Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dune, by Frank Herbert


The tale of Paul Atreides, heir to a Dukedom and legal ruler of the desert planet Arrakis, the source of the precious spice melange.  His father has been murdered, and his enemies have seized control of the planet, while Paul and his mother wander the desert, where giant sandworms destroy everything in their past, and no one can survive.  No one, that is, except the mysterious Fremen, desert people who fear nothing and no one.  Will Paul be able to take back what is rightfully his?  What is his role in the future of this strange and unyielding planet?

There is a reason this is the best-selling science fiction work of all time.  It is, quite simply, fantastic.  Herbert weaves a masterful tale, full of the kind of detail that makes Tolkien's Middle Earth so compelling.  The nuances of the story--alternately political, religious, ecological, technological, and anthropological--give it a richness and depth that draws the reader in from the very beginning. 

This book founded the genre of ecological science fiction, and Herbert was green before it was popular.  Indeed, Arrakis is itself a character in the story, as other characters seek to know and understand this curious planet.  Of course, Herbert's ecology is strikingly man-focused--the goal is not to preserve Arrakis in its natural state but to shape it into a place that is habitable for mankind. Yet those who would simply wring from Arrakis the resources they crave, with no thought to the long term effect on the planet, are villified as foolish, short-sighted, and wrong. There is, as a result, a sort of tension between stewardship and dominion--the planet is to be used for the benefit of mankind, but not merely uses it up and leaves.  A surprising--and quite Christian--concept, to be sure.

Then, too, Herbert has an interesting perspective on religion.  Paul's mother is one of a special group of highly trained 'religious' women--a group that has been 'creating' a religion in order to achieve there own ends.  Yet as the story progresses, the women find that their 'made up' prophecies are coming true . . . in ways they never expected.  Thus Herbert articulates a certain skepticism toward religion as a man-made tool for the manipulation of others, and yet there is, too, a sense that religion may in fact be something bigger and more real than men can fathom.  This kind of complexity characterizes the whole story.

Bottom line, this is an amazing book, and if you haven't read it, you should. 

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