Book Review: Dune

Dune book cover
Dune
Frank Herbert
1965
★★★★★

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.

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