Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is a very big, deep book. I mean deep the way that Lord of the Rings is deep: it’s a fully imagined world with lots of details, the kind so rich that it that feels more discovered than invented. It even has an appendix and glossary in the back to help readers understand the book’s strange new world. It’s set on Arrakis, a desert planet far in the future, where valuable spice is mined. The protagonist Paul Muad’Dib Atreides is the son of the duke who has come to rule Arrakis, whose family falls victim to treachery from the Harkonnens, another powerful family that has a fued with his. Paul and his mother hide out with the Fremen, the free people who inhabit the deserts of Arrakis, and he becomes their religious leader. Eventually he leads them in a revolt to take back the planet from the Baron who killed his father, and he even makes himself emperor.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me was the importance of water on this desert world. People spend most of their time in “still suits” that preserve all their body moisture. When someone dies, the body is liquidated so that the family is able to use the water that made up that person’s body. Crying is seen as a waste of water, “giving water to the dead.” It’s totally logical that the scarcity of water would give it outsize importance in this world, and it was interesting to see that play out in details like this.
My biggest problem with the book was the main character’s messianic nature. He’s a perfect hero with superhuman abilities who always does the right thing based on instinct, because he was born and bred to be the Kwisatz Haderach or whatever. Once he kind of came into his powers, he never really had any moments of self-doubt. There was a moment when he was fighting a climactic duel and he got nicked by a poisoned knife. Not only was he able to detect the tiny amount of poison, but he consciously slowed down his metabolism so that he wouldn’t feel its effects before dispatching his opponent. I mean, come on. When the deck is stacked that high in the hero’s favor, the drama of the fight disappears.
Dune felt to me like a very masculine book. It’s about fueds and war and mining and there are few female characters. The philosophical moments didn’t present a philosophy that was very appealing to me. I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series because of this issue and the perfect hero problem. But I’m glad to have had a taste of the world of Dune.