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Sunday, 2 April 2017

Review - Dune by Frank Herbert

As this is my first review, it won't be as smooth and polished as other reviews. Also, as with any review, this is my own personal opinion and not reflective of any other person's opinion of the novel.

For this, my first review, I must write a preface. When reading books, I have a problem. I have a very specific form of dyslexia which makes reading certain type fonts difficult. Combine that with my farsightedness, and you get a recipe for not being able to read a lot of classic science fiction and fantasy novels as they're typically reprinted in their old and difficult font. This means I've typically had to find alternative means of experiencing stories, from audio readings to dramatizations. But the edition of Dune I read that inspired me to write this review, published in 2006 by Hodder and Stoughton, has a very friendly font, and so I was able to experience one of the best novels in the genre.

Comparisons are made to other works such as The Lord of the Rings, but this does the original work an injustice. Without spoiling too much of the overall plot, Dune presents a universe where humanity has a feudal system where great Houses control planets, owing loyalty to a single Emperor who controls the CHOAM megacorporation, who in turn secretly allies with the Guilds that control interplanetary trade and the Bene Gesserit sisterhood who control the interbreeding of Houses. House Atreides, whom the Emperor deems a threat, are forced to take possession of Arrakis, a desert planet that is both highly inhospitable and the only source of the Spice drug "Melange", which imbues prolonged life and increased mental abilities. Atreides is caught in a dangerous game between the Emperor, and his allies the ruthlessly ambitious Harkonnens. Main protagonist Paul is the heir to the Atreides dukedom, and the unintended offspring of a Bene Gesserit scheme to create a powerful "human" dubbed the Kwisatz Haderach. As Atreides falls victim to the Emperor and Harkkonen schemes, Paul is forced to confront his future role and the means he must use to reclaim his title as Duke and the allegiance of Arrakis' native Freman.

That may sound like a massive spoiler, but trust me it hardly scratches the surface of the political and dynastic scheming that pervades Dune's adventure, which is told from multiple perspectives over a span of many years. Paul himself is a sympathetic protagonist not because of his rising to the challenge, but because of the uncertainly with which he faces choices that could plunge the empire into bloody war. All the characters have something to like about them, aside from the Harkonnens which are a wonderful lesson for authors in painting as both villains despicable and multilayered. The scene painting is also well-crafted, being both conservative and loquacious where needed. The general pace is just fast enough to pull you along, but not so fast that the sensation of a good story or crucial developments are lost in the rush. The story also demonstrates an excellently thought-out fictional universe and terminology that lends the entire narrative presence. There is the major cliffhanger at the end that makes you realise Herbert left it open to sequels. It can work on its own, but it's certainly better for you to seek out and read suitable editions of its two sequels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

As to the edition I read, I have to say that it's not without faults. Several times reading through it I saw typing errors such as missing quote symbols or strange word choices that didn't make sense in the context of the sentence. There are also a few places where the ink printing wasn't as good as it should have been and the writing either faded a little or all but disappeared. But aside from that, it's a good edition and more than comprehensive when it comes to appendices and an index for keywords used in the story. As to reading time, I read through it in about a week with some determination, but I know a fast reader could probably scan through it within a single day.

So, after all that, how would I rate this story overall?

Story; 10/10 - One of the best science fiction epics it's been my pleasure of experiencing.
Characters; 10/10 - A wonderful cast carries the story without being crushed or crushing it.
Prose; 9/10 - Aside from some odd typos, some of the best prose I've ever read.
Edition; 8/10 - Not the best edition technically, but a great means for me to read it.

Overall; 9/10 - A mustread for anyone who loves science fiction, or just good writing.

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