Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

DUNE

A novel by Frank Herbert (1984, Putnam [original copyright 1965])
Book 1 in the Dune Chronicles

Paul Atreides becomes a religious leader among the natives of Arrakis, until he can reclaim the barren planet from sworn enemies who ambushed his father.

 

 

5 stars

Read August 27th to September 3rd, 2001 for the second time  
    A masterpiece, without a doubt. The manipulations, the politics, and the different cultures were so intense, so insightful, and so wonderfully laid out.

Unfortunately, I could not get the movie and mini-series out of my mind whenever a scene corresponded! That made reading the book a very strange experience, akin to reading a Star Wars novelization. It was distracting, but perhaps it made the experience greater, as I had absolutely no problem visualizing many of the scenes.

However, there were many areas where neither the movie nor the mini-series could go. Even though the film got into the heads of the characters, there was no way it could deal with all the complex emotions and thoughts they had. And those emotions were wonderful. 

The author was also very methodical. From the very beginning, we meet each main character separately, and learn who they are, how they think, and what makes them tick. We go through the gom jabbar testing with the Reverend Mother and Paul, with his mother waiting outside. We get conversations between Paul and Thufir Hawat, Paul and Gurney, Paul and Yueh, Hawat and Duke Leto Atreides, and so on... Each character gets his or her own time with one other, so that they can interact. 

I was surprised at how early the author revealed certain revelations, that could have made for suspenseful storytelling if he had left them unrevealed. But seeing Yueh struggle over the betrayal that he must do makes for a much more interesting character. The Baron Harkonnen tells us everything that will happen in the first third of the book! He chronicles it precisely, and not so that things can go wrong as the actual story unfolds. But somehow, seeing it come to life just makes that foreshadowing, though it is not subtle in any way at all. It is shown very early on that everybody knows this is a trap for Leto, but he must go, anyway. The feud between those two houses, combined with the demand made by the Emperor, ensures that he take control of Arrakis. The politics are very subtle, and infinitely interesting. Leto even knows that the Emperor's personal guards will be dressed up as Harkonnens in the coming battle. But they never suspected how many troops, or what kind of weapons the Harkonnens would use. 

The Duke is killed, and he takes the Harkonnens' mentat (a computer brained person) with him, using the poison tooth that Yueh gave him. Paul and Jessica escape after being sent to the desert to die. I had a problem with the ease of their escape at first, because I thought the ever-cautious Baron Harkonnen would have killed them right away, instead of sending them into the desert. But it is revealed later that the Harkonnens do this all the time. It wasn't a special circumstance. 

Hawat ends up being captured and, once he thinks all the Atreides are dead, he ends up in the service of the Harkonnens, as their new mentat! I had no idea this would happen! From a computer-brain standpoint, I guess it makes sense. He knows that he can work to destroy the Harkonnens, but first wants to destroy the Emperor, and uses the Harkonnen money and power and influence to work towards this goal. It works, because the Harkonnens planted false leads that suggested Jessica was the traitor, and once in the employ of the Baron, he discovers "confirmation" that it was her, and hates her for the next few years. When he discovers he was wrong, in the last few pages of the book, he offers Paul a chance to kill him, but ends up doing it himself when Paul refuses.

Gurney escapes into the smuggler camp until he is reconnected with Paul in the desert, much later, after Paul has become a religious icon. 

Paul and Jessica escape thanks to Duncan Idaho, who later gives his life, along with the life of Kynes, to protect them. They make their way by thopter and thumper across the desert to Stilgar's sietch. Through ritual battle, and an ancient legend planted among the Fremen by the Bene Gesserit millennia ago, Paul and Jessica are accepted into that society. When Jessica becomes the new Reverend Mother, Paul and Chani become lovers. Paul gains power and support among the Fremen, becoming their leader, but without the title. They all know that Paul will have to kill Stilgar to gain the leadership, but Paul constantly looks for another way. After he harnesses a worm, they plant a trap for the smugglers, including Gurney. Gurney tries to kill Jessica, because he has been in contact with Hawat, and still thinks that she is the traitor. 

What I really liked about Paul and Jessica's incursion into the Fremen tribe is that excuses were not made for them being "newcomers".  They had to follow the traditions of the Fremen, or it meant their deaths. This is made clear right from their first meeting.

But after they are well entrenched in Fremen society, Paul has no choice but to become the Fremen leader. But he tells the Fremen that "ways change", and that killing the best of their men is no longer acceptable, even to battle for leadership. Paul knows that he will become Duke, even Emperor, and will rule over Arrakis, and so he needs Stilgar to lead the sietch, and will not kill his friend. 

Surprisingly, there is very little telling of the various battles that take place to cause the Harkonnens to search so hard for Paul Muad'Dib. We hear of its aftereffects, and there seem to be large gaps in time as the war rages on. Finally, Paul decides to take the Water of Life, poison to people, especially men, unless they are born with special powers, the ability to change it into water. With Chani's help, Jessica revives him, three weeks later! And then they attack the Harkonnen base, where the Spacing Guild and the Emperor await. 

The battle is short, and the author barely gives any description of the events that take place, which is strange. But he seems to be more interested with the characters, and their thoughts. Since the main characters are not in the thick of the battle, which is something very different from most other stories, we do not get to see the battles firsthand. A novel approach, to be sure. 

As in the other incarnations, the climax takes place when Paul calls the Emperor to him, and then battles Feyd, who had been groomed for moments like this all his life. Treachery is present, but Paul evades it, and wins the duel. Then he takes Princess Irulan as his wife, and the book ends, quickly.

What is interesting here is Paul's reasoning. The spice acts as an addictive, all-powerful substance. It allows the Guild to navigate the space lanes, while giving them a glimpse of the future. The Bene Gesserit have a little of that prescient power, as well. But Paul can see all futures, so many of them that he often became lost, unable to differentiate between them and the present. To make the story more interesting, many things were hidden to him, hidden until he made the necessary choices. One of the things that he saw in almost every single future was a religious jihad sweeping the galaxy, pushing it into ruin in his name. And he tried to do everything he could to stop that future, even though it seemed inevitable. With every choice he made, it became more and more likely this would come to pass. After a certain critical point, even if he was killed, along with his mother, sister and the rest of his sietch, the jihad would still continue, and he would simply be a martyr. The last thing he could do to prevent it was to become Emperor. So even though he was ruthless in taking the throne, he did it with the best on intentions. However, I'm not sure that is enough. If I recall correctly, there is still a jihad in future books.

I had no recollection of the death of Paul's son Leto when I saw it in the mini-series, but here it is, in the original pages of the book. Paul will have more children with Chani, his concubine, and professes to have none with Irulan, as she will not even get his love. Chani doubts this, and thinks that as time passes, she will become less important to him than his wife. 

One of the strange things about this book is the way society has devolved in its concern for women. Did Frank Herbert believe that women should be property? Not necessarily, but it is present in every culture in this book. That galactic society has evolved this way is frightening, but the Fremen also believe this, even though they worship a Reverend Mother. Men fight for power (a concept that I don't understand, either, for the ability to fight does not give one the ability to lead), and they inherit the loser's women and children. It makes some of the story more interesting, because of the concubine issue, but is that worth it?

The worm doesn't get much treatment here, except as a mystical figure. It is interesting when Stilgar tells Paul that they don't allow the worm to come into certain areas, and when he discovers that they drown a little maker (worm) to get the Water of Life, killing it, it is a revelation. The reverence they show the worm, however, is terrific. Even while they plan to make their planet a water world, collecting water by the drop as it condenses out of the atmosphere as dew, they plan to save the equatorial region as a pure and uninterrupted desert, so that the worm can still breed and create the spice, for they know the value of the worm, and especially the spice.

The one concern that I have is that the time frame seemed to be off in any place where we switched from Arrakis to Geidi Prime, the Harkonnen homeworld. I think that was more a necessity of the tale than a break in continuity, for we wouldn't want to read back-to-back chapters of the Harkonnens, so they were interspersed with what Paul was doing, even if his chapters were mere hours apart.  As another comment, I cannot figure out how the makers of the movie got the idea to portray the Baron Harkonnen as they did.  There was no puss or evil experiments in the book.  There were no cackling cries from him.  He was evil, there is no doubt about that, but it was more subtle, aside from his love of beautiful young men...

There is so much going on that I cannot even begin to describe it all, nor would I want to. The characters are the key here, and they are developed beautifully. It is one thing to write about events, where characters are present. It is another thing to build the events around characters, so that they feel like it is the character who is influencing the events. And that is what we have here. Layers upon layers upon layers, with politics of the galactic level, among the Bene Gesserit, and among the Fremen, which were the most interesting. This is a great novel. And there are five that follow in its footsteps, and deal more directly with Arrakis, and less with the galaxy. It's not quite time to pounce upon them. Better to let this one bounce around in my mind for a time, and let it all sink in.

 
   

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