Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dune


Without realizing it, I finished reading Dune by Frank Herbert at almost the same time as the 30th Anniversary of the film adaptation directed by David Lynch. It’s a funny coincidence. Dune is regarded as one of the great works of science fiction. After finally reading it, I can’t argue. Making it even more remarkable is that at the time of it’s writing, there was little other point of reference to build this world of religion, politics, and no intelligent machines. I’ll get back to that last part. Even thought authors like Herbert, Heinlin, Asimov, Tolkein, etc. had other works to read and embrace before them, they built upon our cultural memory and continue to influence others. Today we have authors like Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. And when I speak of point of reference, I mean how should I describe Dune to you? What can I compare it to? The story is like Game of Thrones. Great royal houses all ruled by an Emperor. There are wars, political intrigue, assassinations, and magic of sorts. Unlike Game of Thrones, there is no sex or incest. Well, obviously there is sex or else there would be no children, but you know what I mean.


Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and the Duke's concubine Jessica, a Bene Gesserit (basically a society of women who follow rigorous physical and mental training who also covertly control the bloodlines of humanities leadership).
Paul Atreides was not supposed to be born. His mother was ordered by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood to give Duke Leto a daughter. She would have been married to a Harkonen heir so that the fighting between the two houses would end and both bloodlines would be saved. Jessica instead chose to give Leto a son, who would become the Kwisatz Haderach, the fabled male Bene Gesserit. He who could look into the past of his female and male ancestors when female Bene Gesserits could only look down the lines of women. And what is the draw to Arrakis, a plant that is nothing but desert? It is the only place in the universe where the "spice" melange can be found. It's a substance that has allowed humanity to gain new mental powers and even bend space, allowing for faster interstellar travel. 


There is a lot on this story to describe. But the basic plot is that the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV conspired with the Atreides bitter rival, the House Harkonen, to set up Duke Leto and his house for destruction. The Atreides are to take control of Arrkis from House Harkonen on the orders of the Emperor. The Emperor then secretly aids the Harkonen in retaking the planet. The Duke is killed and it is assumed Paul and Jessica were killed as well. They find their way to the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. Paul then becomes the Fremen's leader and leads an uprising. There is a lot of detail in teh book. Herbert did an excellent job in world building. He even sampled the Arabic and Persian languages for names and terms used by the characters. Some words are direct samples, others are just inspired.It makes the story feel even more exotic. Well, maybe more exotic sounding to western ears. I can say that having seen the film quite a few times, it gave me a better handle on the pronunciations.

For those who have not seen the film, it is most definitely a stripped down version of the story. As every adaptation is from one extent to another. But for all it's flaws, I think the film is pretty good.



I have also seen the documentary about Director Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to make a Dune film.


He had intended to give the audience a sense of having an acid trip without having to take any drugs. It would have been trippy and bizarre. But it could have been good. And I really recommend checking out that documentary. It's really insightful and explains how an unmade film influenced Alien, Blade Runner, etc. Lynch's film only came after the studio decided to go in a different direction. It's flawed but I still enjoy it.

But back to the book, I was not sure what to expect when I read it. I knew it would be good. And it was. Herbert did an amazing job creating the world and it's mythology. It's no surprise it is a solid foundation for the squeals that he wrote and for the books that his son Brian has written Kevin J. Anderson. But don't worry about having to read the other books too much. They broaden the story, but Dune by itself is a complete story that any fan of science fiction should enjoy.

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