Spoilers. Spoilers, everywhere.
I recently finished Dune by the fantastically bearded Frank Herbert. Though the prose is fairly light and the narrative flows decently enough, the book feels overly long at over 180,000 words. It’s a very conceptual and even philosophical book that you can plainly see has influenced the bulk of modern science fiction. But being one of the grandfather’s of a genre does not excuse Herbert from having written a fairly boring book.
Yes, Dune is boring. The characters are wooden and stale, like a week old saltine cracker left on the kitchen table. Outside of Duke Leto Atreides and possibly the Fremen Kynes, I don’t think there was any character I connected with, felt empathy for, or even liked.
At the beginning of the book the view I had of Paul was he that he was a skinny schoolboy who clings to mommy. He is whiny, overly confident in his then yet-to-be-defined abilities and I sensed that his father was disappointed in him and he compensated for that by clutching at his mother’s skirts. Yet, as soon as the Atreides family lands on Arrakis, Paul is suddenly a competent, commanding Leader of Men like his father, who then expresses his pride in his son. He also suddenly knows 100 ways to kill a man and can paralyze you with his voice.
Jessica is a terrible mother and, to put it lightly, not that great of a person. She constantly coddles Paul, even when it is revealed that he is The Most Competent Man in the Universe™, constantly scolds him even when he can literally see space-time and it’s variations with the infinite number of timeline possibilities. She scolds him! As if the know of all things that were and are to be needs chastisement like a wayward toddler. I think he knows what he is doing, Jessica. Let it go.
I did enjoy the more conceptual portions of the book i.e. the Bene Gesserit. In particular, I enjoyed how he handled legends and religious phenomenon as a product of Bene Gesserit meddling – ideas get planted and are cultivated over multiple generations with an end result in mind. Prophecy is not really prophecy, it’s just a few sentences or ideas manufactured and manipulated over time until the proper genes are revealed in a certain person and they can “fulfill” the prophecy. Religion and legend are used by the rulers for their own power and ends.
Another thing that rankled at me was a product of Paul’s prescience. He could see all possible outcomes of all possible events for all time. He is basically a demi-god. But he is constantly tempering himself with the prescient knowledge that all his paths lead to jihad and mass war and death at the hands of his Fremen – which he tries to prevent.
Why does he not just talk to the Fremen and explain this? Explain that all current paths lead to the jihad and this is undesirable. They already take just about every sentence he utters as fulfillment of prophecy, so why not put a little addendum near the end of one of the speeches that says, “I do not want jihad.” But instead he keeps it to himself and broods on it like he’s Richard Nixon. For being the knower of all things, Paul sure is an annoying dumbass.
So, in the end, it’s a worthwhile book, if overly long and fairly dry. Don’t expect to connect viscerally to any of the characters, but take it more as a conceptual book about the origins of religion and legends, about the corruption and inner-workings of rulers and their lackey mega-corporations.
And lastly, I constantly see the “spice must flow” meme and I don’t think I read that line even once in the book.