- Jan 19, 2021
When hearing that Dune is labelled as the best science fiction book of all time, I immediately started reading it, expecting it to be brilliant from what I’ve read in reviews. But I’m about 400 pages in and struggle to see why people like this book so much, and what makes it one of the best science fiction books ever. I don’t dislike the book, and there are many interesting ideas and themes in it, I just think there are many things in it that make me confused as to why it is so widely acclaimed. Here are some reasons:
- First, some of the main characters were very simple and uninteresting. The Baron, for example, just seemed like a typical evil bad guy. Also the way that Paul and Jessica just seemed to roam around the desert until they overpowered the first Fremen they saw with a few words didn’t really make sense, like the whole of Arrakis moved around them so that they could survive. The fact that Jessica could command people with her training seemed like an excuse for them to go around getting people to do what they want.
- I do think that the meaning behind a book is more important than the realistic side, but a few things were I think going a bit too far. The societies in Dune are ones that have lasers, force fields, personal anti-gravity devices, and spaceships that can travel between solar systems, but at the same time live like they were in the middle ages, fighting with knives to prove themselves to their tribe and trekking across the desert landscape. I know that the idea is that technology has turned against humanity, but if AI technology has turned against them, surely the powerful weapons such as lasers and force fields have as well? And the narrative of the book was more of a fantasy style than science fiction (I’m not saying it wasn’t a science fiction book), so when the Atreides family were going from Caladan to Arrakis any vague description of the spaceship they travelled in was completely skipped, and it felt like Herbert was just trying to keep the fantasy style by ignoring the things in the book which had sci-fi themes.
- The way the book is written focuses much more on the thoughts of the characters than anything else, which is not in itself a bad thing. But the world-building in the book, the names they use and the histories they reference to, aren’t really described or explained at all. The map in the front of the book (there is one in my copy I don’t know about others) seems to imply that they’ll be travelling across a richly detailed world like in the Lord of the Rings, or in Ursula la Guin books, but Arrakis itself is hardly described at all. The buildings, cities, and lives of the people, on any of the planets, are almost like a second thought (expect for the Fremen), and too little of the world outside Arrakis was even mentioned. Also some ideas in the book that were interesting were just stated – the computational thinking of the mentats is something that was hardly described, just mentioned, the same with the AI rebellion that happened many years before. This makes the reader have to imagine half the world in his head for himself, which was disappointing, given the world building qualities that people say this book has. And at times it felt like the narrative was just an endless stream of thoughts, and the world outside the characters’ heads hardly existed.
- One final thing – many other sci-fi books I can’t help but think are just so much better than this. Any Arthur C. Clarke books, or other classics like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The War of the Worlds, or the Day of the Triffids have had a much greater impact on society (particularly 1984) and I can’t see how Dune can be thought of as better or even as good as than any of these. Surely 1984, a book which has had a profound impact on the way we view modern societies, which is even studied the curriculum, is a far more important work than Dune (even phrases from 1984 have been commonly used, like ‘room 101’), so even if you don’t think Dune is the absolute best, how can it be at the top with these other classics? Compared to other books you see in ‘best sci-fi books’ lists, I don’t get how Dune is viewed the way it is.