You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


The question I had when I started Frank Herbert's Dune was: will it be as good as the hype. Not that there's a lot of hype about the book, but it's one of the most popular science fiction novels ever, and I have to wonder if I will like it as much as everyone else. It was an interesting read, not quite what I expected but in a surprising way.

The book takes place in the far future, when humanity has spread to thousands of planets. The story starts with Paul Atreides, his fath Duke Leto Atreides, and his mother Jessica. The duke has been given the duty of taking of Arrakis, the desert planet that is the source of the spice which is a major source of wealth for the powers of the universe. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is the ruthless leader who resents losing control of Arrakis and its wealth. Baron Harkonnen plans to take back the planet by forcing one of Duke Leto's men to betray him, and landing a huge force of fighters, including Imperial fighters in disguise, to overwhelm the Duke's forces.

The plan works, the Duke is killed, and the Baron takes over the desert planet. But Paul and Jessica escape and join the Fremen, the people who live in the open desert. Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, an order of mysterious women who others call witches. She was ordered to give birth to a girl as part of the Bene Gesserit program to breed a powerful human, but instead she gave birth to Paul to please her Duke. Paul has training as a fighter and has training in the Bene Gesserit ways.

The Fremen have adapted to the desert, learning how to conserve water, how to cross vast stretches of sand, how to deal with the enormous worms that are the source of the spice, and how to grow plants for food and textiles. They have long range plan to turn Dune into a planet that will support an abundance of life. The Fremen give sanctuary to Paul and Jessica, and she becomes their new Reverend Mother. Rumors go around that Paul is the man in a prophecy that tells of a long awaited savior. The Bene Gesserit have planted legends and prophecies on many planets to help any sisters who might be helped by them someday.

Jessica gives birth to Leto's daughter, Alia, after being with the Fremen for many months. The girl has a prescience due to the Water of Life that Jessica swallowed during the pregnancy. Paul rises to be a leader among the Fremen, though not without contention. Finally, Paul leads the Fremen to victory against the Harkonnens when the emperor himself lands on the planet. The story ends when Alia kills the Baron and Paul kills the Baron's heir, Feyd-Rautha.

The story is rich and deep. There is always the sense that we are just reading a small part of a very big story. The setting is memorable. Dune is a complex planet, with more under the surface than it reveals. There are also a lot of devious plans going on between the Atreides, the Harkonnens, the Fremen, the emperor, and the Spacing Guild. There are many unique elements to the culture, like the Mentats, intelligent people trained as human computers. There's the Spacing Guild, which has a monopoly on space travel.

The characters are memorable. Jessica and Paul are both strong, well-drawn characters. They have conflicts before, during, and after the Harkonnen's attack. Duke Leto is a strong, honorable leader, trying to do the best of a tough situation. Even the secondary characters are well-drawn, like Liet-Kynes, the emperor's planetologist, who is part Fremen.

Overall, I'd say Dune deserves its reputation as a great work of science fiction. A fantastic, unique setting, strong characters, a good plot, and interesting religious themes make it an A.


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