Dune by Frank Herbert is kind of an oddity. It’s mostly science fiction given how it’s set on a distant planet and got space ships and lasers and all that stuff. But it’s also got a few of the tropes of the fantasy genre –people fighting with blades, a feudal system with noble houses, prophecies, and stuff that looks suspiciously like magic. But whatever you call it, Dune is pretty good.
The book follows the noble House Atreides, specifically its heir apparent Paul and his mother Jessica. The Atreides family was given the supposedly plum job of managing the desert planet Arrakis, which is the universe’s only known source of this totally rad magical spice called “melange.” Ingesting melange is kind of like snorting baby shark catiledge, except it makes you live forever, turns your eyes solid blue, and lets you see into the future.
The problem is that this is all part of an elaborate ploy by the dude at the top of the feudal food chain to get rid of House Atreides, which was getting a little too big for its interstellar britches. Paul and his mother are soon on the run and fall in with the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. They are are mysterious, twelve separate kinds of badass, and preocupied with drinking their own sweat. On top of all that, they also view Paul as some kind of messianic savior. Like Jesus, but with more roundhouse kicks. From there Paul both tries to engineer his revenge on his enemies and his reclamation (in all senses of the word) of the planet.
I liked Dune because while it was straight up sci-fi space opera entertainment in some ways, Herbert built in a lot of subtle stuff, too. I particularly liked how Paul had to deal with the fact that he can fulfil the role of messiah to the Fremen natives, but his crazy ability to see the future tells him that if he’s not careful that he’ll ignite an intergalactic holy war, which is a wee bit more extreme than what he has in mind. There’s also some cool stuff in there about how the prophecies about Paul were actually meticulously engineered whisper campaigns conducted by a sect that had been trying to produce someone like Paul through selective breeding and genetic engineering rather than something so mundane as divine intervention.
So I like my introduction to Dune, and I plan to pick up subsequent books. I hear that all the ones that Frank Herbert himself wrote are good, but that I should stop before getting to the ones his son wrote after his father’s death.