Dune is generally considered to be one of science fiction's greatest masterpieces. I had been meaning to read it for a long time, and even put it on my Classics Club list. It's length (883 pages in my version) was what kept me from starting it before now. I have so much that I want to read, I didn't want to spend ages on a single novel. However, when I saw that an online reading group was starting for Dune last summer, I decided that it was time to give it a shot. Despite my best efforts, I ended up falling behind in the scheduled reading. This month, I decided to just bite the bullet and finish reading it on my own.
The plot of Dune is so sweeping and epic that it defies a brief summary, but it is essentially about the rise to power of Paul Atreides, a young duke living on the desert planet of Arrakis in the distant future.When an elaborate political scheme shatters his family and brings an end to his sheltered existence, he sets out on a quest for survival, revenge, and family honor. It is difficult and dangerous to survive in this desert world without the comforts he was born to, but Paul's intense training and education, as well as his mysterious ability to see the future, allow him to become a different kind of leader. Blending themes of religion, politics, science, and warfare, Dune is a complex and thoughtful novel with many parallels to our world today.
What stands out the most in Dune is undoubtedly Frank Herbert's world-building. Everything, from names and speech patterns, to places and cultures feel real and solid. It's easy to get lost in the details and feel like you are on a different planet in a different time. Herbert's vision of the future is an eclectic mix of science, religion, technology, and a return to an old school system of titles and ranks. His universe is so complex, in fact, that the back of my edition contains over 100 pages of supplementary materials, including appendices, a glossary, and maps. Herbert's skill in creating this elaborate world forms a bizarre, intriguing backdrop for his story and lends weight to each scene.
Similar to the setting, the characters of Dune are memorable and nuanced. While not every figure gets their full backstory explained, flashbacks, memories, and dialogue reveal enough to give the reader the sense that each character is a complete person, with individual motives, personalities, and desires. Extensive use of inner monologues allows the reader to dig further into the psyche of some of the more major players in the story. As much of the novel focuses on political intrigue, this is a handy feature. The narration is mostly from Paul's perspective, but it shifts around a fair amount, allowing the reader to see the story from several different points of view. I enjoyed this strategy, because while Paul's perspective was interesting, I really wanted to learn more about some of the women in the story, like his mother Lady Jessica and the Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohaim. While this novel isn't perfect in its treatment of women, there are some very powerful female characters, so I appreciated being able to see the story through their eyes periodically.
While I enjoyed the Dune overall, I did have a few issues during my reading. The spiritual elements of the novel were difficult for me to get into and truly understand. There are a lot of mystical scenes where the characters have visions of the future, and I had trouble understanding exactly what they were experiencing. Similarly, some of the locations and items described were so fantastical that I couldn't clearly imagine how they would function or what they would look like. I'm still not clear on critical plot points like how Spice and the sandworms work and what the Bene Gesserit women truly are. I believe that Dune is one of those novels you have to read more than once in order to fully grasp all of the messages that Herbert was trying to convey, so this first reading was, for me, a bit hazy.
However, despite some confusion on my part, I'm very glad that I explored the world of Dune. This novel is the first in a series, and I could see myself picking up some of the sequels one day. For now, I am content with my journey into one of the most epic and important science fiction novels of our time.
Classics Club Challenge (#47 on my list): 19/100
Popsugar Bonus Challenge (a book that's more than 800 pages): 7/12
Total Books Read in 2017: 61