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?
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