September 09, 2011
A week or so ago, I finished reading Dune by Frank Herbert. It tells the story of a revolution within a Galactic Empire that takes place on a harsh and unforgiving desert planet called Arrakis. The central themes are how destinies can be shaped despite being intertwined around many axes, and also the importance of adaptation in the fight for survival.
I came to Dune via the David Lynch film and then the Sci-Fi Channel’s mini-series, which I was able to stream through LoveFilm. Of the two filmed versions, I found the latter to be more enjoyable and this is almost certainly because it runs to nearly six hours. The 1984 film runs to over 3 hours and yet still feels rather rushed. The Lynch version is to be praised though as in my opinion it develops a unique aesthetic for the Dune universe that I did not detect so much in the book.
Perhaps because of the first film, I was expecting to find the novel to be rather ornate and long-winded but it turned out to be a thumping good read that really kept me engrossed. The plot clips along briskly, aided by both the complexity of the plot and also the sense of pre-destination. By this I mean the feeling that you get that every happening is inevitable, something that is aided by the structural device of including excerpts from texts that are written after the events that you read about.
This device of quoting supposed later authoritative sources was also used in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation sequence. It’s probably why I loved them so much. At twelve years old I used to love reading encyclopaedias (there was no internet after all) and I longed for a copy of the Encyclopaedia Galactica, snippets of which were inserted at the start of each chapter. The Foundation sequence definitely deserves a post of its own.
I was surprised at how little description there was of the worms, especially given that in popular culture they are pretty much the element that defines Dune. Perhaps it emerges from the films where they are very much a set-piece and more has to go into making them awe-inspiring and terrifying. It may also be because of the computer game Dune 2000, a Command & Conquer style affair that introduced a generation of gamers not only to sandworms but also to resource harvesting.
I am not sure whether I will throw myself into the remainder of the Dune novels, there are certainly a whole host of them out there. Perhaps they are where a lot more of the detail used in the films is filled in. I have got myself a copy of Dune Messiah but I have a few other books to finish off before I start on that.
The hero image is of Sand Dunes in Gran Canaria by Pedro Szekely and has the following creative commons license. Of course this picture is inappropriate for Dune due to that sliver of sea on the horizon!