Dune has been on my “must-read” list for years, the same way any legendary classic would be. Off to the side in their own pile, picked out occasionally when I feel I need to “eat my vegetables” as a lover of literature.
What moved it to the front of the line was my long-delayed Crash Course on Third Person Omniscient. I’d heard that Dune was the single best work of the perspective, and since I have little working knowledge of Third Omniscient, Dune quickly became homework.
Homework and vegetables. So it started with two strikes against it, neither of them due to its own faults. The first time I went to read it, I was looking at it from this perspective, and the opening few pages–which do tend to drag–failed to catch my interest. I put it down, and several months passed where I would look at it and think, “I really need to finish that eventually.”
Then, I did pick it back up. And I got past the first fifty pages, and we reached Arrakis. And I was hooked.
I was never surprised when a phrase or an action–or a gender dynamic, which is its own can of worms–revealed the age of the book. There are plenty of places that a reader will run into a stumbling block if they’re looking for one.
But what did surprise me was the many places where the plot is engaging, the characters are compelling, and the setting is utterly flawless. The political intrigue is among the best ever written, and the cultures feel fully-realized. Some descriptions are as good as anything I’ve read in modern novels. I truly have learned a great deal about writing.
The main problem that I have with Dune is that the protagonist, Paul Atreides, is neither compelling nor sympathetic for most of the novel. He begins as a Mary Sue, a super-man who is right about everything and is so preternaturally capable that other, better-trained characters remark on what a wunderkind he is. Then the plot kicks in about 200 pages in, and he ascends to what I’d consider godhood, almost. He quickly becomes a character completely detached to conflicts and motivations that the average reader can identify with, which can work fine in a story that is about that detachment, which this is not. In places his concerns touch on those of actual people, but it’s usually brief and always brushed side.
This isn’t to say that I found Paul obnoxious or dreaded reading sections with him in them. He’s at the center of an immensely satisfying plot and a captivating setting, surrounded by interesting and sympathetic characters. But whenever a character, previously-established as competent and wise, is lessened by his presence to make him seem more, it pulled me out of the story.
All in all, it was a pleasant surprise. I tore through the second half of the book, and I might forego my next video game to buy the next book in the series. For anyone that knows me, that’s high praise indeed.
Dune can be dry, and feels every bit as old as it is in some respects. But in others, it still feels new. And it deserves its reputation. As they say, it is a masterpiece. A landmark work of Science Fiction that will never be forgotten.
On an odd note, it was never officially acknowledged that I could find, but Dune’s influence of Robert Jordan seems undeniable to me. From touches of setting to the feel of the intrigue, the way that truth and trust–or the lack thereof–can shape the world, even to the prose and the way that they handle the passage of time, The Wheel of Time feels like a child of Dune. This made reading Dune feel very strange in places, because I count Jordan as the primary influence in my own writing. It was like seeing a picture of a grandparent you’ve never met, recognizing some of their features in your own. Eerie.