This book just has everything for me to like: a great story, a new world to explore, complex characters, funky science and technology, intrigue in a medieval-like environment. Oh, and it comes in a series so I can enjoy much of this world.
The family of Duke Leto Atreides moves from their home world of Caladan to a desert planet called Arrakis to take up power and govern this world on request of the Emperor. They have a long standing feud with the Baron Harkonnen who has commercial and strategic interests related to Arrakis. The Baron contrives to kill the Duke shortly after his arrival on Arrakis. While he thinks the his wife and child have disappeared, they have survived and are being sheltered by Arrakis locals, the Fremen, who have developed forms of technology and social organization that enables their survival in the planet’s harsh environment.
The peculiarity of Arrakis is to be the sole source of a precious commodity, “the spice” or “melange”, a mineral that is harvested from the sand of its deserts, and possesses many interesting characteristics in addition to its cinnamon-like flavor. Intrigue around control of this commodity drives the trouble relations between the Emperor and other nobles in his realm, as well as traders and smugglers.
While control on the trade of the spice is important, there is another key source of power in this story and it is knowledge. Over centuries, a complex program of breeding has tried to create powerful human beings with a great deal of self-control, the ability to control others through tone of voice as well as to develop a very strong sense of intuition that enables them to sense thoughts and feelings of others, and in extreme cases, to see into possible futures. That is the case of Paul, son of Duke Leto, who rises to power amongst the Fremen and ultimately defeats Baron Harkonnen and marries the Emperor’s daughter.
Everything I have said above is a gross oversimplification of the story… it is extremely complex and offers many interesting parallels to our political and economic systems, and religious organizations and conflicts.
As I commented when I reviewed Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, we are introduced to the world of Arrakis through the arrival of strangers on its surface who must then understand its peculiarities in order to survive. Of course, they have some help in this thanks to their association with the imperial planetologist, the local social and natural science expert who documents this world for the empire.
If you like science-fiction and fantasy and you have not yet read this book, I strongly recommend it.
Herbert, Frank. Dune, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York: 1965.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ace Books, New York, NY: 2010 .