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Frank Herbert’s “Dune”

October 6, 2009

It’s been said; Frank Herbert is to sci-fi what Tolkien is to fantasy. Frank Herbert has come to be known as a master of the genre. I recently purchased and read a copy of “Dune”, the first in the series. Having grown up with series such as “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, I expected a similar read, and was pleasantly surprised to find a completely original and complex story that only a truly talented writer could bring to life.

“Dune” begins the tale of Paul Atriedes, who would come to be known as Muad-Dib, and takes place thousands of years in the future. (At the risk of spoiling it for you, I’ll be vague on the details.) In an attempt to quell the popularity and rising power of Duke Leto Atriedes, the Duke and his family are dispatched by the Emperor Shaddam IV to Arrakis, a desert planet with a surprisingly lucrative major export. Not wanting to outright destroy House Atriedes, the Emperor plans to use a long-standing rivalry between House Atriedes and House Harkonnen to eliminate any threat to his power.

The political complexes and the descriptions of ritual and modes of survival make “Dune” far more interesting, I think, than most of the other Sci-fi books and films. Another characteristic that may interest the reader is the  number of Islamic references in the book, such as the use of the word “shaitan”. The Bene Gesserit women in the books are often described by the other characters as “witches” due to the cryptic nature of their rituals and beliefs. That the Bene Gesserit cult is exclusive to women makes this reference seem all the more appropriate. It seems the Bene Gesserit are attempting to identify a Messiah. In a world where Bene Gesserit are commanded to produce only daughters, Paul is a rebellion against many of the Bene Gesserit beliefs that Lady Jessica has been brought up to accept as right.

The book also seems to bring to light the age-old theme of intolerance and misunderstanding between different peoples. The Fremen, a group of indigenous desert dwellers on Arrakis who have mastered the art of surviving the desert (and giant sandworms), are a people often misunderstood by outsiders. The Bene Gesserit are seen as elitist.  Each group on Arrakis, however holds its own key to surviving the harsh climate and, at times, the even harsher atmosphere created by interplanetary politics.

This a book that I would definitely recommend. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give too much away! Check out “Dune”; it’s a book no avid reader and sci-fi fan should pass up. (By the way, it’s also been adapted into a film!)

For more on the series, check out the official website.

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