Picking up Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time was a real sink or swim moment. It was like being thrown into the deep end of the science fiction genre, with very shallow experience. One chapter in and I had already been introduced to the gom jabbar, spice, the CHOAM Company, the Bene Gesserit, the Harkonnens, and the Spacing Guild. All that in addition to Arrakis, Caladan, Maud’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, the Reverend Mother and Truthsayers. I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of lore being brought up at such a breakneck pace. I suppose I should have known what to expect since there was a twenty page ‘Terminology of the Imperium’ at the back of the book containing definitions of terms Herbert had invented for his world. It felt dense and impenetrable to start, and thus took me a while to get into the story. There was also a significant time jump at the start of book three which caught me off guard. I had to go back to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Those two small things aside, the book was totally engrossing. I couldn’t put it down.
For the uninitiated, Dune is a futuristic sci-fi epic set in a time where noble houses control planetary fiefs. It’s the concept of feudalism where a King, or in Dune's case an Emperor, grants control of land and/or property to a subject who rules over said land and/or property in service of the King. This ancient concept of rule is what kicks off Dune’s fictional story, when the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV grants Duke Leto Atreides of House Atredies fiefdom over the planet Arrakis (Dune). The Duke and his family leave their beautiful ocean home world of Caladan for this harsh, unforgiving desert planet.
The one thing Arrakis does seem to have going for it is spice, a rare substance found only in its deserts, which have the power to extend life, enhance the mind, and is used for space navigation. It is the most coveted resource in the universe and as the book goes on, the different houses scheme, betray and murder anyone in their way to eliminate house Atreides and claim Dune for themselves. At the centre of all this is the Duke’s son Paul. He is constantly fighting for the survival of his House and family, while at the same time dealing with visions and prophesies about a religious jihad that threatens to spread across the universe in his name.
It’s astonishing just how many themes Herbert touches upon and weaves together. It's effortless. Equally remarkable is how relevant these themes remain today. Corrupted, self-interested leaders trying to topple their enemies by any means necessary. Corporations try to strip a planet bare of its finite resources for financial gain, and a young man with greatness thrust upon him. Politics, ecology, and religion are only a few of the subjects Herbert deals with, which he does masterfully. The world he’s created feels so real, so fully realized that it blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. I could easily see some future civilization finding a copy of this book in the ruins of our society and believing it to be a true account of our history. This could be Earth hundreds of years from now. It’s a book that will unquestionably stand the test of time.
I’d like to share some of my favourite quotes from the book. One’s that stood out to me as I was reading. So much so that I noted them down. Without context or explanation, here they are:
"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."
“Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
“The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience”.
“There is no escape – we pay for the violence of our ancestors.”
“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”
I’ve trimmed that list down for the purposes of this blog, but I can’t not include my absolute favourite. Without doubt it’s this quote about 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 me I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
Simple, elegant, and my god does it hit home. Countless times I’ve not taken a chance on something out of fear. Mostly fear of failure. Down that path leads the way to never trying anything new. Never putting yourself out there. Never risking anything. Those times when I said screw it and faced my fear, I’ve come out the other side better for it. The fear was gone, and I laughed at myself for ever having been afraid to try something in the first place.
The long and short of it is, I absolutely adored this book. It is an absolute must read regardless of whether you’re a fan of sci-fi or not. If you like reading compelling stories and worlds you can get lost in, then you owe it to yourself to read Dune.
Now I know I’ve still got seventy-nine books to go this year, and if I hope to meet my goal of eighty, I’ll have to pick up the pace, but I might have to give Dune a second read at some point before the year is out. It’s just that good. It's also got me even more excited to see the Denis Villeneuve version coming out this year. I can't wait to see how he's managed to adapt so much subject matter into a two-and-a-half-hour film.
I found this quote from Herbert’s son which I think sums up why I want to give it another read again so soon.
"Dad told me that you could follow any of the novel's layers as you read it, and then start the book all over again, focusing on an entirely different layer. At the end of the book, he intentionally left loose ends and said he did this to send the readers spinning out of the story with bits and pieces of it still clinging to them, so that they would want to go back and read it again."
'Still clinging to them’. That's it. I finished Dune weeks ago and am still thinking about it. I probably will continue to do so for some time.