Author: Frank Herbert
Days to read it: Less than five!
Genre: Science-fiction (but I would say sci-fi/fantasy, because, though Mr. Herbert uses scientific concepts to explain phenomena happening on the planet, there is enough of an air of mythology and mysticism to make this fantasy-reader friendly)
Synopsis: Water. Every droplet of moisture condensed from a living breath, collected from the morning dew, reabsorbed from the skin and distilled from the blood of the dead, every bit of it is precious on the planet Arrakis, a planet of rock, sand and melange. When Paul and his family were relocated to this world, they were fat with water and unused to the ways of the desert people, the Fremens. Paul’s father, the Duke Leto, had a plan to use the wealth of the planet, the greatly coveted spice “melange”, to secure power for the House Atreides. When things end up turning for the worst, however, Paul and his mother must flee into the hot desert dunes, where monstrous worms respond to every unnatural footfall on the sand, where desert storms grind victims down to their polished bones, where not a living growing thing can be found for miles, and not a pitying shadow to take shelter under. And yet, there are the Fremens. They have the secret of survival. A harsh, brutal people, whose customs are so alien to Paul and his mother that a mis-step could mean their deaths. But with these people, Paul and his mother find a strange sort of protection, tenuously held by a mysterious prophecy which seems to come into being when the two otherworlders join the Fremen tribes. Could Paul be part of the first steps towards fresh life on the dune planet of Arrakis, or could he only bring violence and death to its people? A monumental first book filled with suspenseful and action-riddled plots, deeply sympathetic characters, and a vivid landscape and world that promises to, at the very least, make you very thirsty and glad to live in a waterlogged city.
Impressions: I’m so glad I finally got to read this book. It’s one of those classics that, in the back of your mind, you intend to read one day but never get around to reading it. I don’t read that much science-fiction, so my enthusiasm for this book is from the point of view of one who predominantly reads fantasy. Because even though this story takes place on a different planet, even though they have these strange gizmos and even though there is much scientific reasoning behind the whys of the story – I still get a fantasy vibe from it, too.
The first chapter was very “??” for me. I felt like I was dropped into a strange place without having read any guidelines on how to behave (not that I would necessarily follow such guidelines anyway). But, how am I supposed to know if someone’s insulting my character or threatening his life?? Should I be worried that this strange old lady is making Paul stick his hand into this strange box of pain to prove he might be the blah-blah-Haderach something? (Stupid me, there is a glossary at the back of the book, but anyway, everything gets explained if you read closely). It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the author chose to do that on the very first chapter instead of gradually leaking information to the reader. But, undaunted, I read on and found, to my relief, that I was already feeling at ease by the second and third chapters.
Have you ever had this really big secret or not so secret wish to live in the worlds of one of your favourite books even though you know you’d probably die right away? For example, throw me into the world of the Old Kingdom and I would willingly walk down to the depths of the Clayr Library, I’ll likely will get eaten or possessed after two minutes of walking – but at least I got to go!! Well, this is the case with Dune. Though I love long hot baths, the sound of rain on the roof, running under a sprinkler across an overwatered suburban lawn, washing my hands with the water running at full throttle right down the drain – though I love all such things to do with the unconscious wastage of water – I think living on Arrakis would be pretty cool, too. I mean, sure, I guess these “stillsuits” get quite smelly after a while, and it would take a lot of unconditioning to get me to drink re-cycled water – but to ride a worm!! Now, that is cool. I think just to ride a worm, I would go. And the spice and the strange things the spice can do to you – turn your eyes blue (who doesn’t like blue eyes? Though, blue even in the whites is a little crazy), give you a strange sense of connectivity with other spice-eaters around you, let you live longer, maybe?
There are many characters in this first book: Paul is the main character – a boy who is more like a man, trained by his mother in the Bene Gesserit ways, the ways of reading body language and unspoken truths, the ways of implanting thoughts and desires in others, a strict training regimen both physically and mentally to gain a greater level of awareness. Think Jedi training but minus the force? Paul’s mother, Jessica, has great hopes for him, but little does she know the secrets that Paul keeps from her. The Lady Jessica, called the Bene Gesserit Witch by ignorants, is quite a complex character herself, both sure and unsure of her place in the world, able to manipulate situations at her will, yet unsure if what she is doing serves any greater purpose. Is she following some strange genetic and cultural plan the Bene Gesserits had established on the planets centuries ago? Or is she the one in charge of shaping her and her son’s destiny? There are the sly manipulators of the House Harkonnen, all trained in the legacy of the Baron who rules the house – a grossly obese man, supported by what I imagine to be these floating, portable suspensors that hold up his fat and make him feel light as a feather. (Which leads me to think that perhaps the way to be rid of that man lies in unleashing his own fat on himself?) I both admire and hate that character. How greasy smart he is – he’s got everyone else under his control and is very hard to trick. And there is his dashing, lady’s man of a nephew, whose destiny is linked to Paul’s somehow. There are a whole plethora of minor characters, but all described in the first book with such sympathetic details that make them more than side characters of less-importance.
I think the book paces very well. Aside from the big surprise beginning chapter, I very quickly got absorbed into the world of Arrakis and Paul’s problems. There is a lot of action and political intrigue and betrayal and reunion and big epic decisions that have to be made. I do feel bad for Paul, but he handles himself very well. The ending was quite satisfying yet also has me ordering the next book: The Dune Messiah from Amazon.
One cool thing that makes me love Mr. Herbert is the Appendixes Section at the back of the book. If, in your impatience, you read too hastily and missed too many important details about the planet of Arrakis and the cultures and religions and politics going on, you can read a few short “Essays” on certain aspects of the planet. One of the characters, Dr. Kynes, is a planetologist, and there is an essay written about his life, his first experiences landing on the planet and his great hopes of turning the desert planet into a flourishing one. There is also an essay about the religion of Arrakis, as well as further information about the Bene Gesserit Witches. At the back of the very end of the book, there is a glossary of terms that you can refer to, along with a map of the North Pole of Arrakis, I think. This along with other details like the little excerpts from works written by the fictional character Princess Irulan, add to the whole story, making it seem really real and detailed.
Wow, it seems as if the la nina of winter reading is coming for me! After such a dry spell of reading books that I didn’t really enjoy, it seems I am back on track in time for holiday season.
Jessica moved in a void of concentration, aware that the pressure of her will alone kept her walking. Dryness ached in her mouth, but the sounds behind drove away all hope of stopping for a sip from her stillsuit’s catchpockets.
Renewed frenzy erupted from the distant cliff, drowning out the thumper.
“Faster,” Paul whispered.
She nodded, knowing he did not see the gesture, but needing the action to tell herself that it was necessary to demand even more from muscles that already were being taxed to their limits – the unnatural movement…
The rock face of safety ahead of them climbed into the stars, and Paul saw a plane of flat sand stretching out at the base. He stepped onto it, stumbled in his fatigue, righted himself with an involuntary out-thrusting of a foot.
Resonant booming shook the sand around them.
Paul lurched sideways two steps.
“Drum sand!” Jessica hissed.
Paul recovered his balance. A sweeping glance took in the sand around them, the rock escarpment perhaps two hundred metres away.
Behind them, he heard a hissing – like the wind, like a riptide where there was no water.
“Run!” Jessica screamed. “Paul, run!”
Drum sound boomed beneath their feet. Then they were out of it and into pea gravel. For a time, the running was a relief to muscles that ached from unfamiliar, rhythmless use. Here was action that could be understood. Here was rhythm. But sand and gravel dragged at their feet. And the hissing approach of the worm was storm sound that grew around them.
Jessica stumbled to her knees. All she could think of was the fatigue and the sound and the terror.
Paul dragged her up.
They ran on, hand in hand.
A thin pole jutted from the sand ahead of them. They passed it, saw another.
Jessica’s mind failed to register on the poles until they were past.
There was another – wind-etched surface thrust up from a crack in rock.
She felt it through her feet, the shock of unresisting surface, gained new strength from the firmer footing.
A deep crack stretched its vertical shadow upward into the cliff ahead of them. They sprinted for it, crowded into the narrow hole.
Behind them, the sound of the worm’s passage stopped.
Jessica and Paul turned, peered out onto the desert.
Where the dunes began, perhaps fifty meters away at the foot of a rock beach, a silver-gray curve broached from the desert, sending rivers of sand and dust cascading all around. It lifted higher, resolving into a giant, questing mouth. It was a round, black hole with edges glistening in the moonlight.
The mouth snaked toward the narrow crack where Paul and Jessica huddled. Cinnamon yelled in their nostrils. Moonlight flashed from crystal teeth.
Back and forth the great mouth wove.
Paul stilled his breathing.
Jessica crouched staring.
It took intense concentration of her Bene Gesserit training to put down the primal terrors, subduing a race-memory fear that threatened to fill her mind.
Paul felt a kind of elation. […] Instead of frightening him, the sensation of time-darkness forced a hyper-acceleration of his other senses. He found himself registering every available aspect of the thing that lifted from the sand there seeking him. Its mouth was some eighty meters in diameter…crystal teeth with the curved shape of crysknives glinting around the rim… the bellows of breath of cinnamon, subtle aldehydes… acids…
The worm blotted out the moonlight as it brushed the rocks above them. A shower of small stones and sand cascaded into the narrow hiding place.
Paul crowded his mother farther back.
The smell of it flooded across him.
What has the worm to do with the spice, melange? He asked himself. And he remembered Liet-Kynes betraying a veiled reference to some association between worm and spice.
It was like a peal of dry thunder from far off to their right.
The worm drew back onto the sand, lay there momentarily, its crystal teeth weaving moonflashes.
“Lump! Lump! Lump! Lump!”
Another thumper! Paul thought.
Again it sounded off to their right.
A shudder passed through the worm. It drew father away into the sand. Only a mounded upper curve remained like half a bell mouth, the curve of a tunnel rearing above the dunes.
The creature sank farther, retreating, turning. It became a mound of cresting sand that curved away through a saddle in the dunes.
Paul stepped out of the crack, watched the sand wave recede across the waste toward the new thumper summons.
Jessica followed, listening: “Lump…lump…lump…lump…lump…”
Presently the sound stopped.
Paul found the tube into his stillsuit, sipped at the reclaimed water.
Jessica focused on his action, but her mind felt blank with fatigue and the aftermath of terror. “Has it gone for sure?” she whispered.
“Somebody called it,” Paul said. “Fremen.”
Random fact that I learned: Never use a shield field on Arrakis lest you want to attrack some friendly worms.
Rating: 5 gom-jabbar needles
Others: Did you know that there is a tv mini-series based on this book? A looooong time ago, I watched it, but, being very young at that time and impatient of nature, I never understood it much, though I was intrigued at the blue-eyed people and the worms. Yes, even then, I was into the worms. I have to say, back then, I was so immature. I remember hearing the word, “Butlerian Jihad” and getting mind-explosions of laughter at the idea of someone trying to be epic with the word “Butt”. Ahh, those youthful days.
Wow, it really is a trip down memory lane seeing that little trailer. I now feel even more like I should finish reading this series, if only so that I can re-watch the miniseries again.
Eh hem. Okay, I found this trailer of another Dune tv miniseries which I have never seen before – and I find it’s epic scope to be quite epic. Can you feel the epic EPIC-ness of the story, now? 😛