Review: Dune

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

I last read Dune more than a decade ago and saw both the movie and the TV mini-series about as long ago. From this long ago, and from being such a stable in the science fiction mindspace, I remember a lot of the general things that would happen, but had forgotten most of the details. Unfortunately, I think that might be the best way to remember it.

On a positive note, there are a lot of interesting points to the world building. The idea of a science fiction universe that abandoned computers long ago–for reasons only hinted at–in favor of human super computers is pretty cool; as is the idea that most all space travel is controlled by a Guild of spacefarers with truly massive ships needed to carry everyone else from place to place. There really is a lot to explore there. And then the planet of Arakkis/Dune itself is just weird and fascinating and dangerous enough to make a solid setting.

That being said, the writing and a few of the plot points unfortunately are feeling their age. There is a lot more undefined psychic mumbo jumbo and seeing the future on a scale than I tend to like in science fiction, something much more common in the 60s when Dune was written. Also from that era is the point of view. Rather than the more common close first/third person points of view you see now, Dune is written in a third person omniscient point of view, jumping from head to head to fit the needs of the story. It’s interesting at times to get another point of view, but for the most part just jarring.

Stylistically, the book is split into three parts. The first section is pretty solid, setting everything up. But at the very end of the first section, our main character Paul essentially becomes a god, capable of seeing a wide variety of future paths , which is a potentially interesting way to take the story… that ends up not quite paying off. From there, the story got a lot weirder and less interesting. On top of that, I just couldn’t care about the chapters focused on the baddies (the Harkonnens). They seem corrupt and evil for the point of being the bad guys and I just don’t really care about what they’re up to.

All that being said, it’s an interesting story and perhaps worth reading once in your life just for the context it provides. One thing I hadn’t noticed before was just how similar the Freemen of Dune are similar to the Aiel of the Wheel of Time. Perhaps it’s a general ’those thought savages by everyone else raised in a hard land become the ultimate warriors’ troupe, but it seems even more similar than that. I wonder if that was intentional.

Edit: HAH!

The Wheel of Time has some very Tolkien- and Herbert-inspired sections, and is generally considered to be a highly original setting, even if it’s true that the Aiel are inspired by the Fremen. – Brandon Sanderson on FAQ Friday