“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad’Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad’Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis. Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place.”
What can I say? It’s Dune by Frank Herbert. The inspiration for countless F/SF authors of today, myself included. Frank Herbert wrote this SF masterpiece way back in 1965, when Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke ruled the day. It won the 1966 Hugo Award and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Frank Herbert spent five years writing it, submitted it to twenty publishers, and they all rejected it. It was finally accepted by Chilton Books, a publisher of automobile manuals at the time. I still have that original Chilton edition, tucked away on my shelves, handed down to me by my dad. I read it when I was in Grade 11, many years after seeing the movie. The story still bowls me over to this day.
This novel tells the tale of Paul Atreides, the heir to Duke Leto Atreides. His family gains control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange — the most valuable substance in the universe, used in multidimensional space travel. The book examines the clash of religion, politics, ecology, technology, and humanity, as the forces of the empire vie against each for the control of Arrakis and the “spice,” destroying Paul’s family and sending him out into the desert to live with the native Fremen people.
What makes Dune a seminal work in the field? It was pretty-much the first novel that pursued planetary ecology on a grand scale. Frank Herbert went into incredible detail with his worldbuilding, giving complex descriptions of life on the planet Arrakis, all the way from the gargantuan sandworms to the small, mouse-like life forms. The native inhabitants, the Fremen, are forced to work within the confines of that planetary ecology. The success of Dune inspired other F/SF authors to put similar detail into their worldbuilding, and the creation of complex and unique ecologies became the norm. Some people even believe that Dune’s popularity as a novel that depicted a planet as a living organism strongly influenced the environmental movements of the time. Seminal work indeed.
Other major themes include that of empires in decline, courage in the face of insurmountable odds, and women in power — the Bene Gesserit are like an exclusively female class of wizards, similar to the Aes Sedai in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, though more badass. Greed and power lust are also major themes, symbolized by the war over the spice that enables space travel.
There’s also a slew of references to Arabic and Islamic culture. The Fremen seem modeled after the desert-dwelling Saharan Berber tribes, and most of the words of the Fremen language are taken directly from Arabic. Also a lot of the novel’s epigraphs are Zen-inspired, such as the “fear is the mind-killer” quote reprinted at the bottom of this review, which also happens to be the most quoted entry from the book.
If you haven’t read Dune yet, I strongly urge you to pick it up. This seminal work won’t leave you disappointed. One cautionary note however. While this review is for the print version, a lot of people have reported back that the Kindle version is poorly edited, with poor formatting and spelling errors throughout. I glanced at the ‘Click to look inside’ version on Amazon, and it seemed fine, so maybe Ace has fixed that, but it’s probably safer to grab the print version.
I’ll leave you with this famous quote:
“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.”