Friday, May 25, 2012

"He shall know your ways as if born to them."

5 out of 5 stars

Like many others, it took me a while to finally read this book. I've picked it up several times over the years, but could never get past the first few pages. I couldn't tell you whether it was the language or the concepts involved, but I could never quite grasp the thread of the book. This may be a heretical statement, but I think watching the movie helped. (Not the '84 Lynch space-opera; I prefer the '00 and '03 miniseries.) Granted, most understand, as I do, that the source book contains more riches than the film it is based upon possibly could, but, if that book is complex, the simplicity offered in the film lets you grasp the fundamentals without getting lost in the details. Thus, by watching the films I was able to catch a glimpse of the world Herbert was creating, the language and peoples and cultures within, granting me an introduction, an easement, into the vivid, Byzantine, complex, exhausting, alien, intelligent environment known as Dune. Subsequently, reading the book deepened that acquaintance, allowing me to absorb those missed details and thereby develop a better understanding of the story. I won't even bother trying to summarize the book; others have done it before me and much more ably than I could. Suffice to say that I found reading this book was much like the movement of a landslide: It started slowly, a few chapters at a time, but as I continued to immerse myself, I found that it grew harder and harder to set the book down and my progress through its pages gained such speed that the end came abruptly, almost as a physical blow. Now it remains for me to find the sequels, and quickly!

Read August, 2009
Originally reviewed on Goodreads August 26, 2009

Update:  May 25, 2012

Suffice to say, I did find the sequels, the reviews of which I shall post here subsequently.  However, posting this review got me to thinking about Dune and my experience reading it.  In a post-9/11 world, it's easy to look upon the book as a parable of the Middle East.  After all, the similarities are startling:  A powerful desert planet which controls a commodity, in this case Spice, upon which all intergalactic travel depends.  Sound like Saudi Arabia and petroleum perhaps?  The Fremen, so alien, speaking their own, Arabic-sounding (and often blatantly Arabic-based, with words like 'jihad', 'Mahdi', and 'Shaitan') language, are tough, hardy creatures, a people not afraid to become "freedom fighters" in order to protect their homes, people, and, most importantly, the Spice.  Hmm, I wonder to whom we could compare the Fremen?  Then we have a rich, aristocratic young man, written about in Fremen folklore and destined to become their messiah, who will gather them together and give them military training in order to break free of the corrupt body now monopolizing the Spice trade.  Yeah, I won't touch that, except to add that that description could also relate in some ways to the historical T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia").  However, I like to think that Dune is less a political commentary and more a prescient warning from Herbert.  After all, this was the first novel to deal with ecological issues on a grand, planetary scale, presenting an entire ecosystem based on a desert environment and illustrating the various animal components of that ecosystem interacting and relying on one another.  I like to think Herbert was warning us not only of our reliance on foreign oil, but also our blatant disregard of our planet, not in an obvious, preachy way, yet with strong enough words and images so that the story sticks in the mind long after one has finished reading the novel, or the series.  Then again, perhaps I'm reading too much into it.  I don't know.  What I do know is Dune is a powerful, complex, dense, heady, exquisitely written novel, which everyone should read at least once in their lifetime.

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