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Dune by Frank Herbert

October 19, 2009

Now that is a nerdy sci-fi book—I had no plans to read it. But, a friend and I met for a beer, and he brought it along to read while waiting for me. I said I had never read it, which is shocking to a creature that’s read it so many times. So shocking in fact, he finished it the next day, in for our next meeting at ’80s Night. That’s how I ended up with a copy of Dune shoved down my pants while listening to “Love is a Battlefield.” (What else are you supposed to do with a book while gyrating? If only I had—and wore—big-pocketed raver pants).

I have been trying to read more sci-fi, as I completely ignored the genre MY ENTIRE LIFE (I have a lot of catching up to do). What I like most about sci-fi is its speculative and metaphorical qualities. Oh, and, you know, sexy aliens and pleasure ‘droids.

Enjoying these things the most makes writing about Dune difficult. Usually I latch onto some allegory right quick, and harp on the relevant qualities of a decades-old novel. Dune had my devoted attention after the first 15 pages or so, and I was ravenous to finish it. Yet I hadn’t identified what it could be, besides a story about some people living on a desert planet.

Dune takes place mostly on a desert planet, Arrakis. It’s like a big sand dune, obvs. Our protagonist, Paul Atreides (Maud’Dib) is a youth gifted with a preternatural intellect and fighting ability, which he owes to selective breeding and strict training. He’s also a prophet, leading a group of underestimated sand people, Fremen, who had no reason to trust him. But he becomes their fearless religious and combat leader, as they struggle against Imperial forces. The Fremen, once over their initial discomfort, treat Paul as a messiah (like Jesus or Obama). At this point, Paul is thought dead by the Imperial forces, so the established rulers ignore the Fremen and their crazy desert-religion.

I struggled for a while to determine what this book was about, but with further reflection, themes abound: don’t underestimate people conditioned to live under circumstances unlike your own; if you don’t like the conditions of your environment, cooperate to create change; water (read: everything) belongs to your tribe/community; what addiction can control; etc. These are all explored thoroughly in the novel, especially the ecological aspects. I think Frank Herbert took about 599 years to write the novel—did you know he got the initial inspiration after visiting the dunes of Florence, Oregon?

Anyway, I’ve been long-winded, and need to draw this to a close. I recommend reading this, if you want to become familiar with one of the most-read and well-regarded sci-fi novels ever. I had just two qualms with it (but that’s because I’m a damned feminist). One was the final line of the novel: “While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives” (489). Apparently tens of thousands of years from now, women will still consider themselves the “other” of men, and we will be known only as wives or concubines, not people of our own right. Of course I want women to be known as something other than what their relationship was to a man. Ok. Number two; there was one homosexual character, the Baron Harkonnen, and he was pretty disgusting: fat, sadistic and treacherous. This character is already pretty evil; what can we do to demonize him further? Oh yes, let’s make him gay. We’ll surely disgust our readers.

But aside from those two items, I really enjoyed reading Dune. Talk about exhaustive world-building: occupations, planets, culture, and languages were all created for this novel (and later, sequels, and later yet, prequels). It really appears to be sci-fi’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Pretty badass.

KK

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