Saturday, December 03, 2011

Desert Planet

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)

Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never persistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man. (from "Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib" by the Princess Irulan) - Frank Herbert, Dune

I did not read this book when it first appeared in the 1960s even though I was a voracious reader of science fiction at that time. Fortunately it was more than a decade later that I picked up the novel, for I was better able to comprehend the enormous and wide-ranging themes of this work -- from Machiavellian politics to ecological change and its consequence, to mystical religious transformation. A teenager is seldom capable of understanding some of the ramifications of these ideas; however he could revel in the exciting story and wide-ranging nature of the action of this great novel. I have recently reread the book as part of a class at the University of Chicago Basic Program of Liberal Education and find that like all classics it improves with age. The subtleties of the different forces within the story (eg. Bene Gesserit mind control, Feudal-style politics bordering on the Machiavellian, and the "native" Fremen society on Arrakis).  Among the forces, The Guild that controls space travel is a fascinating example of both the importance of the planet Arrakis which controls the "spice" that the Guild needs, and a sort of stagnation stemming from the total control the Guild maintains over interstellar space flight.  Without describing more details suffice it to say that the imaginative use of details, particularly on the planet Arrakis that is the setting for most of the novel, is what sets Dune apart from the average Science Fiction novel.  
The bildungsroman qualities of the protagonist, Paul, also appealed to me as I find that type of novel (eg. David Copperfield or The Magic Mountain) among my favorites. I enjoyed all of the above as an adult and was glad to add this award-winning book to the surprisingly large number of classic science fiction novels that I have read over the years.

Dune by Frank Herbert.  Ace Books, 2005 (1965)

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