Book Review - Frank Herbert's Dune

Book Review - Frank Herbert's Dune


I just decided that I would write reviews for books that I have read that seem impactful in some way. Some of these might just be literary reviews but could stray to social commentary about how the book addresses current issues.

The first book on the list is Dune by Frank Herbert, mostly because it is the first non-Harry Potter book I have ready in the last few months. I will spare you the reviews on the goings-ons of some teenagers who attend of wizarding school that is basically a fantastical version of the Air Force Academy.

I decided to read Dune primarily because my desk is just outside of one of the conference rooms at work that is themed after Dune.

A Book Beyond It's Time

The book was originally published in 1965, over 50 years ago! As I was reading the book, there was not a single time that I thought that I was reading an old classic. Every part of the story was completely believable (as far as sci-fi goes) in the context of today. The foresight that Herbert must have had to write a book that still stands even half a century later is uncanny. He was describing space travel, battles, and space-based civilizations 4 years before we even landed a human on the moon. Being able to imagine space transports, insterstellar travel, and the ideas of tera-forming a distance world are a testament to Herbert's prowess as an author.

On top of that, Herbert was also ahead of his time in his social commentary. Until about 2/3 through the book when we find out the fate of Paul Muad-Dib, women are the smartest and most powerful beings in the universe as only a woman can be a Bene Gesserit. The common belief is that no man could endure the rigors of their ways. Of course, in the end Paul Muad'Dib is able to attain this feat only after having been trained by his mother for his whole life. In the 60s, it would have been quite uncommon for such a popular novel to cast women in such a way.

There is also a fair amount of dissection in the way that a ruling class views those they claim to control. The Harkonen's and the Emperor view the native inhabitants of Arrakis as nothing more than unintelligent slave laborers. In reality, the Freman are a highly intelligent and cohesive people. As we have learned across history, people of all races, religions, and backgrounds all have value to offer the world. Herbert addresses this head on when the mighty and powerful empire is overthrown by those they understood to be less than human. This book was published at the height of the civil rights movement and I doubt it is any coincidence that Herbert decided to address the iniquities that are commonly applied to groups of people that are misunderstood or shunned simply for their difference.

Radicalization and the Jihad

Throughout the book, Paul Muad'Dib constantly frets over the future that he is able to see through his visions. He see the Freman, emboldened by Paul's fulfillment of their prophecy, taking their fight beyond Arrakis in a sort of Holy War. Paul's goal in taking control of the Freman was to win back his birthright, control of the plant Arrakis. The future he sees however is much darker and different than what he intended.

This plot thread speaks to the ease with which a people can become radicalized by an ideology. The Freman, previously had no interest in expanding their influence beyond the planet that they call home. The power that came with Paul's arrival and his fulfillment of the prophecy emboldened the inhabitants of Arrakis to want more and to impose their will further than they had previously desired.

In today's day an age we find ease in condemning radicalization. We used to just condemn religous fanatics as terrorists, today though we now see this radicalization at home with various religious and racial groups growing and sensing the increase of the power they hold. The conversation we rarely have is why have these people become radicalized, how did they come to have those views, and how can we limit the impact of radicalized agendas? The episodes where Paul reflects on how and why his people will eventually become religious radicals and carry out a Jihad speak to a level of introspection that seems to be missing from the conversations we have today in understanding those around us and the reasons that they commit the acts they do.

With Power Comes Responsibility

Through these episodes, Paul quickly realizes that with the power he has gained from becoming the Kwisatz Haderach comes much responsibility in how he should wield it. He frequently reflects that his power changes the interactions he has with others around him and how they see the world.

Paul reflects that he lost his best friend as his friend came to see Paul as a deity. Paul also begins to understand that each time he fulfills a piece of the prophecy, his sway of those around him increases. In some cases, he fights the urge to fulfill a prophetic actions so that he may keep the Freman from viewing him in a spiritual light and thereby preventing the pending Jihad.

Paul Muad'Dib also frequently reflect on the sacrifices required of a leader in order to do the most good for his people, even at severe personal loss. He understand his own limitations as a person and uses this insight to make more informed decisions. He is a gleaming example of one who understands the mantle of power and how to be mindful of both the horror and joy that can result.

Worms Are Just Plain Cool

Arguably the most iconic part of Dune are the sand worms. Almost the whole book is a tension building event to make the worms seems as mysterious, dangerous, and awesome as possible. I think this is just a testament to Herbert's literally skill.

The Movie

In all honesty, the 1984 cinematic adaptation of the movie did not do the book justice. Given that Star Wars had been released 7 years prior, the quality of the movie seems to be sub par. The best part is that the movie gave some visualization to some of the unique aspects of Dune: stillsuits, worms, ornithopers, the wasteland of Arrakis. The story also is significantly altered. The core story remains the same, but many of the nuanced pieced of the story the fed the commentary above are missing in the movie.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of fantasy/sci-fi books. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The beginning is a bit overwhelming as there are a lot of new terms to learn. Memorizing them at the beginning is not necessary. Once I was about 3 chapters in, everything began to make more sense.

Next book: Ready Player One