Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Dune

The Dune
By Frank Herbert

We, human beings, have always been tempted by the science of astrology - namely the prescient knowledge of events before they take place. There is a strong desire in everyone of us to know what is to happen before time. It is not that the current events are boring that we look towards the future in hope of excitement. Perhaps it has more to do with the present bleakness that pushes us to look towards future out of our ingrained perpetual optimism. Or may be we need a comfort to sustain ourselves, a consolation that our efforts will not go in vain. Maybe its both or neither.  It is with this nuanced understanding of the unpredictability of our psyche that makes Frank Herbert's Dune an excellent novel.

The Dune is set on a desert planet Arrakis where water is so scarce that people wear suits that collects water released by body pores and purifies it back into a tasteless liquid which is again consumed back by humans. These suits work with extraordinary efficiency such that the only water loss happens due to sweat from palms of our hands. Just as winter governed everything in the LeGuin's Left hand of darkness, everything happens in Dune either because of water or spice (a highly desired element that can be manufactured in desert only. It comes as no surprise that Dune started a niche sub-genre under science fiction namely - Eco-science fiction. 

The story of Dune after all its fantasy layers are unveiled is a story of revolution, a hero's journey from an ordinary man to a legend against all odds, the struggle of small vs the big.  A young kid, Paul, suddenly finds himself fighting first for his own survival, then soon as a savior of an entire tribe of people. The magic of dune lies in unraveling of its plot. Not only the elements of fantasy are creative but they are applied with caution and sense.   The plot moves at a comfortable pace with lots of action happening in quick succession.

For me, the added layer of prescient knowledge shared in just a few lines at the introduction of each  chapter added a level of complexity that was just too much to bear as it filled me with a curiosity that was unstoppable. Is Paul the Muad'Dib? Is he going to eventually marry the Princess? Should i believe these opening lines? If so, is it really going to happen as it says? What if Frank Herbert is just messing up with my mind? They say that  a little knowledge is dangerous but knowledge of events about to happen is debilitating. One starts to question the present and future seems more uncertain than before. From a plot point of view, it adds nothing as we eventually witness those events. But from a literary perspective, it is a masterstroke. It prevents the novel from being an extremely sad, pessimistic one to one with hope and adds a philosophical layer that is needed to deliver the enormous wall it wishes to climb.

In addition to environment and ecology, Frank brings in his incredible knowledge of different religions especially Islam. The book can be also be seen as a study in sociology, or an application of  political science, or micro-analysis of human psychology. The fact that Dune does a great job in so many departments is what makes it such an interesting read. One can feel that it is a result of lots of research, endless hours and a lot of passion.

Dune also has its sequels wherein Frank analyzes the negative aspects of Heroism - blind belief in anybody could be dangerous as well. I have not read the follow-ups, nor i intend to do so in any near future. Dune itself was fulfilling and one never likes their heroes to fall.

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