Well… I did it! I finished reading the Dune series, which consists of six novels. Written by Frank Herbert, Dune is heralded by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. It won the inaugural Nebula award for Best Novel, as well as the Hugo Award. After this, Herbert wrote 5 sequels to his series, exploring the universe he created even further. And while the series has its ups and downs, every book is worth reading.
Dune takes place in a futuristic Universe where humanity has spread out into the Galaxy. Planets are ruled by houses, which are basically power families, all of which are underneath a great Emperor. The story centres on one planet called Arrakis, though known to its own inhabitants as Dune. A sand planet. It is the home of the Fremen people who live in the harsh land of desert. As a result of their environment, the Fremen people have developed a culture centred on water conservation almost down to a religion. On this planet of Dune, there lives massive sandworms [almost like the movie Tremors. Oh. Haven’t seen it? well, you should]. These sandworms (400 meters long, 40 meters in diameter at their largest) are a vital part of the life cycle that creates melange, also known as ‘the spice.’ This spice is basically a drug with a number of positive side affects: longer life, greater vitality, heightened senses, etc. Most importantly, the spice is able to give prescient capabilities to certain people in the book, most notably the Navigators that pilot between stars systems, and the Bene Gesserit Matriarchal society (more on them later). A final piece of this Universe’s extraordinary puzzle is the Butlerian Jihad. This something constantly referred to in the books, but happened much earlier than the timelines in the stories. This Jihad ended up prohibiting any technology that could act as a human brain: ‘thinking machines’ or artificial intelligence of any kind. As a result, humans have trained their brains to possess apparently super human type computational abilities. The Bene Gesserit excercise it, but the group of people who are fully trained in these abilities are known as Mentats.
The Bene Gesserit; so much to say. They are an organization of women, a sisterhood, whose full members are called ‘Reverend Mothers;’ they train themselves to be masters of physical and mental abilities to the point they appear to be ‘witches’ to outsiders. Also, to be a Reverend Mother, you must survive what’s known as the ‘spice agony.’ This is a procedure that pushes the women to near death, which forces the women to awaken an inner self and the inner lives of all her female ancestors. The Bene Gesserit influence is felt as the primary driver of the plots of all 6 books.
Specifically, in the first book, Dune, we pick up on with the Bene Gesserit as they are looking for a male who is capable of the same abilities of a Reverend Mother: awakening their inner self and contacting the memories of all their male ancestors. The Bene Gesserit have only the ability to tap into their female ancestors memories, and have been looking for a long time for male capable of the same (what they call a Kwisatz Haderach). We begin the book by the Bene Gesserit testing the son of Leto Atreides and the Lady Jessica (a Reverend Mother). Paul ends up being the Kwisatz Haderach, and this begins the epic saga that is the Dune series.
The themes behind the Dune series are many. It’s an analysis of politics, ruling. It’s a psychological thriller. If I had to describe the series in one word, it would be intense. In reading the books I constantly felt that every decision, every plot turn, every conversation was intensely important, and if the wrong decision was made it could destroy everything. That feeling of standing on a precipice is prevalent throughout the books, and one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Further, Herbert’s writing is very different than others I’ve read. Much of the writing takes place inside the minds of the characters. We get to follow along their thought processes, their inner conversations (with themselves and Other Memory), and thus get to intimately follow how the story plays out. That was my favourite part of the series.
Frank Herbert wrote these original 6 books, which spawned an avalanche of follow ups: a movie, a mini series, a 2nd mini series, and a multitude of books written by Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin Anderson. What I just found out, also, is the original 6 books had a planned 7th book, however Frank Herbert died before he could write it. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson took the notes for the 7th book and wrote two more books… .. … which I now have to read!
There is entirely too much to say about one of the greatest series of all time. All I can really say is that I enjoyed it, and I recommend reading it.