgar, a Fremen tribe leader. There is much to talk about when it comes to the Fremen, but in short, they are people who value one another but also measure themselves by their might. Stilgar is the leader of his tribe because he is the strongest among them.
Stilgar is honourable, if brutish, making him likeable. Another important character in Paul’s story.
Finally, I must talk about the Baron.
While he is referred to as the Baron most of the time, his full name is Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Baron is a blob of a man, cruel and twisted. He is not an idiot either, which makes him all the more dangerous of an antagonist. Frank Herbert does an excellent job of making the Baron unlikeable.
The Baron has grand plans with devious methods of putting them into action. He is always a threat in the story.
Now, I’ve only talked about a few major characters. I could talk about many others, such as the Atreides spymaster, Thufir Hawat or Kynes, the Royal Planetologist for Arrakis and many more. There are plenty of characters that play a major role in the story for you to discover and enjoy.
The Writing Style
Frank Herbert has a fascinating writing style, at least to me.
His descriptions of everything are simple, straightforward. He leaves a lot to the imagination in many scenes, but that might be largely due to the setting itself. There is only so much one can do to describe a desert planet.
Yet, when he wants you to picture a scene a certain way, he will describe it well, giving your mind plenty to work with and add its own interpretations.
The most interesting part of the writing style is that dialogue and inner thoughts are a major part of the writing. There are many discussions about everything, many conclusions drawn about what a character sees. For everything that happens, there are pages of dialogue addressing it.
While this can easily be a bad thing, Frank Herbert does an excellent job of making it interesting and suspenseful. In a story filled with political conflicts, important customs and dangerous diplomacy, dialogue should be a core part of the story process.
It’s a writing style that took some getting used to, but it faintly reminded me of something at the same time. After a few chapters I pinned down what that something was; Shakespeare.
Personal Thoughts on Dune
The level of dialogue and style I instantly started comparing to Shakespeare, specifically Macbeth when there was talk of prophecy, betrayal and power. I would have thought this feeling of Dune being a play in space would pass, but it stayed until the very end. It was a feeling I did not complain about, as I thought it complimented the setting and story nicely.
Recently, I read another well-known science-fiction novel; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, or as it is more commonly known, Blade Runner. I didn’t know what to expect about the book, as I have only heard the name Blade Runner, but never heard a discussion or watched the movies. Upon reading the book, I was a little underwhelmed, but immediately drew parallels with Frankenstein.
Of course, Blade Runner has more than enough differences from Frankenstein to make it something in its own right. The same can be said of Dune.
I knew Dune was something popular, at least as much as Blade Runner. However, I enjoyed Dune immensely. The story was investing, the villain was easy to dislike, Paul and his journey is fascinating and incredible. There are plenty of morally grey areas to make the protagonists interesting. The world kept growing, having its own easy-to-follow logic. The events of the story, be they expected or unexpected, were always satisfying to read.
It isn’t a story that relies on shock-factor to be interesting, unlike a lot of fiction today.
From beginning to end, I enjoyed Dune, feeling that it is the kind of science-fiction that I hope for when I pick up a science-fiction novel. It has a level of immersiveness that I enjoy in any novel, but still includes plenty of fantastical sci-fi things to imagine and marvel at.
I’ve pretty much said my piece on Dune. There are more in the series, Dune Messiah being the next one. I definitely plan to read it, but not straight away.
When it comes to doing these book reviews, I like to keep each episode fresh with a new book. When I start a series and enjoy the first book, I save the next book for later and move on to something else. Surprisingly, it’s actually benefited my reading experience, as I approach the next book in a series in that same state of not-knowing-what-to-expect.
With that said, that is the end of my review. I recommend Dune to anyone that enjoys excellent dialogue, no matter the genre and to anyone who has enjoyed any science-fiction. Dune has something for everybody, but what it excels at is clear. It’s the story.
I hope you enjoyed this review and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy reading!