Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert

Title: Dune

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: Dune #1

Everything’s been written about Dune many times over, so forgive me if my review will be somewhat off beat this time. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot or the worldbuilding. 

Dune is unequivocally a masterwork of SF, a SF at its best, openly acknowledging its ties to myths and the belief in universal truths of human cognition. But Dune also reaches way beyond SF, having become one of the few absolutely crucial works of fiction of the 20th century. And yet, and yet, while I admire it with passion, it’s a book I cannot love. It leaves me cold and uncaring. It leaves me wanting to pick it apart, and dirty my hands in its bloody insides, and emerge holding the offending element in my palms, triumphant in finding what fault exactly makes me less than welcoming toward it.

But the truth is, I suspect I know it already.

Nice opening, huh? So now I’m going to subvert your expectations, and launch into a lengthy consideration of the socio-ecological ramifications of Herbert’s universe. Kidding!

Though not entirely.

Dune is one of those books which upon their conception were viewed as SF. Inhabited planets, alien life forms, space travel, etc. – all the accoutrements of ‘60s’ SF were there. Ironically enough, when read today, Dune seems more like a mix of fantasy/SF, with its supernatural, nearly “magical” powers of precognition and heightened mental/physical awareness, with the Chosen One trope forming the backbone of the story, with the incorrigibly feudal social structure which in itself is a mixture of medieval Europe, Byzantium, ancient Rome, and North Africa. While this in itself has no bearing on the quality of the book, it touches tangentially on one of the reasons why I don’t like Dune more: namely, the time gap between the ‘60s and now, which is at once too long and too short. 

I couldn’t resist showing the beautiful Folio edition ;).

But let’s start at the beginning. The mythical aspects forming the foundations of Dune, the ancient Greek myth of the curse on the House of Atreides, are extremely powerful in their own right. It’s what it meant to be a hero for the Greeks – something simultaneously more and less than human, more and less than god. All humans had their fates decreed by the Moirai, and these fates, once set, were unbending and unbroken. But in the case of heroes, their fates were a matter of additional scrutiny, of additional suffering, of more triumph and despair, of impact that spanned generations and geographies. Dune drinks deeply from that well, and openly acknowledges its loyalties. Herbert’s intimate understanding of this aspect of Greek mythology is admirable and laudable, and I would love for the new authors to have even a slice of this understanding (spoiler alert: they don’t). 

And yet, Herbert’s sip from this ancient well might’ve been poisoned, because while it lends gravitas to the protagonists of Dune, it doesn’t seem to imbue them with pathos. The tragedy of the House Atreides in Dune makes me sad, a little, but not moved. And the reason for this, I suspect, is that I feel that in Dune all of them, their whole inbred bunch of manipulated manipulators, fully deserved what they got. Paul, Jessica, Leto, Harkonnens, the emperor… They had it coming. And the reason for this is, I suspect, the ‘60s. The way Herbert writes these characters – and his writing is impeccable, so this is probably intentional – seems somehow off to me. There’s not much empathy in Herbert for his creations; he treats them like pawns on a board. Confluences of events accelerate certain processes; genetic manipulations generations in the making come to fruition early due to one willful decision. Any emotion can be fully regulated, subdued, or evoked as needed; control is everything; nothing is left to chance. 

I feel echoes of Asimov’s Foundation in Dune, and that’s not a compliment. The vision of the future as a place where logic fully controls emotions, when humans achieve the (questionably interpreted) Nietzchean ideal of the Übermensch is a 20th century dream which now seems rather dystopian. And while I can dissect Greek myths and tragedies with quite a calm head and heart, dispassionately looking at the worldviews and dominant ideas of the time, the analysis of the Weltanschauung of the 1960s is a different matter entirely. I feel too enmeshed in the culture of this period to judge it impartially; and as such, I tend to be a much harsher critic of it.

See, I am not fond of the superhuman aspects of Dune. That’s a load of BS for me, and while I see it as a useful plot device, at the same time I grind my teeth at the author, because so much of the Dune universe (at least the first three books that I’ve read) is based on this concept. I feel that it Herbert uses it instead of the personified Fate of Greek mythos, allowing the characters to glimpse the tragedy awaiting them, as in the original, but because his concept of precognition can become such a powerful tool for the characters to escape their preordained paths, he limits the usefulness of it through the murky discussion on free will and/or lack thereof. The world in Dune cannot be not deterministic because of its acknowledged debt to the Greeks. But Herbert seems not entirely happy with this conclusion, and so tries to find a way out – poetically describing the bends in the road, the murky horizons of causality, allowing Paul his reckless duel with Feyd-Rautha as the last attempt at escape from fate.

Herbert is a feminist in this book – all characters regardless of their sex/gender are equally guilty and broken, fallible and odious and deserving our sympathy. Even Vladimir Harkonnen, the nominal villain of Dune, is, in the end, a dupe of Bene Gesserit, who are as despicable as they are powerful, and yet, in the end, are rendered helpless by their own creation. Even Alia, the hapless victim of her mother’s quest for power, couched in very biblical terms of consuming the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, embraces her knowledge with ruthless abandon. As in the Greek myths, there are no innocents: we are all guilty of our fathers’ sins. 

And yet this book is magnetic. The deliberation inherent in the creation of the universe of Dune, the research into desert ecologies, history, anthropology, religious studies, mythology – I am awed by the work Herbert poured into this novel, by the patience with which he spun this story for over a decade before he was content with his opus magnum. I long for more books like Dune – books I can disagree with, vehemently at times, and yet be drawn to. Books I can admire even if I don’t love them. Books that are truly masterpieces, that will be read and analyzed centuries later, and maybe with less chagrin because the time gap will be sufficient to cure the future generations of the malaise of the 20th century ;). Is Dune perfect? No, but that’s all right, because there are no perfect books. Its imperfections, the signs of internal struggle and contradictions, are what stays with us the longest, I think.

So here’s my rambling skim on the surface of Dune. There are so many aspects I haven’t touched upon, from the Butlerian Jihad to the deficiencies of the idea of a feudal rule in space (at least it’s acknowledged and limited somewhat by the mercantile and/or scientific/religious forces of Spacing Guild and other big players, such as Bene Gesserit), to the fascinating details of desert ecology of Arrakis and the ramifications of employing Nietzchean philosophy of Übermensch. The good thing is that you can find all of these somewhere if you’re interested; like with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or Zelazny’s Amber, Herbert’s Dune lives on in countless discussions and analyses, and, most importantly, in human imagination.

Score: 10/10

76 thoughts on “Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

  1. Okay, so you gutted Dune and dug around in its intestines, said it’s a book you love to hate, admitted that it wasn’t perfect and there’re many issues you have with it, said that you don’t and can’t love it… and yet still rated it 10/10.

    I’m confused. You’re confusing.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Will! 😜

      Just to be clear, I didn’t say it’s a book I love to hate; I said I admire it on a purely intellectual level but I’m not emotionally moved by it. No pathos, no katharsis. And yes, I still rated it 10/10 because on a purely intellectual level it deserves all the stars it can get. It’s Herbert’s tour de force, a masterfully written book, and a snapshot of the worldview and knowledge of the 1960s. It’s impressive as hell, in short, and I recognize its merits even while not feeling any emotional attachment to its story or protagonists. In a lesser book it would’ve driven me crazy, or just made me DNF the whole thing. Here, though, I remain thoroughly impressed 😉

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Interesting remark on the time gap – but I don’t really understand why it is both too long and too short?

    As for emotions: I think they do exist in the side characters: Dr. Yueh, Liet Keynes, Stilgar, Chani. Also Alia is very emotional figure to me, but especially in the 3rd book – now there’s a character that didn’t have it coming: what else was she to do than embrace it here? And that strategy didn’t really work out, as we learn in the third book, leaving her only one other option. Also Paul itself can’t really be accused of being anything else than a victim: I don’t see how he had it coming? His son’s death? I felt that to be very emotional. And Jessica’s tragedy is love: she operated against the scheming of the BG because of love, I also don’t see her deserving what she got in that respect. I think our divergent experiences here might be more part of taste & experience, rather than how Herbert writes characters – but that’s a tricky thing to untangle, as Herbert’s writing for sure is part of the equation.

    I agree though that they are pawns on a board, but to me that might be the crux of the emotions: we are all trapped by this life. Especially the first book isn’t murky at all viz. free will imo (see my own analysis), Herbert’s ecological message is that everything is determined. I didn’t find any deviation from that in the first book at all – it is only in the rest of the series things become muddled (coincidentally I’m rereading Heretics atm, expect a review somewhere in the next 3 weeks). I’m puzzled by this sentence though: “The world in Dune cannot be not deterministic because of its acknowledged debt to the Greeks.” Care to elaborate?

    For me the biggest flaw of the book might be the feudal rule in space – not very realistic indeed, and as a book that also has didactic intentions, it might have been interesting if Herbert would have tried his way around it, even though he would have lost some of the mythical vibe because of that. On the other hand, realism is not Herbert’s goal, so he gets a pass easily. The more I reread, the more I see Dune truly is a 10 indeed – so far 2, 3 and 4 have been letdowns, they don’t even begin to compare. 5 is okay so far, but I can’t imagine it equaling Dune’s qualities either. And Herbert’s other books, well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I see I shoul’ve elaborated – but it’s such a blasted long review already! 😉
      The time gap is for me too long to fully enter into this mindset, because too many things changed already; I tried to give an example of this in how the perception of SF changed over that time. At the same time, it’s too short for me to view it more dispassionately, with more objectivity – because I still see so many of these conflicts and problems not as universal (as I’d argue is the case of Greek mythology/tragedies) but as embedded in our times.

      In a way, I see all of these characters reaching morally ambiguous or compromised decisions, even when they perfectly know (or believe they know) what they’re doing. Jessica is a good example here: her actions among Fremen are all directed toward getting control and power, because that’s how she’s been formed. But those same actions, as much as they focused on survival, are at the same time based on lies and disinformation. She acts under the impression that she would’ve been killed otherwise; I’d argue that by the time she changes the poison that is not necessarily the case. But she’s tempted to become Reverend Mother, because that’s a position of power, and she is no longer content with being just a concubine in the shadows (she had been offered that, too). As for Paul, well – he’s willing to become responsible for no less than a planetwide genocide/culturecide/xenocide when he threatens to poison spice in the desert. Paul is a victim and then he becomes the perpetrator: drums made of skins of his enemies etc. When I read Dune as a teenager I was willing to exonerate him; not anymore.
      I agree with your comment on Alia, though: as I said in the review, she’s the hapless victim.

      As for the determinism, I see this as a direct result of Herbert’s decision to root his universe and story in the Greek mythos. Greek world is deterministic because every decision of humans and gods is decided beforehand by the Moirai. Cases such as Achilles, who is given a choice, are extremely rare. I actually don’t remember any other example. This is the crux of the tragedy: a person rebelling against their fate, only to succumb to it at the end. Honestly, though, it seems to be a general Indo-European view of destiny determined by a deity or often three female deities – Norse Norns, Roman Parcas, etc.

      I’ll be continuing my reread of Dune series – I’m especially interested in Messiah, as I remember that Children were a bit of a meh experience for me back then. I ended my Dune read on Children. I’ll be looking forward to your review of Heretics!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the clarification!

        Few new questions 🙂

        Can you give a few examples of conflicts/problems in Dune that are not universal?

        How is Jessica knowing what she is doing when her decisions are based on lies/desinformation? As for her striving towards power: could just as well be a maternal reflex to be able to best protect Paul?

        As for Paul: could he have acted otherwise? If he didn’t do what he did, humanity would be destroyed in the end, presumably by the descendants of the robots – possibility resulting in more net suffering/carnage. I agree humanity by itself isn’t a goal per se, but the ethics to exonerate him aren’t as simple as saying he should have preached non-violence.

        Your remarks here about the Greeks/determinism don’t really clarify your original statement “the world of Dune cannot be not deterministic because of its acknowledge debt to the Greeks”, as you explain, Greek world was deterministic. As for Achilles: what choice are you talking about? (Also, being presented a choice isn’t necessarily indeterministic.)

        As for these IE religious views: I think one doesn’t need the technology of brain scans to feel we live in a deterministic macro-universe. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Heh, sure 😉 Keep them coming!

          What I mean by the potential lack of universality does not necessarily refer to problems themselves but rather to certain worldviews associated with this. An example: in ancient tragedies, especially in the stories of Antigone and Hector, the burial rites play a key role. The Greeks believed that the body must be covered by dirt/burned in order to be able to reach the afterlife. Leaving bodies unburied was the pinnacle of defilement. Nowadays, the burial is treated more in lines with sanitary requirements than religious ones (though these play role, as well), but we still can perfectly well understand Antigone’s and/or Priam’s motivation. So, the problems regarding human dignity, ethics, social expectations, etc. are universal; but their expression varies depending on times. With Dune, I feel that some of the expressions are dated; not universal in the sense that they are inextricably bound to their time. The vision of feudalism, for example. Prana-bindu techniques. Bene Gesserit structure and propaganda techniques based largely on Catholic Church.

          Jessica is a tough one, really. I do agree that Herbert paints her actions in the hues of maternal instinct, but it seems very selective, more like self-deception. Paul is protected from the very beginning by Liet. His position grows exponentially after he defeats Jamis. By the time Jessica is put to test, this test is only to determine her own position among Fremen, not Paul’s. And all the time she is aware that she’s making use of the Missionaria Protectiva propaganda.

          Oh, I’m not saying Paul should preach non-violence. I’m an idealist, but not that much 😉 His chance to preach non-violence was gone with Jamis, and had Paul preached non-violence there, his story would end quickly indeed. There is a world of different states between non-violence and barbaric violence, though, as you well know. Also, in Dune I haven’t found a single reference to robots – instead, Herbert time and again shows Paul’s future as the messiah of frenzied mobs who paint all the worlds with human blood. We can speculate whether by the time of writing Dune Herbert had any clear vision of a human-machine conflict beyond the historic Butlerian Jihad; but in the Dune there aren’t any clear indications that’s what he had in mind (or at least I haven’t detected them). Sure, many things can be interpreted this way post factum, because they are intentionally vague; but there’s no clear line exonerating Paul along the lines of being the savior of humanity in Dune.

          Well, what I’m trying to say is that Herbert modeled his story on Greek myths. As such, he had to acknowledge/accept the determinism that characterized both Greek mythos and philosophy. He did away with gods, so he was left with pragmatic, material approach to determinism. From the literary perspective, the choice of the Greek mythos foundation excludes non-deterministic solutions if what you wanted to achieve in the first place was to keep to the structure and payoffs of tragedy (which is what I believe Herbert inteded).
          Achilles was given a choice: a long happy life in total obscurity or a short heroic life and bloody death in battle. And his fate was determined too, indeed, and there some interpretations showing that his choice was in fact an illusion, as it was obvious what he would’ve chosen from the very beginning.

          Ah, sure; what I was trying to suggest was that the deterministic outlook was very ingrained in the Indo-European culture from the very beginnings. We’re all formed by it to some extent.
          (As you know, I try to follow the scientific discussion regarding the existence of free will or lack thereof, and I still consider the matter not settled and largely remaining in the area of belief and not fact.)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Okay, that clears things up. Agreed that some of the expressions are dated – as it is for almost all if not all art – but the conflicts/problems underlying Dune seem universal to me. Then again, as for feudalism: the current rise in autocracts across the world isn’t that far from a more feudal mindset; as for prana-bindu: the desire to control one’s body and mind is still very strong (yoga, meditation, etc. are on the rise) in that sense prana-bindu is not outdated – but I agree that the kind of mystic mental powers psychic ring it has in Dune is from it’s time, but that ring is more general than prana-bindu. As for the BG, don’t fully agree there, Herbert’s propaganda techniques are more universal I’d say, or more original, in the sense that he basically invented the idea of long term religious planning/seeding as far as I can see. I don’t link BG to the Catholic Church, but that could be due to my lack of knowledge about it.

            As for Jessica, to me it always seemed that her position as a Reverend Mother also strengthened Paul’s position, even when he was protected by Liet, his position to me never felt rock solid, the possibility of unspoken opposition from certain Fremen factions never disappears from the book. And yes, she knows she uses the Missionaria, but all is fair in love and war, no?

            As for non-violence: there’s a big divide obviously indeed, but still, the barbaric violence was necessary in Paul’s mind. You are fully right the robots are not mentioned yet, and might not have been in Herbert’s mind. Paul’s motivations aren’t fully clear in Dune 1, you are right there as well. First he tries to prevent Jihad (and uses violence to prevent more violence), but after his son dies he embraces Jihad. But I also think it is fair to take into account Dune 2 & 3 here, as Herbert always has claimed parts of those were written before Dune itself was published. I know that still doesn’t mean he plotted the entire storyline of 2 & 3, it could be that he just referred to certain scenes that were written without having an idea of the larger context, but as Herbert planned & researched so much/long for Dune, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, and concluded Paul eventually did what he did to prevent the annihilation of mankind in the very long run (just like he had tried to prevent Jihad at first, in that sense such an interpretation is not out of character).

            “He did away with gods, so he was left with pragmatic, material approach to determinism. From the literary perspective, the choice of the Greek mythos foundation excludes non-deterministic solutions if what you wanted to achieve in the first place was to keep to the structure and payoffs of tragedy (which is what I believe Herbert intended).”

            Why couldn’t you have tragedy with non-deterministic solutions? I don’t get that. Take MacBeth, no gods there either, only the prediction of the witches. The way I see it, prescience (magic, but also simply foresight because of determinism) takes the place of Gods (myths, fate), and you still have a workable tragic template.

            As for science settling things: agreed, but so much other stuff is not settled either. Not really a good argument either way obviously. I don’t see science settling it either in the short run – not to the extent that everybody agrees, because for me the matter already is settled, but people tend to have very muddled debates with murky definitions on the matter. Free will seems to mean different things to people, to the extent they aren’t even having the same conversation, and that fact alone keeps the scientific debates going. I can’t say it better like this: no scientist has shown how our brain’s functioning would escape its determined environment. Given the fact that we live in a deterministic world on a macrolevel, the burden of proof is on those adhering an indeterministic view of our brain. The question is simply this: if a situation were repeated, and given the exact same circumstances of everything involved, would a person be able to chose/behave differently?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. We seem to agree on most issues, then – I guess it’s just the matter of personal importance of them 🙂

              As for Jessica, you’re that at least part of her rationale was to strengthen Paul’s position. But to me her decision to endanger her unborn child in the bid for power was selfish. She could’ve said she was pregnant, and by then she knew that it wouldn’t have been counted against her in any way; even the Fremen are horrified when they learn what she had done.

              Hmm, as for Paul, let me come back to you on this after I refresh my memory on part 2 and 3; I’ll be re-reading them in the coming months. Right now, my gut feeling is that Herbert wanted to craft tragedy based on ancient patterns; there, a hero is a very ambivalent concept, at once god-like and beast-like, bringing as much good as bad (Heracles is a great example of this). I feel that Herbert’s remarks about Paul’s bestiality toward his enemies, and about his superhuman precognition, are aimed at this. But I need to read the next books to see if my theory holds water.

              For Greeks (and mind you, I’m talking about the classical tragedy here, don’t want to get into the wider literary discussion atm as it would require some refresher for me, and these literary critiques can be hard to find ;)) the crux of the tragedy lies in the fact that a person wants to change who they are, does everything in their power to do it, and in the end they fail. Their actions catch up with them, their previous choices combine and drive them ruthlessly toward resolution, even when they regret it and try to amend it. The Greeks explained this through the concept of Fate. We could argue that Macbeth is also based on the concept of Fate, and the three witches are at once an incarnation of Moirai and the Greek chorus. What could differ Shakespeare from Sophocles, say, is that Shakespeare shows that the way to one’s fate is not entirely determined; only the key moments of it are, as well as the end. You can get a crown, but how will you get it is up to you. Though is it? We could argue that the moment of encounter with the witches and the words they use seal Macbeth’s fate. Whether Sophocles agreed with this point of view is a matter of a different discussion ;). As for whether you can have a workable tragedy without determinism – I honestly don’t know. I don’t think so, and I can’t bring any example of non-deterministic tragedy atm.

              As for determinism and free will, I agree – the differences of the definition of free will really drive this one onward, and I don’t see a clear end in sight. I feel that this is one of the questions that may in the end be unanswerable from within the system – and as we are the system, well. And as such, I consider this whole issue more a matter of belief/worldview than science.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Agreed that going through the spice agony while pregnant endangered Alia, yet it could still be out of some maternal drive for Paul. Her act was extreme for sure, I would not necessarily frame it as selfish.

                As for Paul, it’s hard to parse, as my rereading of Dune was obviously colored by what I knew from 2&3, and even the rest. Robots aren’t mentioned in 2 & 3 either, just the Kralizec. I think it is safe to say Herbert refined/changed the overall story as the books went along, and I have have always been a bit puzzled about the stress he put on the fact that Dune is about the problematic Hero (I think your theory definitely holds water), yet if you take the full narrative into account it’s not so problematic at all from a utilitarian perspective.

                Agreed on everything you write on tragedy, I was talking about tragedy as a larger concept indeed.

                As for free will: other people aren’t part of our own system, and we are fairly good at parsing other people, so I have high hopes it will be cracked. 🙂 But I get what you mean.

                For me the only conceivable roads to free will would be 1) quantum processes in the brain, but these would just introduce stochastic processes, and not really escape determinism, for our actions would be determined by the outcomes of the stochastic processes that are outside are own control, 2) somehow the complexity of our neural wiring escapes determinism, and that seems very very unlikely to me. There’s one other option, and that’s that layers of reality we don’t grasp or even perceive atm influence our neural wiring, but also there I can’t conceive how that get would get us to self-control free of deterministic/stochastic processes.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on Jessica 😉 To me it’s difficult to comprehend that she would essentially choose one child over another, even when she didn’t have to make that choice. From this perspective – not needing to make that choice, as she could’ve just say she was pregnant and postpone the test (I know this was necessary for Herbert to create Alia as Abomination, so it is a plot device, in essence) – her decision was selfish. And we’re talking about Alia as already a being with some consciousness – a child.

                  Yeah, I’ll be curious to read the next installments. I’ll be on the lookout for the changes in Paul’s characterization and Herbert’s plan for him 😀

                  I think actually other people are a part of our system, at least from an anthropological perpective 😉 but I know what you mean. I wonder though, if we can really understand other conscious beings. Look at the problems we have with apes or dogs, or even bees. 🙂

                  As for free will, I feel like my knowledge is still not enough to make any decisions regarding its existence, really. I think all of the arguments you mention have some merit and can’t be refuted out of hand, especially the last one; for me the problem of reconciling quantum with macro (Einsteinian-Newtonian physics) suggests that we still don’t have all the data and/or we still don’t understand how the universe works exactly. We still can’t understand how a throw of dice is determined, and I’d say that’s a way easier problem than consciousness.

                  Also, I’m not a proponent of an absolute free will, something like this doesn’t exist, and we all know it. But we do make decisions that seem improbable or implausible, and I don’t think this is just the result of now knowing all the input data. So, I still choose to believe in some form of agency/ability to choose within the predetermined conditions of our existence 😉

                  That’s a great discussion, btw – thanks! 😀

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Very good catch on the plot device, and you are right on Jessica: she could have just postponed it, that had not occurred to me.

                    Paul becomes an (important) side character in Children, so there’s not that much story arc left.

                    Agreed on not fully understanding, all we have is best guesses. We don’t even understand ourselves 🙂

                    And again, I don’t question agency or choice, but I do question macro-world actions that could somehow escape causality.

                    My pleasure!

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Thanks, Bart! 😀

                      I’ll be reading Messiah in a month or two. As a side note, while my review of Shadow & Claw has been a success in terms of views and comments, it may have been a too big success, as I haven’t been approved for the next omnibus 😜 seems like too many people have requested it 😉

                      I need to think on my own definition of free will, I think 😉 This “existence of free will” neurophilosophical discussion seems to have clear enough sides and divisions, but I sense there beneath them a continuum of personal beliefs, based on unexpressed or even repressed individual worldviews. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes 😀

                      Liked by 1 person

  3. Was not expecting that 10 in the end. I read this for the first time last year and just gushed over how great it was. I can see the frustrations you have with this and I could agree on a lot of your statements, I just seem to overlook its flaws purely for the fact that it was written so long ago. Great write up Ola. Also what a pretty cover you have there🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Dawie! 😊

      Yeah, it’s a book I really admire from the writing perspective, but at the same time it seems so weird to me that I’m more emotional when reading original Greek tragedies than Dune 😉 I’m a big fan of Greek tragedies, though, so maybe that’s why 😂😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was in the process of doing a review on the Dune comic I received through NG for today. Love that we both have Dune reviews going up today. Even though I will not be saying too much on the comic…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I noticed something: The more elaborate criticism you accumulate, the better is the book.
    As for feudalism in space: that’s the way to go. No place for weak democracy, a tyranny is far easier. So many Putins in space!
    And I can’t accept your words concerning the superhero aspect when I see your manga reviews 🤣

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, that’s correct. When the book makes me think, when it makes me consider different aspects of the story, the protagonists, the philosophy, when it actually has something that can be called intentional Weltanschauung… that’s for me the mark of a good book.

      Tyranny doesn’t equal feudalism, though 😜 I think Orwellian vision is much closer to reality, especially when it comes to control over information and language.

      Ah, see – the manga doesn’t for a moment pretend to be realistic; there’s a King of the World and he’s a dog in glasses; all your earthly belongings can be locked into tiny capsules which expand upon contact with the ground; there’s a race of beings with monkey tails which give them super strength and takes their mind away during full moon. There’s a martial arts sensei who’s a cat living at a top of a pole reaching to the top of atmosphere… Superpowers are really the least of it 🤣🤣🤣🤣

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I find it interesting that the emotional side of things mean so much to you. Probably explains why a lot of the foundational texts of SFF don’t work so well for you. Must be happy you’re living today, which is absolutely filled with such stuff. Hope you enjoy that 😉

    I’m going to assume you won’t be re-reading this?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Let me clarify: I find the lack of emotion in Dune baffling in contrast with ancient Greek tragedy. Modern high-key, high-strung, overemotional stuff doesn’t work for me at all. All that maudlin touchy-feely stuff just makes me want to step back and run away in an undetermined direction, as I hoped made clear in some of my other reviews 😜 just check my review for Circe or The Councillor 😉

      This was a re-read; I might return to this in another two decades or so – but first I’ll go through the rest of the series, at least those parts written by Herbert senior (not touching the stuff written by his son).

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I have had Children of Dune floating just beyond my will to grasp it for a few years now but, after your fine review (more an essay and personal statement!) of Dune I’m more inclined to stop procrastinating. And that’s down to the fact that I was figuratively nodding at pretty much all the points you make. Yes, it’s admirable; yes, it’s of its time; yes, one’s astounded by its breadth, its boldness, its vision; but love it? No, absolutely not.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Many thanks, Chris! 😊 I’m very happy to find a kindred soul in this 😉

      I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I can’t melt with delight over Dune even when intellectually appreciating the vision, and my essay/review was an attempt to clarify it for the readers as much as myself. I think it all boils down to having the characters treated as pieces on a board; things happen to them or are caused by them by the authorial fiat, and we as readers are limited to the role of dispassionate observers, as if the world of Dune was an anthill and its inhabitants – ants.

      I’ll be very interested to read your thoughts on Children of Dune, Chris! I’ll pick up Messiah later this year, but I’m not sure if I make it all the way to Children before January – what with Narniathon and all! 😀


      1. A plot where the characters are pieces in a game is an exact characterisation—lots of authors do this of course, especially in certain genres like crime fiction, but few do so in so baldly and unashamedly a fashion.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is very true. I think (I’ll only admit it to you, because it’s a very gut feeling and not something backed by research or analysis) what bugs me most is that I feel that Herbert assumes this pose of God-like distance and contempt for his creations, and this in itself is just a very human/ape concept of God as the biggest boss in the tribe who can do anything because he’s so powerful.

          I don’t know, I might be a bit unfair to poor Herbert here. Maybe that’s not what he wanted and I just read it this way. I guess I really keenly feel a lack of authorial empathy in Dune 😉


          1. I was sceptical but not particularly critical in my review of Dune a few years ago (, unlike my review of the sequel ( I don’t think you’re being unfair to Herbert as your reactions describe exactly how I felt, that he was a cynical demiurge who played games with his characters because he could. And maybe he was also playing with the feelings of legions of avid fans who followed the saga through?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You’ll forgive me if I read your review of the second part after I re-read it, Chris, but after reading your review of Dune I can say we’re on the same page to a dot 😊.
              I think the first book is different from the sequels, and particularly from what Herbert’s son cooked up later on – I believe that some of the later plot resolutions and ideas have been tacked on to what was supposed to imitate Greek tragedy: so a foretold messiah who unwillingly is destined to bring carnage and woe, and not salvation, was later on amended to an actual messiah. Herbert’s deficiency lies in my opinion in that he was unable to empathize with his characters; he treated them as elements of his ambitious exercise, of his philosophical/religious treatise, and as such couldn’t, or wouldn’t, comprehend them and present them as fully, relatably human.


                1. Hmm… a tempting concept, but let me disagree. Not-human doesn’t necessarily involve dehumanization, and additionally, I’d argue that in Dune the fault lies entirely on Herbert’s side: he writes his characters in a way that precludes empathy.

                  Liked by 2 people

  7. Great review Ola! You’re right about the connections between Foundation and Dune. There are quite a few of them. But where Asimov had total faith in science and its benefits for mankind, Herbert is a bit anti-science almost. Except for ecology. Dune is still a strange one in the history of SF. It is very unlike other SF.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Jeroen! 😊
      Interesting about science. I felt that Herbert wasn’t anti-science per se, more like anti-AI/technology. He employs science like genetics and ecology and neuroscience, but directs it inside humans, and not outside, as we chose in reality. Dune is different, indeed; maybe its uniqueness is the reason for why it’s such a milestone book for SF 😀 I’d still argue I love Zelazny’s Lord of Light more, though, because even if it’s less elaborate and complex, it possesses that humane component that Dune is lacking IMO.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, anti-technology he was. His focus on environment and psy powers fits very well in the 60s new wave. But he deals very differently with mythology than Zelazny does. With Zelazny it is all writerly flourishes. Maybe to break the mould of the old SF from the 50s. While Herbert still takes up that epic space opera.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, the 1960s New Wave 😉
          I know there’s a chasm between Herbert and Zelazny when it comes to nearly everything – but the one thing they have in common is the deep connection and acknowledged debt to mythologies. Herbert wanted to stay in the mould of space opera, as you write, and Zelazny wanted to explode it and create something new, but both used mythology to achieve their goals, and both recognized myths as driving forces of culture.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Heh, no worries! 😉
              Yeah, Zelazny wrote some great books and some bad books, too. Can’t stand Creatures of Light and Darkness, I didn’t even write a review, I was so tired by it. An ambitious and failed attempt is what I’d call it when in generous mood 😉 And the same goes for The Dream Master, which existence as a novel was a purely financial decision. But when he did write a good book, it was really, really good! 😁

              Liked by 2 people

  8. piotrek

    Great, a Dune review! Book I’d rate just as high, and opinions I mostly share. A few comments, though… I have to say I was always moved by the Atreides’ plight. Leto and Paul the most, and if they deserved some of what they suffered – well, Heracles was no saint either, was he? What’s different here? And the Übermenschen of Dune are mostly monsters, does it not reflect our fears about how we already started to modify our species? In that way, less science-heavy Dune is likely to age much better than most hard SF.
    Not the precognition part though, this is something I always had most problems with. It’s not realistic, and wasn’t necessary to analyse the concept of free will, we did not need magic here!
    And I have to add that while the characters here are chess pieces, they are no soulless ones. It’s one of the reasons I consider it a great book and would also give it 10/10. Every re-read gives me many feels 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Okay, okay, that was a little bit of rhetoric on my part – but not much. See, I’ve been reading Troy at the same time; and the emotions I feel for these characters – Cassandra, Achilles, Hector – are beyond comparison with what I can scrape for Paul. I mean, his child is killed. And he’s described as basically accepting his fate as a bloody emperor, almost no grief, remorse, or anything else. Plus, if he knows the future, he knew that would happen, right? So that takes a lot of emotional impact away from it. Chiang wrote that novella, Story of Your Life – and even there, the emotional impact was derived not from the events happening but from the main character’s emotions concerning the inevitability of the future and how it is unchanging from her perspective, and how she cannot be understood by humans who do not possess this ability.
      Oh, you better not bring Heracles into this 😉 I have an essay in mind for him 😀

      I think that’s where Herbert totally missed the mark, actually – the Übermensch of Dune is nothing like our own, as we embraced the technology and try to modify ourselves from the outside – transhumanism and so on 😉

      Maybe it’s time for a re-read? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🤣🤣🤣 oh, I can’t wait to see what I’m going to think about the next installments… Have you read any Dune books by Brian Herbert?


        1. The 2 additions to this series, what was meant to be 7, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. Hunters was okay-ish, Sandworms was terrible. I’m glad I completed the story though.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ok, thanks for the info. Not sure if I’m going to get this far though – which one did you feel was a point of diminished returns? I remember you were quite disillusioned with The God-Emperor of Dune…


            1. I think Messiah was a dumbed down version and Children is too messy viz. all the magic/precognition, but both had enough emotional return for me, God-Emperor was way too heavy handed, but Leto is such an outrages character that ultimately it was worth it. Heretics has none of these problems, I like it a lot so far (70% in), but it is more regular space opera so to say with a story that is pretty straightforward so far, and I remember liking Chapterhouse the most of all the sequals.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. Fascinating, Ola. This reads like a passionate pet project, and I mean that in all respect (what’s a better term for “pet project?” I need another cup of coffee). As you know, I’m more of a movie nerd than a reader (save the summer time when I try to read as many books as I can before that impending first day of school, ha), and I have only seen Lynch’s (controversial) interpretation of Herbert’s vision. How disappointed were you with this particular film version, and do you trust the eye and homage of Denis Villeneuve?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bernie!
      I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Lynch version in its entirety; something in it just doesn’t jive with me. And McLachlan doesn’t suit me for Paul 😉 But I’m carefully optimistic for Villeneuve’s version, at least it will look good! I was not too fond of his take on Blade Runner, it was impeccably filmed but lacked soul. Yet since Dune generally lacks a bit soul for me, this should not be a problem here! 😉 On the other hand, I loved Arrival, and I like what Villeneuve has to say about his vision of Dune, so I am hopeful 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great observations, Ola! Thinking back on my experiences with Villeneuve, I agree that the “soul” aesthetic isn’t his forte, but the sterility still intrigues me in a sci-fi without the corn syrup kind of way. His dramas are the same. Prisoners, for example, was extremely distant but emotionally heartbreaking at the same time. Yes, he could be the perfect fit for Dune 🙂 Good vibes to New Zealand!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think he really well depicts alienation – Sicario was similar: you intellectually comprehended the problems and emotions of the characters, but never really “felt” for them ;). So, yeah, a great fit for Dune! 😀

          Thanks, and the same to you! Hope the situation in your neck of woods (Denver, was it?) is now good enough that you can safely visit theaters!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. I haven’t read Dune, yet and to be honest I think I will do it but I am not in a hurry at the moment. But reading your review was interesting and captivating. I think that I will come back to read it when my time to read Dune will come!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fascinating to read your take on this. If I were to guess how much you’d have enjoyed this, I would’ve assumed an unequivocal masterpiece, and that is solely because of its historical impact on SFF going forward but it’s nice to see that it has flaws that annoy you more than any other reader. Glad to see that this re-read didn’t make you hate it more or anything though! I imagine the sequels have better odds of succeeding there. This did hype me for the upcoming movie though! Great review, Ola! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lashaan! 😀

      Oh, come on, not “more than any other reader” 😛 There are a few even among our group of bloggers who like me don’t love it without reservations 😉 It is a masterpiece, no doubt about it – but art can be distant and cold and beautiful, or may be less intellectual and less perfect, and yet speak directly to your heart 😉
      As for sequels, I don’t think I’m going to enjoy them all that much. In my opinion, the main story is Dune, period; the rest is just an afterthought (a looooong one, granted :P). I’ll be curious to see how my hunches play out in the sequels, though!

      Yeah, I think Villeneuve is a right director for this movie; and Chalamet should be a really good Paul, I hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I have looked at this book so many times and thought: I really ought to pick it up, but every time I am put off by the length of it. Perhaps your excellent review has brought me one step closer, I kinda agree it’s one of these books you ought to have read (and I think I would enjoy it).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s long, that’s true. But the story is written efficiently, in that largely forgotten skill of writing full stories with as few words as possible ;). Today’s verbosity seems in comparison like an unfortunate branch of evolution to me 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: Ada Hoffmann, The Fallen (2021) – Re-enchantment Of The World

  14. I’m glad you directed me here through another of your posts, or I might have missed this very intriguing, very thought-provoking analysis of one of the “classics” of SF. You’re right, none of the characters elicits great sympathy, they are all flawed in one way or another and Herbert does little (if anything) to bring them closer to the reader’s heart. And yet, indeed, the story is indeed *magnetic* (to borrow your term) and every time we approach it, we feel the same kind of involvement as with our first read – or at least this is my experience. I might not *feel* for Paul, Jessica, and all the other characters of the story, but the story itself – and the world, that amazing, so well-crafted world – is one that I will never tire of revisiting.
    Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Maddalena! 😀
      Yup, Dune is such a peculiar book – not many others even remotely similar out there. I think part of its lasting allure comes from the fact that Herbert was writing it for such a long time – a long gestation period helped him hammer out certain ideas and views, and allowed him to say exactly what and how he wanted to say it.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Re-Enchanted 2021 – Re-enchantment Of The World

  16. Pingback: The Best of 2021 in Books and Comics – Re-enchantment Of The World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s