The ultimate science fiction story
I’m much impressed by authors, who manage to create new believable words, and Frank Herbert created in his novel Dune (1965) a whole, complex universe. Set more than twenty thousand years in the future, the book focuses on the battle to control Arrakis, the source of melange, or spice, an addictive substance that prolongs life and, in some cases, gives the user glimpses of the future. Melange is also essential for interstellar travel, allowing starship pilots to look across vast distances to plot their courses.The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its “spice”.
“Dune” takes place in a feudal society where noble families rule planets in an imperium presided over by Emperor Shaddam IV. At the beginning of the novel, Duke Leto Atreides has been installed by imperial order as the ruler of Arrakis, ousting the evil Harkonnens who tyrannized the planet for eight decades. Not long after their arrival, the Atreides are betrayed by one of their own, and get routed by the Harkonnens with the assistance of forces from the Emperor—all for control of the spice. Leto’s concubine, Jessica, and their teen-aged son, Paul, escape into the desert, where they are accepted by the aboriginal people known as the Fremen. Long underestimated by the Harkonnens, the Fremen have learned how to thrive in the harsh climate of Arrakis. Their culture is built around the commodity of water, which is extremely scarce on Arrakis. The Fremen await the coming of a prophesied Messiah, and Paul, with the aid of melange, takes on that powerful role.
Frank Herbert wrote himself about the book in a letter:
‘My idea of a good story is to put people in a pressure environment. This happens in reality, but life’s dramas tend to lack the organization we require of the novel. I hit on the idea of a desert planet while researching a magazine article about efforts to control sand dunes. This led me to other research avenues too numerous to detail completely here, but involving some time in a desert (Sonora) and a re-examination of Islam.
Arrakis is hostile because hostility is an aspect of the environment which produces drama. typhoons, fires, floods – what these do to people contains the essential elements of good story.
Long story: it was an experiment in pacing, I’m not sure how successful the experiment, but certainly I realize it violates novel conventions. I did not, however, even consider the violation. I was too concerned with the internal rhythms of my story. Essentially these rhythms are coital… slow, gentle beginning, increasing pace, etc. Also, I chose to end it in a non-Hollywood way, sending the reader skidding out of the story with bits of it still clinging to him. I did not want it neatly tied off, something you forget ten minutes after putting it down. Casualness is one of our modern hangups. I don’t write casually, and I should be sorry to hear that anyone read me casually. ..
It’s also long because it contains what I call “vertical layers” – many levels at which a reader may enter it (another experiment on my part). You can choose the layer you want and follow that throughout the story. Rereading you might choose an entirely different level, discover “something new” in the story.’
David Lynch made a film out of the book in 1984. Kyle Mac Lachland played Paul Artreides. Generally it was not very well received, though I must admit, that I liked it! 🙂