Sunday, 20 March 2011

He who controls the spice...

At the time of writing, I'm on about my sixth re-read of Dune, Frank Herbert's SF classic. This in itself is unusual; I've been on a binge of broadening my horizons of late, and I've not been going back to old favourites like I used to. But it's a mark of the book's quality that I've read and re-read it so often.

Dune is rightly part of the SF canon. First published in 1965, it tells the story of Paul Atreides, ducal heir his Great House. The Atreides House is sent to Arrakis (Dune... Desert planet...) by the Emperor to oversee the production of the galaxy's most valuable commodity, the spice melange. In doing so, the Atreides take the planet from their mortal enemies, the Harkonnens.

I'm not doing a great job of summarising the plot here. If it sounds deathly dull, I apologise, because it isn't. Dune is one of the most engrossing novels I've ever read. It has its failings, but then so do most books, and most don't have the layered complexity of Dune.

That's where the strength of Dune lies. It can be read as an escapist adventure - like it was by the 16-year-old who first picked it up - or as a piece of classic science fiction literature. On one hand there's the thrilling tale of what's good and right and honourable against corruption and evil. On the other, there's the themes of ecology, zoology, psychology and politics. Dune is a novel staggeringly relevant to the times we live in, especially with regards to what happens in the Middle East.

Perhaps it's ironic that a novel in part about prescience is one of the most prescient ever written in the context of our own world. Or maybe it isn't. Either way, it's an example of SF at its very finest - leading the way for the rest of the world to follow. If you don't possess a copy, go out and get one now. Read it. Then reflect on the influences beyond the pages of a £7.99 paperback.

(Just be certain that if you do enjoy it, to not then read on beyond Children of Dune. Because if you do, you'll be severely disappointed. Read the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov instead.)

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