Thursday, 10 September 2009

Dune by Frank Herbert

This is another one of those books I choose to read simply because you run into it, and/or references to it everywhere. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss is about.

Paul Atreides is a young nobleman in an interstellar empire belonging to the house of Atreides. His father is a duke, his mother belongs to the Bene Gesserits (a religious/mystical order of women who have certain powers over other) who facilitated the match between Duke Leto and Lady Jessica in order to further their goal towards the perfect DNA sequence. The world, or empire, they live in is a fairly gruesome, honourless society where everything goes, including crawling over the dead bodies of people you just killed, when climbing the social ladder. It’s all about power, who has it and if they can keep it.

Paul moves with his parents to the planet of Arrakis when he is 15 so that his father can rule and control the valuable spice mines of the planet. They go in the knowledge that the move is a trap, but are hoping to be able to avoid getting caught since they know to be on their guard. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to stop events which have already been set in motion and Paul finds himself thrust into a harsh world where existence is difficult on many different levels.

It’s a good story, but all in all, I’m not exactly sure why this book ever reached the cult status it seems to have. There are some interesting and controversial themes which you could spend quite a lot of time discussing, but not much more than most other books. I often found the events exaggerated and overblown and personally think it would have benefitted by more subtlety within the plot, although that might have made it a really epic sized book since events probably would have taken more time.

Despite finding it a bit too much larger than life like, I do admire Herbert for the complexity of the novel. It’s impossible to read the book without realizing how much research and work he must have put into it. The research on ecology alone must have taken years, then there’s the whole socio-economic aspect of the book, especially in regards to the native Fremen and their struggles to gain back their own planet while just trying to survive all that the planet itself throws at them.

Finally, I feel I have to mention the gender roles Herbert uses within the novel. I’m not overly sensitive about gender roles because I think everything is a give and take and every person should be shown respect for their work, regardless of their tasks. E.g. if someone is happy being a housewife in the 1950’s sense, then good for them. They’re happy, so why should I stand in their way. A good housewife and/or mother deserves as much praise as the CEO of a large company in my opinion and I admire both parties for being able to do something I can’t. However, even I had trouble with the more than obvious separation of women/men roles in the book. I’ll give Herbert the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn’t actually trying to put women in their place, but at times it really felt quite sexist and began to irritate me. Still, it didn’t feel as if he was doing it to make a point. It was more as if he was a 1950’s kind of guy who still strongly believed in old-fashioned values when he wrote the book (it was still 1965 after all). I have to forgive him for that since they were the times he lived in.

4 out of 5. It’s a good story, interesting food for thought, it just lacks that certain something that makes me wild about it.


Laura's Reviews said...

Good review. My husband introduced me to this novel and it is one of my favorites. I need to read it again. I think what I love about it is really the complex idealogy (as well as the adventure).

I am a water resources engineer and I was very intrigued by the ingenious use of water on a desert planet and also the overall importance of it. I am a nerd - I know!

Mari said...

My husband loves these books too. I have yet to read them.

Scrabblequeen said...

It's been a long time since I read Dune, but I remember enough to pretty much agree with your assesment of it. I tried to read one of the sequels without success. Dune itself was ok, after that, I was done.

Lawanda said...

I kinda got the idea that the culture of the Empire was so corrupt and that is why women were treated like that.

I guess I think that he *was* trying to make a point; and the point was that women should be treated with more respect than they were in that culture.


Jeane said...

I always wondered why Dune was so popular. I tried and failed to read it myself. I'm glad to know a little more about it, as I don't know if I will approach it again.