Quantcast
≡ Menu

Book Review: Dune

“Is that the one with the big worms and the fat guy with the floating suspenders?”

I had asked my wife if she had ever read Dune. She would tell you that she is not one of the most adept book reviewers, but I think she’s pretty good.

I wasn’t sure about what she said, but it turned out that she had seen the movie and not the book, so I wasn’t going to get a Dune book review from her.

Apparently she’s right on about the movie and the book, although there’s a bit more to it than that.

I’ve always been one of those people who enjoys reading the books that a bookish person is “supposed” to read. I like to find lists of books and check them off. Dune is almost always on those lists, but for some reason, it’s taken me 32 years to get around to it.

I’m glad I finally read it.

One of the reasons I stayed away from it

I’ve known many, many fans of Dune. They usually take themselves very seriously. I’m happy to be held hostage to a booklist, but once people started telling me I had a moral obligation–that reading this book was my solemn duty–I usually thought, “Nope, I’m out of here.”

The other reason was that I’ve just never read a lot of science fiction. And what I’ve read is almost always because someone I trusted said “I really think you’d like this.”

Sometimes they’re right. Friends led me to Neal Stephenson’s work, which I love almost without exception.

Other friends led me to…well, I won’t go there. (You know who you are, please quit writing)

The story of Dune

Dune is a book that resists summary, but here are the broad strokes of the plot–

  • Young aristocrat boy is wrapped up in web of intergalactic intrigue on desert planet
  • family betrayed!  The boy flees into the desert with mom
  • Boy joins desert tribe
  • The tribesmen are very tough, very tan, they speak almost entirely in philosophical adages, their lives revolve around water, and they are way rougher than the losers from the Mad Max deserts
  • Boy takes over as leader of the tribe after some events that help him see the future and become the centerpiece of a prophesy
  • Yes, there are lots of giant sandworms, and they are awesome

I say that a Dune summary is tricky because, according to its many fans and foes, it is any number of books and few people have the same interpretation.

Here are some I’ve heard. Dune is:

A philosophy book. It is pretentious garbage. It is an adventure story. It is a religious parable. It is a prophesy of where our world is headed. It is the Supreme Masterpiece of Science Fiction.

It is pulp masquerading as intellectualism. It is weird. It is boring. It is a ripoff. It is the first true science fiction book. It is the only true Bible.

And so on.

What do I think?

First and foremost, when I read fiction, I read for story. Dune has a wonderful story. I can’t even guess at the effort and thought Frank Herbert had to go through to create this level of world-building. If ever a world was “fully imagined,” I believe it’s the world of Dune.

And what do I think about its many critics and their criticisms? Short answer: I don’t.

But I will say this: Dune takes itself very, very seriously. Sometimes a paragraph will contain one, three, or maybe six “big gigantic thoughts.” And by BGTs, I mean the kind of thoughts that philosophers write entire books about.

Some complain that Dune is the opposite of true philosophy–philosophy has an ultimate goal of clarity, while Dune is all confusion and pseudo-this-or-that.

What do I think about that? Short answer: I don’t.  I believe that Herbert had convictions that he was willing to stand by, and I believe that Dune is his treatise on how he saw things.

Is this a cop out on my part? Maybe, but I don’t care. I believe it’s a book’s job to engage me, not the other way around. Dune entertained and engaged me and then some.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t/won’t find deeper meaning in it, but that is rarely my goal when I pick up a book that features a fat guy in floating suspenders and a bunch of giant worms.

You could certainly do worse than to live by some of Dune’s maxims:

Fear is the mind-killer

The mystery of life isn’t a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced

A process cannot be understood by stopping it

There is probably no more terrible instance of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is  a man — with human flesh

Who’s read it? Who’s going to? Who has floating suspenders?

Josh

If you liked this post, please Subscribe To The RSS feed.

And if you’re really awesome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeroen April 13, 2010, 2:39 am

    “I believe it’s a book’s job to engage me, not the other way around.”
    I really like this, you worded it perfectly. Not all books should be easy, but they should fascinate. If it does take hard work, they should encourage you to do this and make it worthwhile.
    Love your site. You introduced me to both Biofeedback and Viktor Frankl. Now that’s inspiration.

  • Nicki April 13, 2010, 5:06 am

    I’ve read Dune. It was ages ago when I was first married so let’s say 25 years ago. I hate science fiction but read them so my then-husband and I could discuss. Yes, I said them – Dune, Children of Dune, I can’t even remember all the titles but I believe there are four or five. Not my favorite genre but they did captivate and kept me reading.

  • Boris Bachmann April 13, 2010, 5:35 am

    No spice quotes??? I loved Dune – I need to reread it.

  • Todd April 13, 2010, 6:15 am

    Wow, it’s been a lot of years since I’ve read Dune. I only read the one though. Yes, there was a lot of philosophy mumbo-jumbo throughout. I just flat-out enjoyed the book because of all that was going on. I’m not a huge sciece fiction book fan (LOVE the movies though-go figure), but this one is somewhere in the top five that I’ve read.

  • Andrew Frenette April 13, 2010, 6:26 am

    I read Dune the first time when I was about 12 and hardly understood a damn thing but instinctively knew it was an important book. So, I re-read it when I was 15 and understood it some more, but still not all of it. Another 3 years and another reading – things clicked and I devoured the entire series within weeks. I still don’t pretend to understand all of it but I still know it’s an important book. Your post makes me want to re-read it again now that I’m – ahem – a little older. Thanks, Josh.

  • Jim Lochner April 13, 2010, 6:28 am

    It’s been maybe 20 years since I read DUNE. Wasn’t crazy about it and stopped at that first book. Perhaps one of these days I’ll go back and give it another try.

    “I like to find lists of books and check them off.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The one way I look at lists, whether they’re awards or “top 100” or whatever, is that they introduce me to authors and books that I might never have read. (I do the same with movies, music, etc.) Is it always worth my while? Not necessarily. But they help me keep track of some where I’ve gone and where I’d still like go in terms of reading. I’ll never finish them all in this lifetime. But that’s okay. That leaves some for the next…if there is such a thing. 🙂

  • Daniel O'Connor April 13, 2010, 6:40 am

    Josh,

    WOW! What a great blast from the past. Dune along with Conan (the barbarian not the talk show host) got me hooked on Sci Fi/Fantasy.

    You are right, there is a lot of deep ideas in this book but the sheer imagery and imagination of it is what captivated me. That along with the complexity of the story.

    The Bene Gesserit litany that Paul recites as he flys into a sandstorm was my mantra for years-now I have forgotten it. I will have to revisit it.

    I will say this though. Along about book 4 or 5 I gave up on the series. Too much philosophizing (and I like philosophy) and not enough nuclear explosions.

    Floating suspenders would be awesome.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention again.

  • Valerie M April 13, 2010, 6:48 am

    Okay, so the title of this post caught my attention and scanned this.. but stopped myself from reading too deep because I’m also reading this book and I don’t want anyone to taint my perception of this book. I do think, with what I’ve read so far, that this isn’t going to be a book that I’m going to completely “get” on the first go (or ever). And that every time I read it, I’ll derive something new from it as well. I’m definitely enjoying it so far… it’s a change from some of the mindless, feel-good books out there. Fortunately there’s no English teacher standing over me, forcing me to dissect every aspect of this book, and thus ruining the entire experience for me.

    Not sure that this comment had a point, but I felt compelled to write it anyway. 🙂

  • Laurie April 13, 2010, 6:52 am

    Way to go, Josh!

    Re the series, I’m with Daniel: I ran out of gas after book 4, and can’t bring myself to read book 5, which I did start a few months ago. My brother, who got me to start the series, says that book 1 and book 6 are the best in the series. Trouble is, I don’t want to read book 5 to get there, at least not right now. Books 2 and 3 are pretty good, but book 1 is so fresh and exciting. By the time I got to book 4, it was mostly just a lot of incomprehensible philosophy espoused by “the worm.” If you can get through books 4 and 5, maybe you can explain them to the rest of us.

    Between finishing book 2 and when book 3 of the Stiegg Larsson series comes out, perhaps I’ll restart book 5 of the Dune series and hopefully make my way through to the end.

    Thanks for the book review.

  • Michelle April 13, 2010, 7:17 am

    I love the first 3 books. You said it exactly right, the story and world building is what kept me interested. I just never got around to the 4th book, I’m not sure why.

    When it comes to the movie, SyFy (back when they were SciFi) did a miniseries on Dune and Children of Dune that are excellent. I actually enjoy them more than the book.

  • Sam Spurlin April 13, 2010, 7:24 am

    I loved the first couple books but I gradually started to lose interest. However, I’m wondering if maybe I was too young to have a good grasp of what was going on. I think you might have inspired me to give the whole series another go. Thanks!

  • Heather April 13, 2010, 7:44 am

    Congrats on your reading Dune.

    I’ve tried. I can’t. I’ve done the same with Tolkein’s Silmarillion (which I call The Silly Marillion) and I can’t. The Hobbitt, IMHO, is the only thing he ever wrote worth reading. I’m not real big on sci-fi. But I DO remember this movie, mostly because, much like Beast Master, once HBO got hold of it in the late 80s, they wouldn’t let it go. And they kept f*%$ing playing it. The worms were kinda creepy, but the fat guy with the floating suspenders totally creeped me out. If there is ever a deterrent for doing any kind of drugs, Dune gets my vote, as well as Pink Floyd’s The Wall (movie especially).

    But congrats to you! You made it way further than I ever did! 🙂

  • ami April 13, 2010, 8:28 am

    Ahhh, Dune. One of my guilty pleasures, guilty, I think, because Dune is never on a “classic” good-for-you book list. I think the first book was the most captivating (didnt make it thru all the follow-ups either). But the whole idea of water being so precious stayed with me for years, and I think about it when I read about things like Southern California importing water from other states – or when I linger under the shower.

    I think the book stuck with me because of the way it makes you think and the way it changed my perspective on water, fear, hardship and story. That and the fact it had some deadly women in it. 🙂

    • Ethan April 14, 2010, 9:59 am

      No reason to feel guilty, I think. “Classic-good-for-you” booklists are cooked up by English professors who have never read anything that wasn’t on somebody else’s classic-good-for-you booklist. It’s a vicious cycle.

  • Jenn April 13, 2010, 9:03 am

    My husband loves Dune. Occasionally when I am really mad my husband says something about the “weirding way”. I don’t think it’s a compliment.

  • Casey (North and Clark) April 13, 2010, 10:09 am

    Loved it. I read it when I was pretty young so I am sure some of it missed me, but this is a great story with a lot of cool ideas like stil suits.

    I don’t think it should be a big intimidator. It’s long there is a lot in there. But even if you only get 20% of that you should have a pretty good time reading it. Don’t be afraid, that would be giving in to the mind killer.

  • Picsiechick April 13, 2010, 11:13 am

    Talk about a step into the way-back machine. I read the series in high school (I won’t tell you how many years ago that was!), and devoured it. I felt very grownup and brain-smart reading them, and, yes, I’m sure that I took myself far too seriously then. (and maybe I still do).

    I loved the fear mantra (something like let it pass through you), and learning that many people and many levels can say no, but you have to go high enough to get a yes. (I’ve used that in many life circumstances over the years).

    Clearly my recollections are scattered at best. Perhaps it is time for a re-read?

    Hugs and butterflies,
    ~T~

  • Blaine Moore April 13, 2010, 12:07 pm

    It’s been at least a decade since I’ve read Dune…maybe even 2 decades. I remember it being a great book…and I know I have a copy in my library in the basement so I’ll go find it tonight and start reading it again.

    I do remember not really caring for the movie though.

  • Jennifer le Roux April 13, 2010, 12:13 pm

    “Fear is the Mind Killer” has been something I say to myself often enough, to thank Frank Herbert silently at least annually! My Dad took me to the movie when I was about 11. I read the book shortly after, and at twice more after that. Sometimes it’s an engaging sci-fi tale, sometimes it a philosphy on the way of life. Either way you look at it it’s good.

  • Ben Owens April 13, 2010, 5:24 pm

    I love this book. I’m glad you finally read it. What did you think of Dune Messiah?

    Oh, and if anybody thinks Dune is weird and boring, just wait til you get to God Emperor of Dune.

  • Sean June 12, 2010, 6:33 pm

    I just gave up on this, right at the very end. Awful characters, a slow moving plot, and awkward dialogue. If Herbert had attempted to stylize the dialogue in a tasteful way, I would have been willing to at least pay my respects and finish this piece of garbage, but it was robotic and mind numbing.

    I didn’t find it ‘pretentious’ as many people have opined in the past, but Herbert definitely manages to lose all potential for a human connection with any of the characters right from the get go. I wanted to finish it, but with the last few pages I came to face the fact that I just didn’t care what happened. I closed it for good, and I do not intend on going back.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 13, 2010, 11:11 am

      Sean, I’m surprised you made it as far as you did. Whatever Dune is, I think it’s consistent throughout. That’s some perseverance. I hit a wall in part 3 and probably won’t ever finish it.

      • Chris M October 2, 2012, 8:42 pm

        Don’t care Josh!

  • Paula October 2, 2010, 9:33 pm

    Dune is definitely well-written, and it’s the first sci-fi book i’ve actually finished and i’m glad i read it! If comes down to the best maker of worlds though, it’d still be Tolkien, hands down. JRR had it to the smallest details, what with languages, history, culture and intricacies. Nevertheless Dune is now in my list of favorite books.

    “What do I think about that? Short answer: I don’t. I believe that Herbert had convictions that he was willing to stand by, and I believe that Dune is his treatise on how he saw things.” I could also really identify with how you thought of it. 🙂

  • Pim October 3, 2010, 6:53 am

    Josh,

    I only just discovered your work. I found it through a link on Dan John’s page I think. So the initial connection was strength training and kettlebells. However, it seems we have more things in common. I read Dune and I absolutely loved it. First in my native language ( Dutch ) and later in English. I saw the movie first but I didn’t really like it that much. The book though blew me away. I liked the bodyguard who had a quote for every occasion. Gurney Halleck I think his name was. It’s about 18 years since I read it. And I was thinking of reading it again only this week. Thanks for rekindling those memories and keep up the good work.

    Pim

    • Josh Hanagarne October 3, 2010, 9:51 am

      Good old Dan! Thanks Pim. Glad you’re here. Please let me know if I can ever do anything for you.

      • Josh Arnold May 27, 2011, 1:11 am

        Hey, Josh. I was just looking for pics of Dune bc I just about finished the first book. I read your review and it was very funny to see that we shared the same last name! Thanks for your review it was very reasonable!

  • imagol4 February 12, 2011, 10:54 pm

    I’m a HUGE Science-fiction fan. Read a lot of it in my time. And yes, I’ve read all of the Dune series, many years ago when it was first in print. In short, it sucks. Big time. True, Frank Herbert had to do an awful lot of ‘world-building’ to write this series. But to me, a book should entertain. Dune does not entertain. It goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, dragging each and every little detail out to the farthest it can go before moving on to the next. It is a story written for the book critic, not the reader. The ONLY redeeming thing I can say about the book; It is considerably better than the movie.

    • zaro February 27, 2011, 6:52 pm

      @imagol4

      can you please tell me in more details, also did you DISAGREE WITH THE AUTHORS PERCEPTION OF REALTHY? IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU DISAGREE WITH THE REALLYT FRANK HERBRET EXPLAINS IN THE BOOK

      PLEASE TELL ME
      I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT EACH PEROSN PERPECTIVE POINT

      -THANK YOU 🙂

    • Chris M October 2, 2012, 8:49 pm

      And yes, I’ve read all of the Dune series, many years ago when it was first in print. In short, it sucks. Big time

      Not to me. Maybe to you. Why would you read a series of book you don’t like?

      “Frank Herbert had to do an awful lot of ‘world-building’ to write this series. But to me, a book should entertain”

      Entertained me.

  • Ponaru September 12, 2011, 12:26 am

    Who the hell reviews a book without actually finishing it? I think that makes your opinion rubbish. Why would anyone take this review seriously? For anyone who lets this taint their perception of the book I feel sorry for you. Also if this review influences your decision to actually read Dune or not, you have done a great disservice to yourself.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 12, 2011, 6:38 am

      What in the world are you talking about? Who didn’t finish the book?

      • Ponaru September 12, 2011, 10:12 am

        “Sean, I’m surprised you made it as far as you did. Whatever Dune is, I think it’s consistent throughout. That’s some perseverance. I hit a wall in part 3 and probably won’t ever finish it.

        • Josh Hanagarne September 12, 2011, 10:16 am

          Oh! There’s the problem. I meant part 3 of the series, Children of Dune. I have since gone back and read that as well. Sorry that wasn’t clear. I still don’t love that one, but the original Dune is always going to be one of my favorite books.

          • Ponaru September 12, 2011, 10:21 am

            Ah I see. Well that makes me feel better. Please disregard my previous comment everyone. I was mistaken

            Now I’m kind of curious what you think of the series as a whole now that you have read further into it.

          • Josh Hanagarne September 12, 2011, 10:53 am

            I’ve read up through God Emperor. I absolutely love the series, although I think Children is still my least favorite.

            My favorite thing about it, for better or worse, is that Herbert really does his own thing. In some ways he reminds me of an author like Cordwainer Smith, who was simply so unusual that it was really hard to compare him to anyone else.

            For me, Herbert’s commitment to world-building puts him in that Other category. The Dune books have characteristics of what we can call both hard and soft science fiction, but I think they also stand apart as completely original.

            Many readers I’ve spoken with have said they find the sheer breadth of topics he covers–ecology, religion, politics, and on and on and on–alienating, but those are the very things that impress me so much about the books and the author. It has the opposite effect on me! It’s not until I finish Dune that I think “How in the world did he hold all that together!”

            I haven’t read further than God Emperor, however. Do you recommend going on?