Review of Frank Herbert’s Dune
by Darlene Reilley
Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece. He is a genius because he creates a world with multilayered depths: planetology, society, technology, and more, down to the very worms that create the spice. Dune is the story of Arrakis, the desert planet, fought over because of spice and the whirling satellites of people that inhabit the galaxy that revolves around the spice. The worldbuilding is so deeply layered, the story feels more real than reality—so real that I thirsted for water like a Fremen.
This is such an epic book because of the detail of planetology Herbert envisioned, but it always comes down to: “Arrakis—Dune—Desert Planet” (6). With those words, he created a place that revolves around one thing the planet doesn’t give up easily—water. The strength of Herbert’s vision goes all the way down to the phrases of his characters: “Now here was a pretty kettle of sandtrout” (Appendix I, 799). He describes plants and winds and salt (803). The planet is hostile to outsiders because they do not adapt to the ways of the desert. During a discussion at dinner, the topic is water—those who control it and those who seemingly do not (98-105). It is such a hot button, the Lady Jessica exclaims: “’Everywhere you turn here, you’re involved with the lack of water” (98). Herbert even gave us a map with cartographic notes so we don’t get lost (865-868). From descriptions of the cities to the dunes, this book captures the imagination of the reader because of the setting.
Another method Herbert employs is a buildup of societies, each with its own outlook, goals, and pressure points. He begins with the lineage of Atreides family (3), introduces the Reverend Mother (4), and the CHOAM Company (5). The first chapter is all about Caladan, the Atreides home planet and it is important because Herbert wanted us to understand how jarring the transition to Arrakis is for them. According to the epigraph of chapter two, you need to see both sides of a story (21), and throughout the novel Herbert embraces this idea by showing both the Atreides and the Harkonnens sides of a “kanly” which means “vendetta” (23). Herbert introduces history in a unique way—through a conversation between the Reverend Mother and Jessica. Reverend Mother reminds her: “We’ve a three-point civilization: the Imperial Household balanced against the Federated Great Houses of the Landsraad, and between them, the Guild…” (36). By introducing information through dialogue, Herbert shares information in an interesting way. The distinct culture of the Fremen is highlighted (71, 218). Even religions are fleshed out—most interestingly with the Fremen ways (813) and even a “common commandment: ‘Thou shalt not disfigure the soul’” (814). All of the religions are different, but some are influenced by The Missionaria Protectiva (81, 90). One of the interesting religions is the Fremen idea of water rights: “’But all of a man’s water, ultimately, belongs to his people—to his tribe’” Kynes said (222). The idea that will live with me forever is the Benne Gesserit litany: fear is “the mind-killer” (370).
The details of weaponry are another example of the extent of worldbuilding. Technology throughout the book is used to solve problems: still-suits are used by Fremen and locals for travel (177-179, 181), “crysknife” is a special knife made from the Maker’s tooth (63, 95), the Fremen move as a military unit (465), and a “doorseal” is used to protect against the desert conditions (467-8). There is also an idea of technology not working the way it is intended—the off-world people have body shields, but instead of protecting against harm, it attracts harm to the users (108). To stay alive and take Arrakis back, the Duke says they need “Desert power” (140), and later Paul parrots this idea throughout the book. I know that I will never write another battle scene without wishing I had the line, “’May thy knife chip and shatter’” 783.
Dune was published in 1965 and dealt with many factors that arose from the 1950s and 60s, such as environmentalism and the Cold War. There was a race to space, and it’s no surprise that Herbert wrote a tale of fighting houses much like the Allied and Axis powers fought over our planet. But Dune is unique even among the elite of science fiction because the world Frank Herbert created was so detailed and original. This novel is five stars.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2010 ed. Print.