Book Review: DUNE, by Frank Herbert

I'm on such a fantasy binge right now, but I can't help it--I need evil empires, odd creatures, magical swords, sacred quests and archery (lots and lots of archery) to be a truly happy girl. To keep up my fantastic spirits, I present you with a review of DUNE: another one of those books that compells all manner of people to stop by your table at the Bagelry and point out what a great book it is that you're reading, and proceed from there to list all the fantasy books that you absolutely have to read before you die.

Published in 1965, I think we can probably credit DUNE for the unfailing popularity of the name Jessica, and for all the cool(ish) space movies/books/TV shows to come after, because, even forty years later, the book still smacks of absolute originality. It is to the future what The Lord of the Rings is to the past.

I won't lie, though: DUNE is one of the most un-funny books I've ever read. Looking back, I can't think of a single joke, a single witty exchange between characters, a single moment where a character smiled because, hey! something mildly amusing just happened. Also, it's chock full of politics and scenes of subtle devilry, where various Barons, Counts and Dukes sit around conference tables in suspensor chairs and try to out-betray each other. These scenes are usually paced a bit like this:
Jessica watched the play of emotion on his face. He masks himself well, she thought, but she had him registered now and read that he regretted his words.

"Is there enough water?" the Duke demanded.

"There...may be," Kynes said.

He's faking uncertainty! Jessica thought.

With his deeper truthsense, Paul caught the underlying motive, had to use every ounce of his training to mask his excitement. There is enough water! But Kynes doesn't wish it to be known.
You get the idea. Herbert makes sure we know exactly what each character is thinking: who's faking, and who's not, who's a big fat liar-pants, and so on. Sometimes, in the scenes of devious politics, this can be boring as all get out, but Herbert more than makes up for it when stuff actually starts happening. His planet of Arrakis is a strange, deadly and beautiful place, inhabited by the strange, deadly and beautiful Fremen--who won't be oppressed by any silly Baron--and by the terrifying and mysterious Worms. Paul, our hero, is a complicated young lad with a big time calling that gets simultaneously clearer and darker as the book progresses.

DUNE is a strange and beautiful book (but not so deadly), and I recommend it to people who crave well-thought-out and articulated fantasy lands, who dream of spaceships and futuristic royalty and societies at once brutal and beautifully simple; who think laser-guns overrated and would rather see a good swordfight anytime; who don't feel like laughing for a few weeks, but do feel like getting very, very deep inside the brains of their favorite characters. Or who would like to meet the sort of people who have read, and obsessed over, DUNE. This one's for you.


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