Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) 510 p.

Dune is ostensibly a classic work of science fiction, but it actually contains about as much science fiction as Star Wars. It’s set in a galaxy ruled by a sprawling feudal empire, with Dukes and Houses and serfs and fiefdoms. A historical war against artificial intelligences has resulted in a law against advanced computers and technology. Personal force-field shields mean people fight with swords and knives rather than guns. I spent much of the book wondering why Herbert didn’t just make it a flat-out fantasy novel.

I suppose it is a good fantasy novel, as fantasy novels go, but I wasn’t much in the mood for one at the moment. Or ever, really – I think I’ve outgrown them. They’re too simplistic. I have no interest in reading about pure good versus pure evil, a dichotomy which Dune was often leaning towards in spite of the protagonist’s fears that he might inadvertantly launch a bloody jihad. Take the antagonists, for example: the cruel and evil House Harkonnen, which keeps slaves, encourages oppression, and is ruled over by a fat and corpulent Duke who also happens to be a pedophile. That’s just lazy. Nor do endless political machinations particularly intrigue me.

I know it’s unfair to compare this to the Wheel of Time series, since that was written twenty-five years later and was clearly ripping off Dune rather than the other way round, but that was the vibe I was getting. Which is bad, because Wheel of Time is bad. As well as the aforementioned political schemes and court intrigue, the’re another similar (identical, really) element that will be obvious to anyone who’s read both books: the Fremen and the Aiel. Both of them are hardcore, badass desert tribes with byzantine cultures who personify freedom and the joy of life; a modern take on the noble savage. And in both books the author repeatedly beats you about the head with how HARDCORE and BADASS they are. It’s a little weird. (It’s also further evidence that Robert Jordan never had an original idea in his head, as if we didn’t know that already).

For such a classic and renowned work of science fiction, I found Dune to be a disappointment. Oh well. At least the video game was awesome.

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