If you said, “Name a classic sci-fi novel”, I would probably say, “Dune”. I’ve felt obligated to read it for years, and did start it once only to quit about a hundred pages in. The same thing nearly happened again; in the middle of the book I lost interest and set it aside for a month or two. And yet, you can see that I’ve rated Dune five stars out of five. So what gives?
The number one strength of Dune is it’s setting. Save Tolkien, I can’t think of a book that builds a universe so convincingly. Herbert’s world-building—the Empire, the Bene Gessarit, and above all the ecology of the eponymous planet Dune—capture the imagination.
Herbert also writes “deeply”, causing you to ponder (among other themes) religion, morality, and destiny versus choice.
I think the writing itself is good, not “clunky” as I’ve heard it described. I think it was Ben de Bono who observed that Herbert makes you feel both that you’re reading a novel, seeing character motivations, etc., while at the same time reading a history book and getting a “big picture” perspective. This method works effectively for Dune.
So why did I have a hard time getting through the book?
I think it’s because the story itself is fairly standard. The world and the geopolitics are what’s interesting rather than what the characters are doing in the chapter. And that’s not a bad thing; not every book needs to be a character-focused drama. But it does make for a slower read.
Although not a short book, Dune feels like just the setup for an epic. I wasn’t initially sure I was going to read any sequels; after finishing the book and ruminating, I’ve decided I will.