Frank Herbert’s Dune ranks among the most beloved science fiction classics. With its inventive world of Dune (a.k.a. Arrakis), the native people there, and the creative plot line, it is easy to see why. Fandom is huge, with wikis, movies and mini-series, and many more Dune books in the series that is continued on by his son Brian Herbert and other writers. However, I did not enjoy this novel as much as some other sci-fi works–please don’t tell my uncle.
The story never gripped me the way others sci-fi stories have, the characters held themselves at a distance rather than invoking my love and concern for them, and the world remained a backdrop instead of a complex, envisioned universe. The novel contains all of these great elements and had the potential but Herbert didn’t give it that extra push to make it come alive in a magical way for me. Everything felt scripted and wooden, lacking charm the way typical sci-fi captures the imagination. Arrakis sands are full of spices, which make life on the planet impossible without a stillsuit to retain and maintain water levels in the body when outside. The environment and the technology making it possible to live there are touched on but are not the central focus. The plot jumps around frequently with quotes from various writings from the future as header breaks. These quotes made the world more comprehensive yet could not redeem the plot line that waned my interest more so than piqued it.
Emphasis on technology and the vast differences between the created story world and real life are what separate sci-fi from fantasy, which focuses on the envisioned world with nature and usually magical or paranormal elements, in my opinion. Dune sat in the gray area as not a true work of either with a plot that meandered slowly with rare spikes of action and intrigue instead of an ever-growing tension that culminates into a climax and resolution or a solid ending that sets up another book to come. The books was predictable and I feel snobby saying that but the way in which people acted and the neat and tidy resolutions and outcomes are a testament to its predictability. Messiness, chaos, and strife rule sci-fi works for a reason–there is need to fight back or live a counter-culture life to take a stand for values and morals since lost in the highly controlled or technologically advanced sci-fi worlds that are typical of the genre. This novel lacked this important aspect.
To play my own devil’s advocate for Herbert fans reading this and screaming at my review of just how wrong I am, Herbert did create a new concept and world that are spectacularly unique with races that are distinct in odd and interesting ways along with inventive technology. His appendixes are also included, at least in the 25th Ace edition from 1990 of mine, to further the lore and history of Arrakis. But at the end of the day, his intent was to write a sci-fi novel and I stand by my review above, even though I’ll never argue the view to my uncle since he adores this novel. Despite the fact that it is part of a series, I am also a firm believer that each and every book in a series needs to be complete in and of itself, able to stand alone as well as fit into the larger series and world, which I don’t believe Dune fully does.
Recommended?: For die-hard science fiction fans who especially love the classics in this genre. I’m glad to have finally read it to now know Herbert and his work. There’s nothing scandalous or gruesome in the book so it’s a great novel for younger readers who enjoy sci-fi, especially boys. The main character is a 15, then part way through 18, year old young man tasked with growing up too soon and leading his people during tough times.