• The Good: A classic foundation of modern scifi with an incredibly rich world
  • The Bad: Characters don’t match the depth of the world
  • The Literary: In situ references to in-world books

Paul Atreides is heir to the desert planet Arrakis, the source the addictive spice Melange and controlled by multiple political and religious factions. Legend says Paul may grow to become the Muad’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, and more, but first he must survive a traitorous plot against his family as the Harkonnen family schemes for power.

Dune is famously influential, winning the Nebula Award and sharing the Hugo Award the year of its publication. It’s a stunningly detailed world, with multiple cultures, religions, and politics, to which entire wikis are devoted. Even though the world and its many characters survive in situations and environments completely different from our own, it feels familiar. Plus, there are giant sand worms that swallow entire desert outposts.

I love the religion and mysticism surrounding the Bene Gesserit and the Guild, and the transition from living on a world with oceans to one in which men must drain the recently dead for their water. I love the references to the Orange Catholic Bible, and the history and mythology of the desert Fremen from their mild beginnings as Zensunni Wanderers. 

And if you favor politics, there’s lot of that too, as Paul learns politics, leadership, and loyalty from his father while the CHOAM economic consortium monopolizes space travel by folding space with the aid of the spice. There’s also action and adventure; after all, Paul is trained in multiple schools of martial arts for the body, the logic of the Mentats for the mind, and the control of both by the Bene Gesserit. So yeah, Paul is bred for success, given every opportunity, but even more potential is unlocked when the spice opens something much deeper. I love the balance of destiny versus free will as Paul attempts to prevent the Jihad and avoid his own death. Paul gains the gift of future sight, but every action or inaction affects change. 

With such an epic plot in a wide world, I’m not entirely surprised the character arcs suffer. Paul is one thing, but the rest of the cast is a series of caricatures of ideals, from the honorable Duke Leto, to the intuitive Duncan Idaho, and the loyal Gurney Halleck. Although Lady Jessica is both formidable and powerful, Dune fails the Bechdel test, as both Paul’s mother and lover have eyes only for him. In fact, the gender roles are annoyingly simple. Men fight physically; women manipulate with mind control, and the highest honor a women can gain is to move up from a concubine to a wife. Then there’s the one-note obese, mustache-twirling Baron Harkonnen, who, as you might expect, is completely irredeemable.

In addition to the sexist tendencies, Paul rushes in as the white savior for the Fremen, and there’s also obvious Arabic and Islamic references, and the uncomfortably racist moments when characters speak of someone going native as having “a touch of the spicebrush”. The book is also dated by it’s form, especially the overabundance of telling not showing, the stilted prose, and the inconsistent perspective.

Highly recommended for any fan of scifi!