Next up: “Dune” by Frank Herbert
Be careful when buying this book– I tried to get a new copy to replace my battered hand-me-down version, and it was basically throwing money away. There was a ‘recent’ reprinting, a mass market paperback that was very obviously intended to be a ‘cheap’ version, by the quality of the paper (or lack there-of). It was riddled with printing errors, oh my god. Ink smudges, missing ink, crooked pages, etc. It was seriously appalling. So, if you want a copy, check before you buy!
This is a huge series; I’m only going to review the first book. The others can get… weird. But the first one is a pillar of scifi.
Humans live in an expansive, interstellar empire that bears some semblance to medieval feudal society. Lords head Houses, which all answer to the Emperor, and vie against each other for more power, more influence. House Atreides and House Harkonnen are old enemies; nemeses. House Harkonnen used to be in power of the planet Arrakis, the source of “spice”, a strange drug that many guilds in the empire rely on due to its abilities in broadening mental capabilities. However, the Emperor has removed Harkonnen from power, and has instead installed Atreides, with orders to make sure the production of spice is high and constant.
The ruling family of House Atreides moves to Arrakis (called Dune); Duke Leto Atreides, his Bene Gesserit concubine Jessica, and his son Paul. Paul is really the largest player in the story. When Harkonnen forces attack, killing Leto and taking back Arrakis, Paul and his mother flee into the open desert. They eventually come into contact with the desert-dwelling Fremen, and after an initial conflict, are brought into the group. With them, Paul grows into his power, and into his identity as the Mahdi of prophecy. Becoming the leader of all the Fremen, Paul leads an uprising against the Harkonnen. The power of the Bene Gesserit, the Emperor, House Harkonnen, and the Fremen all conspire to create a dangerous political climate in addition to the physical fighting.
I first read this in 6th grade, which was maybe a little young for the density of the story, but I still enjoyed it. It’s a good mix of action, intrigue, and science fiction. It is apparently what is called ‘soft’ scifi, in that Herbert deliberately made the technology simple and not that much higher than current levels, so that the focus wouldn’t be on human technological capabilities but on the politics and everything. As much as I like reading about really cool advanced tech that lets people do really awesome stuff like travel the stars, there is something to be said for soft scifi.
There are some limitations to the book; it was written in the 60s, and reflects a lot of the societal aspects of the time, most notably gender roles and sexuality. The portrayal of women in Dune is a little lacking, and homosexuality is portrayed negatively (not really actively, but the sole gay character is also a villain, so…); others have written about these topics, so I’m not going to belabor the point. It doesn’t quite negate the value of the story, though it is annoying.
I liked the Fremen a fair amount, of course, because they were portrayed as a subjugated and repressed minority under the Harkonnen rule of Arrakis and you’re supposed to root for them. But I also just liked the characters, particularly Stilgar and Otheym. The Fremen reverence for the sandworms was interesting, as was the way their society formed with the underlying, extremely important, constant lack of water. Very good worldbuilding, very enjoyable.
Violence. Mild sexuality.