For a work released in 1965, Dune remains one of the most popular and successful science-fiction books in history. A new movie based on the classic book is still scheduled for release on December 18, 2020 (excepting unforeseen circumstances), directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and more. Warner Brothers’ upcoming streaming service, HBO Max commissioned a TV show, Dune: The Sisterhood, focusing on the witch-like Bene Gesserit, a secretive coven who have manipulated royal family genes for generations. The novel is also on our own EVPL’s Summer Reading List. 2020 may end up being the Year of Dune.
Dune combines the epic space opera of enormous spaceships and vast desert landscapes of Star Wars with the in-fighting of feudal houses of Game of Thrones, though Dune came before either. Frank Herbert wrote six books in the series and his son has co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson over a dozen more since his father’s passing. Between these, the movies, the countless video games and merchandise over the years, it can seem a bit overwhelming. But if you are interested at all in Dune, the best place to start is always the beginning.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune stands on its own as one of the best novels of the 20th century, even without the sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Winner of the 1966 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, Dune centers on Paul Atreides, heir of a great feudal lord, whose family has recently taken control of a near desolate world covered in nothing but desert, so hot you need a special suit to survive that reuses your body’s water. The planet, known as Arrakis or Dune, is the only place in the universe that produces the spice melange, created by breathtakingly large sandworms, crucial for space travel and capable of extending life by hundreds of years. The fight for control of the spice leads House Atreides into conflict not only with rival houses, but every group vying for power in the cosmos down to the Padishah Emperor.
The book has a scope and depth not seen in many science-fiction works before or since. It deals with ecology, politics, philosophy, religion, the fall of empires, the rise of insurgent rebellions, the course of human history, and one person’s effect on it. Paul is the deconstruction of a hero as much as a hero himself, someone who didn’t get his amazing abilities through fate or chance, but hard, torturous training and manipulation by political entities. He changes the universe by the end, but are those changes good? At the end of the day though, it’s still an exciting adventure on such an epic scale that Arthur C. Clarke once said, “I know nothing comparable to it but Lord of the Rings.”
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
While Dune works perfectly well as a standalone novel, its sequel, Dune Messiah shows the inevitable, powerful consequences that manifested in the following years. Paul’s prior actions, presented as heroic in the first book, are now laid bare for the audience to see the horrible atrocities that have been committed in his name and the heavy burden they now weigh on his back. Dune Messiah is a smaller book than the original, and quite different in tone: more melancholy, more contemplative, more like an extended epilogue than a full-fledged sequel. If you finish the first book and want to continue, Dune Messiah sets the tone for the direction and mood the sequels will take.
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
The third book in the series, Children of Dune rounds off the trilogy by wrapping up the plot threads and main story arc started in the first book. Centered on the even more powerful children of Paul Atreides, it returns to the grandeur of the original after the quieter Dune Messiah, showing a universe on the brink of collapse and attempting to fill a power vacuum. Former friends become enemies while previously hostile houses become allies, all while one man must decide not only his own fate, but the path humanity one day will take. Children of Dune gives closure to the characters the audience knows and loves, completing their stories while also starting a brand new story continued in the next three books.
God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
Make no mistake; God Emperor of Dune is a divisive book. Depending on who you talk to, it is either the best book in the series or where the series went wrong. Set thousands of years after the original trilogy, God Emperor of Dune almost completely shuns the action-adventure aspect of the series in favor of a deep dive into its philosophy, politics, and power structures. The titular “God Emperor” is a character unlike any other in fiction and the long stretches of time getting to know him, listening to him speak and recording his diary, is either fascinating or irritating depending on your tolerance for debates on the nature of existence and the best possible system to experience it. If God Emperor of Dune appeals to you, finish the remaining Frank Herbert novels, each going into greater detail into the machinations and underpinnings of the universe.
The Science of Dune Edited by Kevin Grazier
This collection of essays, edited by Kevin Grazier, goes into the fantastical, inventive world created by Frank Herbert. The Dune series is set in a universe that has undergone “The Butlerian Jihad,” a technological revolt against computers and any machine made in the image of man’s mind. Because of this, Dune has a fascinating mixture of high and low tech, with advanced starships, wearable force fields, and handheld laser guns side by side with very little communication between planets and human beings who memorize vast computations because electronic computers are illegal. The Science of Dune explores the ways these technologies could exist, from the mechanical eyes of the Bene Tleilax to the “space folding” of the Guild Navigators.
Dreamer of Dune by Brian Herbert
Brian Herbert’s 2003 biography of his father Frank, Dreamer of Dune is a warts-and-all look at the human being behind the Dune universe. Both a journalist and small-time science-fiction writer, his interests coincided when writing a magazine article about sand dunes that later turned into a novel about a world of nothing but them. His books show an incredible understanding of the human condition, but unfortunately, that understanding did not always overlap with his personal life and his relationship with his kids specifically. Brian Herbert goes into detail about his and his siblings’ harsh, sometimes unpleasant relationship with his father, while acknowledging and praising the incredible books that came out of him.
The first feature film based on Dune was released in 1984, written and directed by David Lynch. After Eraserhead and The Elephant Man but before Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, the film is something of the black sheep in his filmography since Lynch did not get final approval on it. As a Dune fan, it is a mix of feeling awe and frustration. Several scenes are adapted identically from the book, down to hearing characters’ inner thoughts as voiceover, and the cast is superb, but the two-hour runtime does the book a disservice, especially the second half. Often, it feels like you need to have read the book to even understand what is happening, while Lynch treats Paul as more of a straightforward hero than the deconstruction of the book. It is still well worth watching however for the breathtaking visuals and outstanding (for their time) special effects.
The first three books were adapted into two miniseries, totaling twelve hours combined, for the Sci-Fi Channel in the early 2000s. Shot in the Czech Republic, the miniseries has more bluescreen desert than the lush Mexican landscapes of the Lynch film and the actors are hit and miss, but what the miniseries lacks in spectacle, it makes up for in fidelity to the source material. Minor changes aside, these are very accurate adaptations of the original novels. Ian McNeice steals the first miniseries as Baron Harkonnen, a more calculating, menacing villain than Lynch’s interpretation of the character. The second miniseries introduces an unknown actor named James McAvoy, whose incredible talent is evident that early in his career through his weighted, powerful performance as Leto II, Paul Atreides’ son and heir to the empire.
The newest Dune film will not come out until at least December 18, 2020, so there is plenty of time to catch-up before it comes out. Although our copies are limited, all the titles mentioned, as well as the remaining books written by Frank Herbert and many of the spin-offs co-authored by his son, will be available for EVPL To Go on June 1.
With 8 locations throughout Vanderburgh County, EVPL is ready to discover, explore, and connect WITH you! We encourage you to uncover new things, revisit old favorites, and to engage with us along the way.
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