Dune is the story of a young man who is introduced as the chosen one, then proceeds to use cold logic to prove to various people over and over that he’s the chosen one in every other chapter, until he does a Chosen One Thing.
Dune is often hailed as a sci-fi classic, and I was very excited to read it. It always galls me when I don’t enjoy a classic, because I feel as though I ought to, but I just found Dune kind of… boring.
It’s perfectly acceptable. I’m sure that the ‘young man with a great destiny’ trope was much less of a cliché in 1965 when the book was first released, but I can only look upon it with the spoilt and jaded eyes of my own experience. However, I HATE being negative, so if you’ll excuse that paradox I’m going to jump into what’s good about Dune.
The setting is fantastic. Frank Herbert has created a rich world filled with ecosystems that succeed at being both interesting and relevant to the plot. It’s also easy to see the influence the book has had on pop culture, with elements like giant sand worms and moisture farms having a direct influence on Star Wars. The level of imagination that’s gone into the setting is inspiring; each inventive description of various locales, the clothing worn by characters, and their strange customs are all genuinely interesting to learn about.
The conflict of the plot revolves around a valuable resource located on the planet Dune known as ‘Spice’. House Atreides and House Harkonnen are mortal enemies, and now they have been pitted against each other for control of the Spice on Dune.
Unfortunately, the problem I have with the book is the plot. Which is a pretty big problem to have with a book. The main character is a young man called Paul, who unfortunately doesn’t have much of a personality, and ultimately feels like a tool of destiny. Maybe this is the point, but the book goes to great lengths to drive home how Paul has a great destiny ahead of him, and then due to a strange quirk of the book’s pacing about two thirds of the way in, we go straight from coming-of-age to accomplished leader without much in-between.
It doesn’t help that Paul and many of the supporting characters are so emotionally detached and logical. It may have been that the theme of the book was how someone thrust into greatness can lose their humanity, but I felt that there wasn’t enough real depth of emotion present to form an interesting contrast.
Another problem I had was the way the plot would often introduce an interesting plot thread or conflict, only to have it either very quickly resolved or end up not mattering much. As a result the book felt a little disjointed to me. I felt that things were very easy for the protagonists. Paul, his mother and the others never really seemed in over their heads or out of control. Most of the time they’d just use their mental calculation powers to work out the most efficient way over each obstacle, successfully carry out their plan and move onto the next thing, which I felt didn’t build much tension over the course of the novel.
I was also never sure why the Atreides and Harkonnens hated each other so much in the first place. It seemed a little arbitrary and I think some more exposition into to why the Harkonnens were so evil would have helped them feel less one-dimensional as antagonists.
Overall, I think Dune was ok… it had some interesting ideas and some colourful characters, who sometimes did and sometimes didn’t live up to their potential (Thufir Hawat, I’m looking at your feeble plotline). I’d very tentatively recommend this to someone new to the genre, or someone curious to make their own mind up on a classic. However, there are a multitude of more interesting sci-fi and fantasy books out there for the taking.