I read Dune for the first time one summer while I was in college way back when. Bounced off of it hard. So hard I never bothered to read the copy of Dune Messiah I picked up at the same time. It was my first attempted foray into science fiction. Years later I would realize that I do like science fiction. Well, at least some science fiction. I discovered I like the hard stuff, and the crazy science fantasy and planetary romance. It’s the soft space opera middle that I don’t care for.
Which makes it a bit of a mystery why I didn’t go for Dune in the first place. So when Dune got picked for a Vintage Science Fiction Month group read, I knew I had to embark on a re-read. The results were . . . not great.
Why do I like hard science fiction and science fantasy? The same reason I always liked epic fantasy—worldbuilding. Which Dune has in spades. But there are a couple problems. One, after years of exposure by osmosis, big reveals like the role of the Makers weren’t so big. Two, Herbert’s writing is . . . not great.
Herbert dumps a bunch of key info on us right from the get-go. For example, we are immediately told who the traitor is. Other big reveals are perhaps held too long (several of which the movie reveals in the opening monologue). Generally, the pacing is all over the place. Most egregious is the jump between Paul’s time with the Fremen and the battles at the end.
The Fremen, like the Makers, didn’t have quite the impact they should have had. For all he drew from several other disparate sources, Robert Jordan’s Aiel really do owe a lot to the Fremen. I would have appreciated Dune more if I had read it before the first several Wheel of Time books. But the Fremen are still awesome. Their desert tech makes me wish more post-apocalyptic works thought more about technology. Sure, I get the nobody-to-make-the-tools-to-make-the-tools-to-make-the-tools problem, and that “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make” a pencil. But plenty of people know plenty, and necessity is the mother of invention. So maybe we don’t recreate the iPhone, but we do come up with something like a stillsuit.
I can see why so many publishers passed on Dune. It is undoubtedly something special, but it also breaks many, many rules, and most of them not to its benefit. It isn’t quite to the level of the original Dragonlance trilogy. But it is certainly a great story that suffers from poor execution, really great worldbuilding notwithstanding.
What Dune is, though, and its saving grace? Immensely quotable.
I love the invented words and terms in Dune—gom jabbar, Kwisatz Haderach, the spice melange.
“Most of the Houses have grown fat by taking few risks. One cannot truly blame them for this; one can only despise them.” – Duke Leto
“Law is the ultimate science.”
“Out here, woman, we carry no paper for contracts. We make no evening promises to be broken at dawn. When a man says a thing, that’s the contract. As leader of my people, I’ve put them in bond to my word.” – Stilgar
“A leader, you see, is one of the things that distinguishes a mob from a people. He maintains the level of individuals. Too few individuals, and a people reverts to a mob.”
The 1984 movie, though? The 1984 movie is a thing of beauty.
4 of 5 Stars.