Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dune Series (1965-1985) Review

I've already written two reviews of Dune novels, but I feel the best way to talk about this universe is tackle it all at once.
To those of you unaware, the Dune franchise is a sci-fi space opera peppered with religion, politics, ecology, sociology, psychology and takes place over the course of some 7500 years. If that isn't big, I don't know what is.

The setting is in the year 10191 AG(After Guild, meaning a few more thousand years if calculated from our time) where the universe is ruled by House Corrino. In order to prevent tyranny, his powerful forces are matched by the Landsraad, a parliament of other houses from other planets and the Spacing Guild, without whom space travel is impossible.

All three rely on the drug spice, which is found only on the planet Arrakis.

The first two novels follow Paul Atreides, whose House is sent on Arrakis to mine the spice as part of a plot by the Emperor to assassinate them as possible competitors to the throne. They are ambushed on Arrakis by House Harkonnen, their mortal enemies and Paul is forced to go into hiding. He makes contact with the native Fremen people of the planet and rises to become their leader of legend. With the Fremen on his side, he manipulates the Emperor into showing up and blackmails him for the throne.
Due to his future vision, Paul foresees that humanity can only survive an undefined threat if they become more individual so he creates a dictatorial regime to teach them never to trust heroes. However, his conscience and love for his wife ultimately lets him down and he scampers off into the desert in exile.

The next two books focus on Paul's son Leto, whose future vision is even stronger and who dares to go much further than his father. After removing his own insane aunt from the throne, he takes complete control over the universe and maintains that for 4000 years(having also achieved immortality). In this Golden Age, people learn to hate the all-seeing God-Emperor in their very bones and when he's finally murdered, the Golden Path is almost complete.

In Books 5 and 6, we see that the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood(whose genetic breeding caused Paul to develop superpowers in the first place) have taken Leto's example into heart and are now also entirely composed of talented Atreides descendants. Humanity has scattered away from the old empire, in search of freedom after 4000 years of claustrophobia, but some have returned... changed. The biggest enigma of all is Duncan Idaho, a servant of Paul's who for no good reason has been cloned over and over for thousands of years for a purpose of some sort... but one we never found out.

The last book, Dune 7 would've seen humanity finally using their new skills against the Enemy, but that never came to pass. The series ended on a cliffhanger.

Now, I'm far too unsophisticated to understand even half of the themes present in these novels, but I do see that Frank Herbert literally created a universe of his own and that's not something many writers can claim. Indeed, the scope alone is staggering. Civilisations rise and fall here, people.

Speaking of people, the characters are all extremely fascinating. There's something off-putting about them, as they think very differently like you or I would. There's a cold calculation about them, even the most emotional and simplistic ones. There's a genuine sense of humanity's IQ having risen noticeably since our time.

The main theme present is that heroes are worser than villains. When a hero saves people from a villain, the people invariably start looking towards him for guidance and if a hero assumes leadership, power invariably starts slipping into his mind. Paul and Leto both try to whip humanity out of following charismatic leaders and ultimately, this works and in the last books, we see humanity in the aftermath of this master plan i.e. the Golden Path.

Despite Book 4 still being about Leto, he is no longer the readers' identification figure due to just how great he is(the guy sees the past, present and future and holds memories of all his ancestors) and that role goes to Duncan Idaho, a likable recurring character from the previous novels who is primarily characterised by extreme loyalty to the Atreides. Like the universe, he learns to let go of this and become a different sort of person.

He serves as anchor throughout the six books, making sure that the readers wouldn't lose interest due to all the new characters showing up.

The Dune novels are one of the greatest accomplishments of literature and world-building. The study that went into making the first book alone is staggering. As I said before, this is a universe we're dealing with here. And a great universe it is too.

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