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THE WONDER TIMELINE: SF&F RETROSPECTIVE
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Frank Herbert
"Dune" (nv)

(also as "Dune World")
(Dune series #1)
© Analog, Dec 1963 - Feb 1964
Berkley Medallion / Ace / Chilton, 1965
--novel : 1966 Hugo W (tie)
--novel : 1966 Nebula W
--book : 1966 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll /21
--foreign novel : 1974 Seiun W
--all time novel : 1975 Locus All-Time Poll W
--all time sf novel : 1987 Locus All-Time Poll W
--sf novel (before 1990) : 1998 Locus All-Time Poll W
--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ adventure award
--/ style award

Without a doubt, Dune is a legend – as is Frank Herbert, its author. The book, and Herbert, has awards; and there’s the Dune movie, the Dune miniseries, the Dune games, The Dune sequel … and the sequel, sequel, sequel (five in all). It’s considered by many to be the most successful/popular science fiction to date.

Here’s the thing, though: is Dune really (or, "simply") science fiction?

Now don’t get me wrong, Dune is a fantastic, incredible novel: wildly imaginative, brilliantly plotted, amazingly told, and totally original. It also certainly has many speculative details: a far-far future settling, an alien world, genetic memory, and so forth.

But if you strip away a good percentage of those speculative ideas what remains behind could very easily be an excellent novel. The story of Dune really has less to do with the SF details and more with Herbert’s skill as a storyteller. Dune is a carefully crafted tale of politics and intrigue: the characters – from the Savior of Dune and the Fremen, Paul Atreides (aka Muad'Dib), to the Head of House Harkonnen, The Baron – are maneuvering and manipulating everything around them on a complex social chessboard. A great example of this is the famous banquet sequence where nothing is as it appears and every gesture and manner is a carefully planned strategic exercise.

Dune is also often called an early ‘ecological’ novel, meaning that Herbert addresses what’s now a pretty common theme: that nature is an essential – and very fragile – necessity. The Fremen are a perfect example of this: they live not on their desert world but with it, respecting it’s tremendous power as well as it’s precarious health. Again, if you take out the sandworms and the spice they create Dune could still stand as a powerful statement about the need for man to also live with this plant and not just use it up and toss it away.

There are many other elements in Dune that also could be taken away from the book’s far-future settling: the book’s exploration of Islamic culture (especially in relation to ecology), an examination of collapsing civilizations and decadence, and even a chance for Herbert to further look at the world through a zen lens.

In the end, it’s because Dune can stand without it’s science fiction elements that makes it such a great, and long-lasting, masterpiece. Herbert understood humans, even though he was setting their stage twenty thousand years from today, and understood nature, even though Dune is on another world. With Dune he created a perfect allegory, one that that speaks to the truth of humanity, and nature, today just as it did when it was written – and probably will for a very long time.



Review by M. Christian
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