I know I am going to get a lot of hate-mail over this one, and people might start looking for my photos to put on effigies (I am well aware of the irony).
If there ever was a book which came highly recommended, it was this one. But for me, the “Dune” by Frank Herbert was the book which showed the dangers of hype (over-hype, even).
Duke Leto Atreides is charged by the Padishah Emperor to take charge of the desert planet Arrakis (also known as Dune). Completely covered by desert, and inhabited by dangerous giant sandworms, and even more ferocious Fremen (local inhabitants), the planet is valuable as the only source of most expensive spice in the universe, melange. With the fiefdom of Arrakis comes the charge of keeping the supply of spice constant (as everything revolves around melange), and the income that generates.
But the fiefdom is not awarded because the Duke is a distant cousin of the emperor, or he has a valiant army. The Emperor is conspiring with the arch-enemies of House Atreides, House Harkonnen, to destroy the Duke (whom he fears is becoming a threat). Duke Leto is well aware of the threat, and is planning to get help from the local Fremen to fend off the attacks. But the trap is sprung too early, and there’s a traitor in their midst.
With his father dead, and the remnants of his army being hunted, the son of the Duke, Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica escape with the help of Imperial Planetologist. They manage to get assimilated by a Fremen tribe. Paul is marked important right from birth because he might be “Kwisatz Haderach“, a male Bene Gesserit (a secretive female sistehood of which Jessica is a member) who can see past and all possible futures. The legend spread among the Fremen by Bene Gesserit years earlier marks him as Lisan al-Gaib, a prophet who will convert Dune into lush green planet. Also, Jessica takes over as Reverend Mother of the Fremen tribe, which marks the importance of both in the tribe.
Paul Maud’Dib (as he is called now) gathers the Fremen together, and leads the fierce resistance against the new Harkonnen administrator of the planet. When the news that he has survived gets out, the Emperor himself is forced to come to Dune to take charge of the situation, which makes it easy for Paul to get revenge for his family’s betrayal.
The book (being the first one of the series) is filled with rich details about the planet, the Houses , the galactic empire and so on. The universe is richly detailed, and pretty interesting. But, on the other hand, I found most (if not all) characters to be very easy to read. That makes the book pretty much predictable, and within a few pages from the start, you can tell which characters are going to survive and which are not. And although I don’t subscribe to George R. R. Martin philosophy of bumping off any character people might have liked, this meant that I could not connect to any of the characters. Indeed, the character I found most human was Duke Leto.
Paul and Jessica’s assimilation in the tribe was a bit too easy for me. Although it shows how deep the religious beliefs and legends have gone in the minds of Fremen, (and although Paul has to kill a person to prove himself), once inside, they achieve importance in the tribe very quickly. After that, Paul sees a future where his army spreads across the universe killing everything in the path. But although we hear that he is taking every step carefully so as to keep away from that path, these are just words, and do not come out in action. Not that he starts on a bloody trail, but we don’t see him doing anything actively to keep away from any path.
There may be thousand ingredients of humour, but I know that religion, politics and desert never make for a fun read. But still, the humour in the book was scarcer than the oases on Dune. In fact, I cannot remember any slightly humourous situations standing out in the entire book.
I sincerely hope that this does not mean that my tastes in Sci-Fi have changed so drastically. It is not often that I read the second book in the series because I want to give the series a second chance. But Dune is one of those series where I want to read the second book because I want to see what all the hype is about, and not because I cannot wait to see what happened to my favourite characters and storyline.
P.S. This is the first book I read for “Book to Movie Challenge“. The challenge will be round-up with next post.
Quote of The Day:
When I die, I’m leaving my body to science fiction.
– Stephen Wright (1955 – )