Book Review: Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune by Frank Herbert

This is one of the most widely acclaimed books in science fiction. And I can see why. A sprawling mythology, an excellent fleshing out of the technology necessary to survive on a desert planet so scarce of water that people literally have to recycle their wastes and water is the ultimate wealth. But these are all side shows to the main theme – which is a political reflection on society.

The plot is gripping enough – mostly. Paul, the young heir of the Atreides, is clearly destined for greatness. Trained by his Bene Gesserit mother, he has all the right instincts as well as prescient dreams. While many people want to control him, he strikes out a path for himself as he sees his destiny – to become the figurehead of a cosmos spanning religion centered around the desert planet Dune.

The parallels to Islam are obvious and a little to blatant. Right from the “desert” theme, to the holy¬†jihad war, Herbert builds up Paul just as the Muslims have built up Mohammed. Paul is trapped because he sees a devastating fate for the universe with his prescience caused due to the fanatic hordes of his religion but is powerless to stop it. He’s as much a pawn as anyone else.

As the book progresses however, the plot starts taking a backseat to philosophy and musings on society. And that is where I began to get irritated. I’m pretty much a philistine and I read books for the plot and characters. When I find that the author is using a book as a sounding board for his own ideas instead of letting the implied lessons play out through the story, I feel cheated and used. “Show don’t tell” is a phrase many authors should keep in mind. Move the story along!

But when the action sequences come to the fore, Frank Herbert does an awesome job. The scenes are gripping and you can’t look away. More of this awesome writing is what Dune needs in my opinion, and less philosophizing. Book two and three are particularly difficult to slog through.

My verdict is that though the books have tremendous potential and are backed by a deep sense of history and world building, Herbert uses them as a launch pad to preach. And that kills it for me.

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