I was eighteen when I first read Dune by Frank Herbert. The year was 1983. It was summer then and a most fitting time to be reading a novel of gigantic proportions. I loved its immense scope, its politics, but most of all, its writing. Over the course of the last 27 years, I have come to read all the original novels, seen a movie, two mini-series, played video games, role playing games, and suffered through some good and bad times. This past summer, I bought the book Paul of Dune hoping to rekindle the Dune universe in my mind. Maybe today I will pick it up and finish it. Maybe today, I will once again fold space, bask in melange, politics and the environment. But what is it that Dune has that has not only produced religious fervor about the series, both for and against it? Why is there a legion of fans who call for its continuation, and at the same time, its end?
What is Dune?
Dune is a book written in 1965 by Frank Herbert. It is a science fiction classic and is routinely in lists of the greatest science fiction books of all time. The book centers around the metamorphosis of Paul Atreides from a young boy to Emperor. His ascension is fraught with tension, chaos, plans within plans, treachery, assassination, betrayal, rebellion, revolution, economics, money, drugs, subjugation, you know, your basic run-of-the-mill science fiction masterpiece. The book unfolds in the future when human beings have colonized space and have formed Houses – much like medieval feudal systems. These houses compete for power across the galaxy through the control of a substance called melange. Also known as the spice, Melange can only be found on one planet, Arrakis. Behind the scenes are economic organizations, transportation guilds, and religious zealots, all competing and trying to manipulate the Houses to control the flow of spice. The Emperor determines the fiefdom for who controls the spice. When Dune opens, House Harkonnen is in the midst of losing control of Arrakis and House Atreides is getting ready to assume control of Arrakis per the Emperor’s command. Arrakis itself is a desert planet filled with a mysterious people called the Fremen and a race of giant sand worms for whom there is a mystical connection to the spice. It is in this exposition that Dune takes place. All these forces competing against, with, and for the control of the spice.
To unravel Dune is like peeling an onion. There are many different layers and even layers within layers. First published in 1965, the sequel, Dune Messiah arrived in 1969. Children of Dune would follow in the mid 1970s. God Emperor of Dune arrived in 1981. Many fans thought this was the end of Dune. In 1984, a film by David Lynch arrived on the scene. Herbert wrote two more books – The Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse Dune (1985). The latter ended on a cliffhanger. Fans were expecting the series to conclude in a seventh book. However, Frank Herbert passed away in early 1986 leaving fans to finish the series in their own mind. Over the next ten years, the Dune universe lived on for fans in role playing games, video games, and the original six books.
What is so appealing about Dune?
Dune has many qualities that appeal to a lot of different types of people. Within the book are the many factions or houses vying for power. Each house is unique in its home world, resources, beliefs, and characteristics. This medieval quality is unique for a book set 10,000 years in the future. There are religious connotations not only among the Bene Gesserit, a woman’s religious order who is trying to selectively breed a super human messiah, but also amongst the Fremen who have foreseen the rise of the messiah on their world and in their prophecies. There is the drug culture of the spice. Not only is it for the ruling class but the Fremen as well. By living on Arrakis and breathing in the spice, it has turned Fremen’s eyes blue within blue. There is the environmental aspect of destroying a planet and its animals for its resources. There are the economic aspects of one substance/resource controlling the entire economy. “The spice must flow” is the mantra of one association in the book. Then throw in all these forces at play to control the spice and you have what makes Dune so interesting.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
What has changed about Dune in the last ten years? Why do some call for its end?
In 1999, thirteen years after his father’s death, Brian Herbert, along with Kevin Anderson, began writing a prequel trilogy based on upon his father’s notes. Starting in 1999 and concluding in 2001, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Corrino were published one year apart. The trilogy, though written in the Dune universe, does not have the prose of Frank Herbert. It is more of an action-adventure style that tells the formation of many of the major characters in Dune. Some saw the prequel as blasphemy, others saw it as it good storytelling that filled in some blanks in the Dune Universe.
Had it ended there, everything would have been fine. Hebert and Anderson wrote another prequel trilogy focusing on one event in Dune that created the Houses called the Butlerian Jihad where man rebelled against machines. The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin followed one year after another from 2002-2004. The novels were seen by many as cartoonish and not fitting with the Dune canon. Characters did what they did without any moral dilemmas or qualms.
Anderson and Brian Herbert did not leave it at that. In interviews, Herbert and Brian Anderson both stated that….:
Frank Herbert left in his original notes sealed in a safe deposit box … after we’d already decided what we wanted to write … They opened up the safe deposit box and found inside the full and complete outline for Dune 7 … Later, when Brian was cleaning out his garage, in the back he found … over three thousand pages of Frank Herbert’s other notes, background material, and character sketches.
As a result, rather than do the prequels, Herbert and Anderson would conclude the Dune series. According to Herbert, this had been the plan all along. Anderson had wanted to do Dune 7 first, but Herbert wanted to pen the prequels. In 2006 and 2007, Dune 7 was split into two parts: Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. The reviews were not kind. The New York Times said of Hunters:
As hard as they try, the authors of ”Hunters of Dune” cannot overcome the burdens of history, either. Frank Herbert’s novels may have been full of neologisms that sounded like Mad magazine sound effects, but at least the author took some chances — he wasn’t afraid to strike his hero blind or turn him into a half-human, half-sandworm creature, or annihilate the entire planet of Arrakis when it suited his purposes, and he never gave his reader cause to believe that what he was writing was potentially ridiculous. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson go through the motions, but they don’t often seem to be having much fun with their material: there are factional battles between rival squads of Bene Gesserits and Honored Matres, the Lost Tleilaxu and the Face Dancers, and an ominous, unnamed ”Outside Enemy” hovering above it all, yet by the end of ”Hunters,” they have done little more than set the table for ”Sandworms of Dune”.
Ouch! I too, bought Hunters of Dune but it has only sat in my office for two years. I still can not even bring myself to buy the hard copy, only the paperback. When Sandworms of Dune came out, I did not buy it at all; not even out of a sense of obligation as a fan.
Over the last two and a half years, I turned an deaf ear and a blind eye to the Dune universe. One day this past summer, I was looking for a Philip K. Dick book at Barnes and Noble in DeKalb. They had done some remodeling and PKD was not in his rightful place. As I was walking down the aisles, I caught a glimpse of the Herbert section of Dune and lo and behold there was a new Dune paper back book; Paul of Dune. Then there was a hardcover Winds of Dune….It appears it never ends. But much to my surprise, I bought Paul. And even more to my surprise, I actually liked it. It seems as if Anderson and Herbert finally figured it out – after 8 novels, a collection of short stories, and pissing off every Dune fan from here to Katmandu, they finally figured out their own style and placed the dilemmas of the choices made by the characters at the heart of the story. That is the way it should be.
Eventually, I went to the Dune Novels Website to find there are more books coming – 2 more in the what is now the Heroes of Dune series and in an Interview, Herbert states there will be three other books – The Sisterhood of Dune; The Mentats of Dune and The Swordmasters of Dune. Sometimes I wonder if it never ends.
In the end, there are plans for a new Dune Movie and more books. But what is promising is the praise Herbert and Anderson are getting for Paul of Dune, Winds of Dune, and maybe, the soon to be forthcoming The Throne of Dune and Leto of Dune. I am hopeful that the great writing found in Paul will continue. As a fan, I don’t see how fans can have a problem with that. The other prequels deservedly got their just due. Now the sequels to Dune are garnering as much good attention as the original. It’s about time.