Sunday, March 8, 2009

#52 - "Dune" by Frank Herbert

One of my goals for this whole reading challenge was to break out and read some books and genres that I would generally ignore or avoid. My local library has separate sections for: fantasy, mystery, romance, horror, and science-fiction; thus it wasn't too easy for me to disregard the glaring hole in my reading list that was the science-fiction genre. When I couldn't ignore it anymore I took an exploratory stroll through the science-fiction section, looking for a book I could read. But I was wary of choosing one at random, knowing that my generally low tolerance for science-fiction required one that was well-written. So I hit the internet and looked up some "best science-fiction" lists. And Dune or the Dune Trilogy was at the top of almost every list. That's all I needed to know.

Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert is apparently the classic of science-fiction literature. Herbert created an epic story about struggle, survival, power, history, and religion that has spawned movies, television shows, and innumerable sequels (some by his son and a co-writer). The story begins with the young man, Paul Atreides, who goes to the planet Arrakis (also called Dune) with his father, the Duke Leto, and his mother, Lady Jessica, when the Duke is ordered to take over rule on that planet. The move is the center of a plot between the Imperium and the Atreides' sworn enemy, the Harkonnens, to destroy the Atreides family. Complicating life on Arrakis is the extreme desert atmosphere where water is rare and precious and survival almost impossible, even without the added dangers of impossibly large sandworms, extreme storms, and the fierce, nomadic Fremen. But the mysterious and powerful spice melange, that is harvested only on the sands of Arrakis, and is a cash crop like no other, keeps the rest of the universe's interest in the barren planet high.

There were a lot of really good things about this book. Herbert manages to create an entire, complex world complete with history, religion, and competing factions. Although the book is over 500 pages, the action movies quickly and unexpectedly, which kept me engaged throughout. The combination of struggle for survival and and struggle for power as you slowly learn more about Arrakis and the surrounding world made for a pretty intense read. With the competing houses and instability in the universe, Paul Atreides grows up surrounded by an astounding amount of violence, which believably shapes his personality; and the many secondary characters that help Paul in his journey are interesting in themselves and help fill out the book.

However, there were a couple aspects of the novel that had me a bit frustrated by the end. First, I got a little tired of all the religion and mysticism. I would rather that Paul earn his right to lead his men or slowly gain his powers in a more relatable way. And even though the idea of knowing the many different lines of what your future might be was an interesting idea, whenever anyone fell into a trance or started taking a drug, or performed some kind of mystical miracle, I lost interest in both the book and the characters. Second, I was simply annoyed with Paul Atreides by the end of the book. Herbert always described Paul when he was acting arrogant and power hungry without ever giving him much feeling or emotion. I felt like Herbert went out of his way to make Paul as inhuman and unrelatable as possible. Now, I don't know what happens in the subsequent novels, but by the end of this book, I was disliking Paul because he was mean, almost cruel, and choosing power over people.

Sidenote: I have some kind of theory bubbling in my head about the role of women in these science-fiction novels. In some ways the Bene Gesserit are the most powerful women in the novel, but at the same time they are sold as mistresses to men throughout the world. Firefly has a similar culture of high-powered prostitutes, which is--I think--inherently contradictory in the real world. Is this some kind of male (or female) fantasy that is being tapped here? Or some kind of reflection of the idea that men will always need sex and women will exploit that need for power? Or something even darker?

1 comment:

Glenn Ponka said...

For further SF reading I would highly suggest 'Hyperion' by Dan Simmons.


'Hominids' by Robert J. Sawyer
'At the Speed of Dark' by Elizabeth Moon

And if you want a strong female main character in an SF novel, try one of the the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber (though, I've only read one of the series).

I like your blog!