Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews

Mar 12, 2011

DUNE CONTEST RUNNER-UP #5 (Vincente R.)

All Runner-Ups Are Equal In The Eyes Of The Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviewer.

Wow, as a non-English speaker, it’s been a long time since I last received a writing assignment like this. And even though I knew which things I wanted to say, I found myself stalling at how to start. So… I resorted to one of the old tricks: personal experience. This way, I can extend myself over those fond memories of the first time I read Dune. Of how pages kept turning and turning, and I had to stop reading at night when I simply could not stay awake any longer.

Dune (funnily enough, in my mind it always sounds Doo-neh, as I’d read it in Spanish) is a great book. It has plenty of complex plots, space adventure (albeit on a single planet) and heaps of action. Moreover, it features deep thoughts on religion, philosophy, sociology and ecology, to say the least. And conscience-augmenting drugs. And giant desert sandworms. But for me, where Dune excels is at world-building. Or rather, at universe-building.

In Dune, Frank Herbert creates a wonderfully coherent world, and by extension the galaxy it lies in. All the decisions made, all the actions, revolve around the ever-present spice, the powerful drug that can only be harvested on one planet in the whole galaxy: Arrakis. Or Dune. And so whoever controls Dune can control the spice and dominate the galaxy. Which is of course what finally happens, though the road there is long and convoluted. And along the way, a beautifully woven tapestry of interlacing religious, social, historical and military aspects of life in this future galaxy is displayed before the reader’s eyes. All of them interwoven, time and again, and always distilled through spice-stained glass thanks to Herbert’s mastery.

While reading Dune for the first time I constantly had to refer to the glossary at the end of the book to try and grasp the tiny details of the strange society the characters live in that are spread throughout. And it was simply dumbfounding for the pre-teen I was then. Today the adult who re-reads Dune appreciates the effort, the cleanliness and comprehensiveness of it all. And at the same time, the story is still compelling and powerful, always pushing forward, always giving you more and leaving you thirsting for more.

Two last details: first, I believe Dune belongs to the kind of book that makes you not want to start another book right away after finishing it, for fear of it not being as good as the last one. And second, every year I recommend Dune in my classes. And I teach Operating Systems to future computer technicians!