Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book Review: "Dune" by Frank Herbert

On our Central Europe trip I read "1984" by George Orwell. What a depressing book that was. Anyway, one of the guys we were traveling with was interested in reading 1984 himself and had just finished his own book. So we swapped and he is probably happily reading it now in Morocco.

Anyway, almost everybody has heard of "Dune". I don't have the book in front of me but I think it was written in the late 1960s. It's science fiction and it's long. I've long known about the mythos from various sources such as the computer games, board game, and both movies, but I'd never actually read the book.

It's the story of a young man, Paul, who is set to inherit the title and power of his father, Duke Leto of House Atreides. The Atreides family has moved from their home planet to the seemingly desolate and dangerous desert world of Arrakis. The main (only?) export of Arrakis is the spice "melange", which is edible and does various things to people including turning their eyes blue. Needless to say, there's more to this spice than meets the eye and it's not long before Paul is forced to grow up very quickly and take control of the situation. I like to call it "The Hapsburgs in Space".

Anyway, I don't want to do a plot synopsis because the plot is long. However, it is very interesting. In my opinion, Herbert has created a very compelling and consistent story that weaves together many aspects of the people and places on Arrakis. One effective device he uses is that of characters' thoughts integrated with the dialogue. As characters interact, their thoughts are exposed alongside. This is done everywhere in the book and it really works well to give the reader extra insight into the motives and flaws of each character. In fact, it's done so well that it actually becomes integral to the plot, which is very unusual. I won't explain how exactly but the ideas of consciousness and thought are explored deeply.

"Dune" is a work of science fiction however I believe it's not fair to put such a general label on it. The work is a very well written piece of literature that covers not just science but also religion, politics, economics and human nature. Some people call it a classic and I think that's a reasonable title - I really enjoyed the book and it had my attention the entire journey. Not once did I find myself bored by it.

However I did find myself somewhat distanced from the main character Paul - perhaps this was intentional. He is, after all, an exceptional character. I imagine most readers would find it difficult to relate to such a person! Also, the constant relating of each characters' thoughts leaves little to the imagination at times. Sometimes I wish I was left wondering whether a character's confidence or fear was real or not.

All in all, a very worthwhile read. If you're intrigued, I definitely recommend you find a copy and start reading. Don't be put off by the "science fiction" aspect, that's merely used to set the scene.

By the way, I thought the movies were rubbish at the time. I might have to watch them again now I understand the story, but I really can't imagine they would ever come close to doing the book justice.

No comments: