Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Dune Chronicles #1: Dune by Frank Herbert

Published: January 15th 1984 by Berkley (first published 1965)
Goodreads Summary: Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides & heir of House Atreides) as he & his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the "spice" melange, the most important & valuable substance in the cosmos. 

The story explores the complex, multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology & human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.


Every author has a book that shaped his writing style, influenced his genre, the themes he wants to explore and consequently the novels he pens. I’m not an author, I’m merely a reader but even for us readers, there are books that shake us up. As for me, if there is one book that influenced my reading habits, it was most definitely Dune.

I can’t say that Dune was perfect, or that everybody will enjoy it. There were flaws. And as a matter of fact, I know that the archaic tone of the book might put off many.  But what I can say is that I loved it.

The most interesting aspect of Dune in my opinion is that Frank Herbert (the author) was able to produce an outstanding work using rather simple literary ideas as the basis of his novel.

Set 21 000 years from the 20th century, in a world where an Emperor’s kingdom extends over a whole galaxy, in Dune, fiefs are not merely a parcel of land, but whole planets. Bitter hatred has been running since generation between Atreides and Harkonnen, two of the most prestigious noble house.

So, when the ruler of this galactic kingdom, The Padishah Emperor Shaddam  IV of House Corrino allowed or rather ordered the Atreides to assure the administration of the dangerously rich planet Arrakine previously under the tutelage of their long time enemy, the Harkonnen used that as a way to finally end the blood feud in their advantage.

Arrakine isn’t actually a welcoming planet. The temperature is desperately high, the land is dry, harsh and covered of sand, and water is very scarce.  But worst of all are the gigantic sandworms that crawl around the desert, one of such creature can devour several men whole without any ado. Furthermore, its natives, the Fremen fierce fighters and made survivalists to the extreme due to the harsh world they inhabit regarded as savage.

The only reason why the Empire interest in Arrakine doesn’t wane is because it is the only place in the Dune universe where the Spice can be found. The spice that gives prescience capacity, extend life and reduce risks of illness, it is also very addictive. 

Even though there have been many advancement in science in Dune’s world, however computing intelligence haven’t been developed at all. In fact, they are absolutely prohibited. Because of that, instead of using artificial intelligence to perform complex task, the human mind has been pushed to its limits.

 Mentats, human who received a extreme mental training are used has computers, members of the Spacing Guild which takes care of spatial travelling only use their mind to travel the space despite its various hazards. And the Bene Gesserit, a sort of sects mostly composed of women whose goal is to stabilize humanity are able to perform complex mental task. For example they are able to almost remember everything they see, detect if someone is lying or not...etc. Each of these faction need to use the spice (not necessarily in big quantity), in order to practice their duties. 

There are several reasons why I loved Dune. First off, it’s one of the first books I read where things didn’t go absolutely well for the hero and the people on its side. Several times, as I read I thought that some character or another was going to have its happy ending, but he didn’t. And I loved it. I mean a bit of realism in fantasy can’t do nothing wrong. 

But the thing or rather the person that stood out the most for me is Paul, the main character. Paul is the son of Duke Leto Atreide and Lady Jessica, a member of the Bene Gesserit. Since his childhood, he has received quasi perfect military training and learnt the Bene Gesserit ways, but he remains a nice youth. Paul went from a sweet, intelligent boy but still a bit childish to a somewhat cold and ruthless leader (don’t worry, he isn’t tyrannical).

At the beginning, the Bene Gesserit hail him as the Kawitsatz Haderach, a superhuman who will lead humanity to better ways, the Fremen sees somewhat of a prophet or leader in him. And in the end, even though Paul definitely develops impressive power during the course of the novel, he stays a flawed human being and is definitely not the perfect hero we usually expect from a science fiction or fantasy book.

Dune isn’t a story of good (Atreide) versus evil (Harkonnen) as the premise might lead people to expect. Paul won’t single-handedly destroy the ambition of the morally repulsive Harkonnen and be loved by everybody he meets. It’s a story of political intrigue, what having power truly means, deception and betrayal. And that’s why it’s one of my favourite books.

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