‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

I know everyone raves about this book… but for me, Dune was a mixed bag. On one hand, I enjoyed the desert setting, the fantasy elements, and the entire premise of the thing. On the other hand, I didn’t really relate to any of the characters, and a large portion of the book felt like something of a chore to read… which, let’s face it, is never a good sign.

But first: the positives.

I actually loved the beginning of the book, and quite quickly found myself warming to the main characters Jessica, Paul and Leto. Furthermore, the mythos – the gom jabbar and the Bene Gesserit and the Kwisatz Hadderach – intrigued me. I liked how I was thrown in at the deep end, and that the author was clearly intending to reveal things gradually rather than just explain it all straight away.

Dune by Frank HerbertThen again, I did feel there was too much exposition at this point, and that dialogue was being used a little too much to try and convey some of the background; I felt like the characters were unnecessarily talking about things for the sake of the reader. And the mysterious things that started out so intriguing? They actually got quite annoying the more the book progressed. I got the sense that I was being excluded from something, and while this doesn’t always bother me (it’s pretty much one of the hallmarks of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, aka. my favourite fantasy series of all time) it really started the get on my nerves here, to the point where I’d grind my teeth any time the words ‘Bene Gesserit’ or ‘prescience’ were mentioned. And I no longer give even the smallest of flying fucks about the Kwisatz Hadderach.

Anyway. I enjoyed the beginning of the book for the sense of total upheaval it conveyed; how the protagonists were literally transported from one world to another within a matter of pages, and that this new world was totally alien and hostile. One of my favourite scenes in the whole book happens around this point: Leto, the ‘thopter, the sandworm, the spice factory, the daring rescue . . . I LOVED this epic scene.

But it all went downhill from there – beginning with the main character apparently undergoing some sort of off-page lobotomy. Alright, I (kind of) get why Paul doesn’t have much personality; but it still makes for an incredibly unsympathetic protagonist. And I think in some ways all of the characters suffered from this: I felt like I was watching them do things, but I was ignorant as to why they were doing them. This disconnect made me less invested in the story as a whole.

I was pretty interested in the Harkonnens. However, they could have been fleshed out a LOT more – particularly the Baron, who is a rather disappointing villain: two-dimensional and defined only by his greed and his homosexuality (which is presented very negatively in this instance, and is yet another aspect of the story to dislike with vehemence). I would’ve liked to learn more of the feud between the Atreides and the Harkonnens, and instead felt that the scenes with the Baron ad Feyd-Rautha were a little shallow and irrelevant.

Despite all my gripes, I did enjoy Dune; just not as much as I’d hoped. I kept waiting for it to turn into something spectacular, and for some reason I never felt it really delivered everything it could have done. The only aspect at which it excelled (or so I feel) is the setting. The author paints a very vivid picture of the desert planet (although I did sometimes feel like he didn’t stress enough about how hot and uncomfortable it must be!) and of a population who want to change the ecosystem and create a better world. The concept of having to wear ‘stillsuits’ in the desert also lent an air of realism, being a very practical rather than romantic view of the rebels. And the sandworms are a brilliant invention (although I preferred them at the beginning when they were scary, rather than later when they were just used as glorified donkeys).

To sum up, then: there were plenty of things I liked about Dune, and plenty more that I didn’t. While the characters lacked character and the action lacked action, the fantasy (rather than SF) elements – such as the knife-fights and the sandworms – were excellent. I just wish there had been more of these, and less of the Bene Gesserit bollocks.lauramhughes-sig

Note: the original version of this review was posted on halfstrungharp.com on 5th January 2015.

4 thoughts on “‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

  1. You have to read all the books. Too much backstory to address in the one. And the homo thing is a great addition to the add to the reason to dislike the Baron. Sexual deviancy seems to be a thing for the corrupt and powerful.

    • … which is exactly the problem. I have issues with any book that uses homosexuality as shorthand for corruption. Lazy storytelling aside, it’s a dangerous perpetuation of outdated ideals and social prejudice.

      Probably won’t read the rest of the series. Too many books, so little time! I know lots of people love it, though, which is fair enough.

      • “…defined only by his greed and his homosexuality (which is presented very negatively in this instance, and is yet another aspect of the story to dislike with vehemence).”

        This is ridiculous. He was a homosexual PEDOPHILE who rapes young boys. His character was written this way because Dune was written as an allegory to antiquity and the Islamic Conquests.

        Harkonnen would have been a Byzantine lord. Pederasty was common at that time, and was often practiced by those with power. The practice has survived in certain parts of the world into the present day. In parts of the Muslim world, it’s called bacha bazi and is an accepted practice. They inherited that from the Greeks and Persians.

        I feel like you skimmed the book and didn’t really read it, hence you missing details like the fact that Harkonnen was a pedophile. A lot of things in the book rely on historical references that are fairly common but you don’t know. That’s not your fault – most people don’t have much knowledge of history nowadays.

        • Thank you, DV, for such a thoughtful reply. I appreciate you taking the time to point out the flaws inherent in my opinions. As you say, there are a lot of things I don’t know, and I’m glad you highlighted the existence of certain vile historical practices in your attempt to invalidate any negative feelings I have towards the author’s depiction of sexuality.

          As I’ve said already, I’m well aware that Harkonnen is a paedophile. What I was objecting to in my review is the lack of any other homosexual characters to balance out the tired old ‘gay = deviant = bad’ trope (a sign of the time in which it was published, I don’t doubt).

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