The novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert was published for the first time in 1965 combining two parts previously serialized in the magazine “Analog”. It’s the first book in the Dune saga. It won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel of the year.
Emperor Padishah Shaddam IV has assigned the planet Arrakis to Duke Leto Atreides, the only place in the universe where the spice that prolongs life and increases certain mental powers grows. Arrakis is also known as Dune because it’s a single large desert, and among the creatures that inhabit it, there are giant worms.
Duke Leto Atreides prepares to move his house from the planet Caladan to Arrakis but knows that the desert and his worms are just some of the dangers that await him, his concubine Jessica, and their son Paul. The Atreides will take over from the Harkonnens, with whom there is a centuries-old feud, so the Duke knows that there will be deadly traps waiting for him.
Even after starting to be successful as a writer, Frank Herbert continued to work as a journalist for some time. In 1959 he started collecting material to write an article on the Oregon Dunes but ended up interested in the subject far beyond its original purpose. The consequence was that the collected material, together with the hobby of growing mushrooms with an interest in certain species with psychedelic properties, became a source of inspiration for the setting of a new story.
The human society created by Frank Herbert for this new story was inspired by history and various myths with a basic feudal structure. Frank Herbert willingly limited the technologies existing in that future to focus on some mental skills.
The construction of that future society is sophisticated and takes into account not only political power but also economic and religious powers and the relationships between them, which form a balance that is not necessarily stable. The resulting complexity is shown slowly as the plot develops.
What at the most superficial level is the story of the young nobleman Paul Atreides’ attempt to survive a series of intrigues linked to the feud with the Harkonnens and the planet Arrakis soon begins to show various levels of depth. The various factions operating within the Imperium try to pursue their interests with plans ranging from the short to the very long term that can also include assassination. The Dune universe is brutal, and the strongest are the best at killing their enemies and avoiding assassination attempts by their enemies.
Arrakis represents the peak of this universe’s hardness. The desert environment forged the Fremen people who live there, strongly influencing their culture, inspired in many ways by the Arab culture. Frank Herbert used the material he had collected to create a planetary ecology that makes one of the themes of the saga, an element that was unusual at the time for which the author created an appendix to the novel.
These elements form a novel developed with a pace that is often slow, more oriented towards introspection and reflection than action. Paul’s many conversations and thoughts but also the pseudo-quotes that begin each chapter contribute to this trend offering a lot of food for thought. The consequence is that especially in the last part, where there would be room for a lot of action, there are big events that are simply mentioned, sometimes because they are referred to Muad’Dib.
Over time, with the success of the novel and the publication of its sequels, detailed analyzes of the Dune universe have also been made. There’s a lot to examine, from the structure of the Imperium to the very long plans of the Bene Gesserit, from the spice as a possible metaphor to the many elements of the Fremen culture, and more. Each reading can reveal new details or make the reader see them slightly differently.
Complexity is one of the reasons why “Dune” is difficult to adapt for cinema and television. The consequence is that both the 1984 movie directed by David Lynch and the 2000 miniseries have their limits and received negative reviews. Despite this, a new project to produce two movies is scheduled to lead to the release of the first movie in 2021, and a television spinoff about the Bene Gesserit is in its development stage.
For the depth and complexity of the themes developed, in my opinion, “Dune” is one of the greatest masterpieces of science fiction. I think it’s a novel to read and reread to appreciate its details and faceted plot. It’s a must-read, and not only for science fiction fans.