Reviewing such a classic as Dune is a challenge, as I want to giving it full credit while also remaining objective. I was not immediately struck by this book, and put it down so many times it took me a full year to finish it. I read the first half of it with only a vague understanding of what was going on, or perhaps a full understanding with only vague interest. Frank Herbert struggles to solidify any character development, making it a challenge to care about what happens to these potentially rich characters. His writing feels empty and almost clinical, even as he’s describing monumental events such as war or first love, and a vivid imagination is required to fill in the blanks.
At one point in the book, I gave a synopsis to someone else who has read it to make sure I was following along: “So, the Duke was killed, and they’re wandering through the desert, and they come across the desert people, who are pretty sure they are some sort of spiritual gods.” Ok, so what? I didn’t feel any connection to what happened next. Herbert doesn’t place you very securely in the moment, you just have to trust him when he says, for example, that thousands of people are at war. He tells you, he doesn’t show you.
On the flip side, because of his nebulous way of describing events, Herbert does an impressive job of relating various dream sequences that take place throughout the story. Here, the author shines, and solidifies the story’s mysticism and other-worldliness.
About halfway through the book something shifted, and my interest was recaptured. Perhaps it was spending enough time with the characters, and settling into Herbert’s “tell, not show” writing style, but I finally fell in love with Paul Maud-Dib and Lady Jessica, and even began to understand the complicated politics. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I sped through the rest of the book, fully engaged, to an ending which did not disappoint, then spent the next week engrossed in the TV mini-series, which cleared up any remaining confusion. Without even realizing it, I had completed my rite of passage and was a full-fledged fan of Dune.
Dune opened the door to a new kind of science fiction, an entire new world complete with nuanced politics, religion, and its own language, ecology and landscape – the story deserves all the credit the SF community can throw at it; I just wish Frank Herbert could have better described the color and depth of this magnificent world he was able to create. Nonetheless, this is a story I will never forget.