Facing the Mind Killer: a review of DUNE

As I previously wrote, this month I decided to tackle a book that I’ve been afraid of reading for as long as I can remember, Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

It took me a week to get through it and I reveled in every page. It’s taken me longer to get to this review because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There is so much to this book that I haven’t been able to find in any other book I’ve read or loved. It has set a new standard for epic fiction and I don’t think I’ll be able to find in anything else what I found in DUNE.

The story is Paul’s, though it strongly features the goings on that surround him and dictate his every action. The long and short of it is that the Great Houses are warring over the spice planet known as Arrakis. Spice is highly addictive and mind-altering natural drug that can only be found on this one planet, making it worth more than worth it’s weight in profits. Along with this political turmoil, there is religious turmoil as a group of women known as the Bene Gesserit see a male of legend capable of the “witchery” that they are. But in their search, the Freeman of Arrakis have their own legend of this same person. Paul is believed to be this man of legend by more than one group of people and he needs to fight not only in this war for the planet, but the war inside of him as he discovers what his true destiny is… or if he even wants it.

The way the book is written, third person narrative, we get to see inside of everyone’s head. We know what Paul is thinking at the exact same time we learn what his mother is thinking in the same moment. For too long the “single character” POV, as made popular by George R.R. Martin in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, has been the way of writing genre fiction and I’m going to be honest: I hate it. It adds nothing to the stories and creates moments of boredom if there’s an unlikeable character. Herbert’s way of putting all of the cards on the table makes the chess match of the politics game within the book not only more manageable, but creates some incredible tension. We, as the readers, know who is double crossing who, but the characters themselves do not. The screaming match I had with this book over Duke Leto is laughable because of how invested this way of story telling got me. 

The ideas behind tackling the mind and conquering emotions through strict mental training were fascinating and I really got a lot of insight into myself because of it. Fear is the mind killer, as Jessica says. 

As thrilled as I am at how much I loved this story, I will be honest and say that my fears are now directed at the new movie. I’ll keep my opinions to myself on that matter until we have a trailer, so stay tuned, but I do also plan on reading the rest of the series within the coming months, so stay tuned.

Why I’m Afraid of DUNE

One of the greatest science fiction series of all times is Frank Herbert’s, Dune. Six books in the saga and they’re still timeless through the intense political and religious commentary as well as the unforgettable world building.

Everything about Dune has my name written all over it.

So why am I afraid of it?

As a kid, there was a “rule” in my house, and that rule was “There is no such thing as a Dune movie”. It was a running joke as I got older that included an irrational dislike of David Lynch (who I’m still not a fan of) and legitimately telling people I didn’t believe them when they mentioned the 1984 adaptation that featured Sting (yes, the singer) in one of the main roles. That alone made it pretty easy to say I didn’t believe people.

What did exist were the first six books by Frank Herbert and the 2000 miniseries (that starred Alec Newman as Paul), nothing more. I have the vaguest of memories of watching the miniseries and having a huge crush on Paul, but I’ve never read the books, and if you asked me the plot I couldn’t tell you.

To this day I can give you three facts about the series. 1) Paul is the main character, 2) There are giant, phallic-looking sandworms that eat people, and 3) there’s something going on with spice.

So again, you’re probably still wondering why I’m afraid of reading this series.

If I didn’t make it clear enough, this series has been a huge part of my childhood even if I know little about it. My mom is a huge Dune fan and I admire the original books so much and how they shaped my mom’s love of science-fiction, therefore shaping my love of science-fiction. Because of all of that, I’ve always been afraid I’ll miss something, that the allegories and metaphors will go over my head, or – even worse – that I won’t like it.

Is all of this completely silly? Absolutely. But this is the struggle of an avid reader with high expectations and crippling anxiety.

Either way I’m going in. Stay tuned to more thoughts.