First published in 1965, Dune is Frank Herbert’s most iconic work, often considered one of the most beloved science fiction books of all time. It narrates the events of a futuristic feudal society spanning numerous planets and a noble family tasked with taking care of one of the galaxy’s more prized assets: “Spice.” The title has sold millions of copies and is often regarded as the primary inspiration behind science fiction franchises like Star Wars.
Frank Herbert’s sensational Dune series has become an entity in and of itself. With a whopping 18 novels spanning more than 34 millennia of primitive struggle in a fast distant future society where there’s an infinite demand for a particular narcotic substance that not only gives superpowers but also powers spaceships.
The book opens in a world where the human race has eliminated most of its prized technologies in favor of the mind-bending “Spice” to give themselves superpowers, improve their minds, and extend their lives to the point of immortality. Unfortunately, the spice in question can only be found and mined on the hotly contested and most valuable parcel of property in the whole galaxy: the Dune, which is the arid planet and home of a family of a mythic destiny and gigantic sandworms that happen to possess psychic powers.
The novel is set in a distant future, in which feuding noble families are kept in check by a brutal and callous galactic Emperor. As a member of the Byzantine political family, the noble Duke Leto Atreides, who is the head of the Homerically, is given the control of the desert planet of Arrakis. That means he must relocate his extended family from their paradise-like home planet of Caladan to the Spice-rich, albeit unfriendly planet of Dune.
For Duke Leto, the prevalent climate of Arrakis is unsurprisingly yet terrifyingly hostile. They must wear stillsuits (a tight, moisture-recycling gear) every time they venture outside, and to make matters worse, water is terribly scarce. Let’s not forget everyone in the galaxy is after the precious substance found on the Dunes.
House Harkonnen is Leto’s biggest enemy. They are a bunch of self-indulgent and extravagant up-to-no-goods who torture others just for fun. Baron Vladimir, the head of House Harkonnen, is so dumb and fat that he as to use anti-gravity suspensors whenever he travels outside. There’s a good reason they despise the new guardians: the planet of Arrakis used to be their territory.
Mining the spice or mélange is perilous not only because of the Harkenonnen attacks and sandstorms but also because the noise produced by explosions attracts gigantic sandworms. These behemoths measuring hundreds of meters long can travel through the sand dunes like sharks through the sea.
Given the enormous value of the spice found beneath the dunes, how could the Harkonnens give up their ancestral planet? Disaster and treachery soon ensues, which leaves a trail of death and bloodbath. Paul must leave their new home and make a run for it across the hostile open desert, along with his mom, Jessica. Thankfully, he has already shown signs of cosmic prowess, and his kin suspect he might be the prophesied messiah.
Paul’s mom is a member of Bene Gesserit, a religious sisterhood of the great female powerbase. Supernaturally powerful and witchy, the sisters have for so long been involved with eugenic programming, of which the son Paul may be the result.
Frank Herbert’s novel borrows a leaf from the highly-acclaimed Foundation series by Isaac Asimov and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, not to forget the 1940s Lensman space operas written by Elmer Edward Smith. This is especially so when it comes to psychically enriched fighters and eugenically-enhanced heroes and heroines.
Herbert’s choice to disregard some conventional structures of the sci-fi genre makes for an interesting read. Rather than dwell on the technological marvels that come with futuristic thinking, Herbert chose to focus on the acceleration of the physical, mental, and psychological potential of humans through genetic engineering. For instance, characters like sisters of the Bene Gesserit, Piter de Fries, and other humans are far more biologically and intellectually advanced than laser guns, space crafts, and other technologies they are using.
In addition to that, Dune is a tale of what happens when characters are recognized more for the ideas they represent than their personhood. The novel is rather dense, but you can power through it in one or two sittings.
Overall, Herbert’s Dune is a dream come true for any lover of epic fantasy or any fan of large-scale sci-fi, and to some extent, people who love well-executed post-apocalyptic fiction novels.