Dune is, of course, one of the best-selling sci-fi novels ever written, and considered by many to be one of the best ever written. I was, however, a little dubious about starting it, the reason being that I knew a few people who had read it, and they described it as a very dry and boring read. Of course, I couldn’t stay away from such a renowned novel as this, and now finally having read it, I can say that I didn’t find it too dry or boring at all – but I also don’t think that it quite lived up to its reputation.
The story follows a boy named Paul (of House Atreides) who moves to the planet Arrakis along with his family, which is a planet renowned as the source of “spice” a highly sought-after drug that generates enormous amounts of money – unfortunately, this move comes as the result of some political meddling from powerful forces, and his father worries that they’re in store for some rocky times – sure enough, they are.
This is one of those novels where you can tell that the author spent a great deal of time developing the setting. From the super intelligent and logical Mentats, to the history of the world(s), and it’s religions and politics, and even the iconic giant worms, it’s a setting I enjoyed reading about, and as soon as I started the book I thought “I’m interested by this universe and want to learn more.”
As the novel went on, I realised that Frank Herbert wasn’t so good at doing his world-building organically. There are certain chapters where he’s pretty much directly telling us about a lot of the minutia of his world. Like, it is all interesting, but some of the chapters, particularly those with a slightly more scientific focus, had me thinking “Can we just get on with the story, please?”
The other pitfall was that it really scrimps on the human-angle. I don’t mean that this is a novel that doesn’t feature many human beings (it has plenty of them), but it never really delves into anybody’s emotional responses to the things that happens. This is true for Paul in particular – he goes through some really horrific experiences, things which would take a lot of time to process and come to terms with… but which are brushed off with only a few lines about how he feels about it. The same goes for his mother (who was a pretty interesting character). She goes through so much, but it’s written more like a history book with a completely detached perspective, and that was kind of disappointing.
Dune is also guilty of using a number of cliched tropes. I can give it a bit of slack, because it’s quite an old piece of sci-fi, and these things might not have felt as noticeable back then. For me, the biggest thing was the fact that Paul’s story is very much along the lines of “He’s the chosen one, destined for greatness, who’ll change the world” and then that’s exactly what he does… it’s a pretty bland idea for something so central to the novel.
Nonetheless, reading Dune was definitely a positive experience for me. It’s a book that, perhaps, hasn’t aged so well, but it is set within a fascinating world. Arrakis is a world with almost no water, and I really enjoyed reading about the kind of culture that would grow around such a dry world. There are lots of interesting ideas and concepts, but they’re tied together with a fairly bland storyline, and it lacks much in the way of human emotion.