Dune is an epic adventure that I’m a bit ashamed to admit I read rather late in life. While I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight years old, I read Dune when I was already in my twenties.
With the Dune movie coming out soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to recommend this classic to my favorite Above Average readers, i.e. all of you.
Dune is a sci-fi book that combines high-tech escapades and ideas with a mystical flavor. It does so with dense political history, religious ideologies, and risky thematic overtones.
I’m usually hesitant to recommend hefty sci-fi tomes to people because there is so much diversity in the genre. Even if someone says they like it, there’s no telling what part of it they enjoy. For example, someone who enjoys a realistic tale like The Martian might not like the zany humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In addition to that, sci-fi books are usually a huge time investment to read, and they’ll put forth downright weird notions that can prove difficult to swallow.
So when I say I recommend you read Dune, know that it will take a decent time investment to read it (especially if you want to read its sequels), it has an occasional bout of weirdness (like strange marital practices and cannibalistic tendencies), and it focuses on a mix of predestination, heightened mental awareness, ecological consciousness, and space politics.
The story follows the young Paul Atreides as his family moves to the desert world of Arrakis. They have been relegated there from their lush homeworld of Caladan thanks to the political maneuverings of the Emperor. Different families rule the galaxy, like a sci-fi aristocracy, together under this one Emperor, and the Emperor is not supposed to show favoritism to one family over another.
Unfortunately for the Atreides, this Emperor has decided to ally with the Harkonnen family in an attempt to eradicate them from the galaxy. (The Harkonnens and the Atreides have this epic feud going on between them.)
Paul and his family have to contend with this betrayal while trying to survive on Arrakis. While Arrakis is a dry dump of a place, it is home to a valuable spice that is worth a lot to the ruling families of the galaxy, including the unaffiliated Guild, who needs the spice for their trade.
Arrakis has a population of native Fremen who protect and harvest the spice, but the Fremen are hiding a secret that Paul must uncover if he hopes to have the Atreides line survive. Not only does he have to deal with this, he has to contend with these amazing mental powers bestowed on him by his mother’s Bene Gesserit training. (Think something like telepathy plus hyper-analytical thinking, bordering on precognition.)
The whole book culminates with a revolution on a planetary scale.
I’m rather fond of sci-fi stories that don’t hold your hand. Dune is that kind of book. While it does come with a helpful glossary at the end, it does not do much to introduce you slowly to its world. It just dumps you into it and you have to get used to using context clues to figure out what’s going on.
I have to be in the mood to read these kinds of books, so be sure you’re up to it yourself if you pick up Dune.
The book strikes an awful middle ground with its female characters. Most of the ones you meet are all incredibly powerful in their own way, especially those who have been trained as Bene Gesserit. This group of women has intense skills when it comes to controlling their minds and their bodies, so much so that they can easily manipulate other people.
However, even the most powerful female is subservient to men. Influential Bene Gesserit exist to serve male leaders. The most prominent female character is Paul’s mother, and she is a concubine to Paul’s father because he has to remain marriageable if he wants to continue to negotiate with other ruling families. The whole system of every society we encounter in Dune is patriarchal in nature. This is something I sincerely hope they change in the new movie.
In addition to that, it sometimes seems like emotional moments, moments that would make for a deeply impactful, character-development kind of scene, are just skipped. For instance, there is a death of a person whom you would assume is very close to Paul, and in the book, you don’t even see it. It’s told to you that it happened.
These leaps in time can be confusing if you’re trying to follow the emotional beats of the story, but Dune seems to prefer to focus a hell of a lot more on the aspects of fate and precognition that it sets forth from the very beginning of the novel.
But when it comes to detailing mental processes, Dune excels. There is nothing I like more than reading through Paul’s thoughts before he makes any decision. It makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, if that makes sense.
I rate Dune a decent-read-that-was-groundbreaking-in-its-day-for-its-ecological-themes-and-is-still-fantastic-even-though-it-is-showing-its-age.