Dune

Metadata

  • Media: #Books #Books 2021
    • Author: Frank Herbert
    • Date: 2021-03-11
    • Tags: #read #fiction #epic #classic #scifi #spaceopera
    • Rating: ★★★☆☆
    • Idea richness: ★★★★☆
    • Links: Highlights, Goodreads

Summary

Diplomacy! Space desert! Space oil spice! Sand worms! Confusing magic-not-magic powers! Bland characters! Saviour complex! Dune is a mixed bag of captivating ideas, terrible themes, and strange writing choices. What else do you expect from the granddaddy of sci-fi?

HERE BE SPOILERS: Dune follows Paul, son of a Duke, who has been forced into taking over a desert planet in some kind of trap/political manoeuvring that could have been epic but instead I didn't understand the stakes and we get a cutaway chapter where the villain explains exactly how the double cross will work because sapping any surprise and mystery is fun, I guess?

Villain wins, Duke dies, Paul and mom/mind-control-space-witch Jessica escape to hide with the Fremen, a warrior people living in the desert. Oh and Paul is also superhumanly intelligent (don't worry, the book will remind you about this. A lot.) and is this prophesied male space-witch that all the female space-witches have been waiting for who can see the future. So naturally the 15 year old takes over the Fremen and is the only one who can lead them to success. We get some politicking then around spice/oil stand-in as Paul and his Fremen take over Dune, effectively becomes the next Emperor, and maybe kinda starts a jihad? Oh and he has a 4 year old super human little sister now and his super mom kinda just sits back and does nothing after that. It's all a little sexist, colonial, and over-explained while being under-demonstrated. But hey, the sandworms are freaking cool and there's a space desert with hallucinogenic spice that turns your eyes blue.

Themes

  • The cost of survival
  • The evolution and repetition of human mistakes
  • Intersection of politics and religion
  • Ecology

Review

Things I loved...

  • A fun, pulp sci-fi romp across a weird magic desert world… if only it didn’t take itself so darn seriously which makes the numerous issues all the more glaring.
  • The sandworms are indeed very cool and fully deserved to become a trope.
  • Some truly juicy and over-the-top sci-fi ideas that can't help but captivate the imagination.
  • The setting was overall great and the worldbuilding details we got (the whole human computer thing and tidbits that show this is our universe far, far in the future) served to engage rather than over-explain. For the most part, anyway.
  • The focus on more of the political side of a space opera was a nice idea. Just wish the execution was different.

Things I didn't...

  • All the good stuff happens off-screen. Paul igniting guerrilla warfare and slowly gaining leadership of the Fremen... okay, we gonna show much of that? Nope. 4 year old leading a charge against super soldiers? Nope. Actual climatic battle? Nope. It's not just the action, the politics we get are snapshot conversations rather than the big picture or how they manoeuvred themselves there which means most of the intelligence is repeatedly hammered into us through the narration rather than shown in the story. See [[!Show dont tell]]
  • The writing. Everything is so serious and we get weird decisions like hearing the villain's plan (which didn't add tension but did sap mystery). Juicy ridiculousness like this 4 year old with a thousand lives memory smack talking an emperor is great but then someone has to go on and on about Paul’s genius and ‘terrible purpose’ again and how this diplomacy move was the most amazing thing ever that no one else could ever have dreamt up annnnnnnd the joy is gone. This makes all the more ‘questionable’ elements harder to overlook.
  • The hundredth quote about Paul like this: "Hearing her son, Jessica marveled at the awareness in him, the penetrating insight of his intelligence"
  • So you’re telling me this warrior society has women, children, and elderly so tough they can beat the empire’s best but the society still hides them away and has seemingly no women fighters? Okay... And after year's of being oppressed they never tried to stage any kind of uprising or fight back until foreigners taught them how? Righhhhhht...
  • Probably the worst saviour complex I can remember. I don’t mind the whole prophecy schtick (there was even a cool explanation for it with the idea of a secret society spreading superstitions to protect their own kind) but there is a limit. That limit? A 15 year old wunderkind who must this supposedly ridiculously powerful desert people all fear and accept as leader (and were apparently useless until he came along, I guess? The only leaders who weren’t also happened to be half-‘offworlder’ too… ummmmmmm…)

Quotes

  • “Knowing where the trap is—that’s the first step in evading it."
  • “Keep your knife arm free, heh? And your shield at full charge.”
  • "the Law of the Minimum.” She heard the testing quality in his voice, said, “Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount. And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate.”
  • "Is it defeatist or treacherous for a doctor to diagnose a disease correctly? My only intention is to cure the disease."
  • “The absence of a thing,” the Baron said, “this can be as deadly as the presence."
  • Rabban’s smile was gloating. “I understand perfectly, m’Lord.” “You understand nothing perfectly,” the Baron growled. “Let us have that clear at the outset. What you do understand is how to carry out my orders."
  • “The highest function of ecology is understanding consequences.”
  • "A leader, you see, is one of the things that distinguishes a mob from a people. He maintains the level of individuals. Too few individuals, and a people reverts to a mob."
  • "They’re in league with the future"
  • “It’s easier to be terrified by an enemy you admire.”
  • "Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."
  • “The people who can destroy a thing, they control it,”
  • =="But the test of a man isn’t what you think he’ll do. It’s what he actually does."==
  • "They’d never known anything but victory which, Paul realized, could be a weakness in itself."

Scrapbook Concepts

  • a witch shadow #creatures #undead
  • will-o’-the-sand #creatures
  • A drug that lets you look down many places in memory. Many avenues of the past.
  • stillsuits that recycle the body's waste water
  • The funeral plains #locations
  • Mining hallucinogenic spice
  • Monopoly shipping guild whose members you never see --> "Not even their agents ever see a Guildsman. The Guild’s as jealous of its privacy as it is of its monopoly. Don’t do anything to endanger our shipping privileges, Paul.” #creatures #factions
  • the Broken Land #locations
  • The Missionaria Protectiva / Manipulator of Religions - Faction which scouts ahead to sow prophecies/legends before they take over the place or to ensure the survival of any of their kind #factions
  • a blade ground from a sandworm’s tooth #items
  • a Judge of the Change #creatures #characters
  • Dropping mining station down to harvest as much as possible until ships sweep into rescue it before it is swallowed by a sand worm.
  • a water-shipper whose summer mansion was near his polar-cap factory #locations
  • "The subject had been espionage and counter-espionage. A plump, happy-faced Reverend Mother had been the lecturer, her jolly voice contrasting weirdly with the subject matter." #characters
  • drug-music combination that plays itself in the deepest consciousness
  • Spice which turns eyes totally blue
  • Can see the future but it becomes a memory and so is a thing of the past
  • The wild maker, the old man of the desert #characters
  • "His messengers have been returned without their water." --> desert society that drains the dead of their water to recycle
  • Space navigators who use drug which lets them see a short way into the future to navigate #fragments
  • Infectious superstitions