Warning: this review may contain SPOILERS for DUNE
Ultra-tough, misunderstood desert cultures can be a slightly overused trope in fantasy writing, especially alternative world fantasy. They often crop up as the much-needed army for the beset hero, at just the right time, after the hero properly impresses them and meets some ancient prophecy. It might be that the origin of this tendency lies with DUNE.
Frank Herbert is considered one of the fathers of science fiction, a pantheon that traditionally includes authors like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C Clark (I like to call authors like HG Wells and Jules Verne the grandfathers of science fiction). So it will doubtless be controversial that I define DUNE as alternative world fantasy, for similar reasons to why I classify Star Wars that way.
There are stronger science fiction elements in DUNE than there are in Star Wars. Technology is a much larger driver of plot points, as are scientific concepts. It is a far-future universe with clear lines of extrapolation from humanity and Earth’s civilizations. One of my favorite aspects of the book, which is also one of those which I found most frustrating, was the perception that there is far, far more going on in DUNE‘s universe than is made in any way apparent. Though the book was considered preposterously long at the time of its publication, I would actually argue that it would have been an even stronger book had it been longer.
That being said, the amount of plot covered in a relatively small number of words gave the book a unique feel, and left more to the reader’s imagination, which can itself be a powerful tool. Unlike Asimov’s, whose future extrapolation was primarily focused on technology, Herbert’s predictions were more focused on sociology and cultural changes. Thus the plethora of unique cultural elements and religious overtones, while the hard technology mostly takes a back seat.
Would I recommend DUNE? Absolutely. Aside from being a seminal work in speculative fiction, the novel does spectacularly well what I think is the most valuable aspect of speculative fiction writing: the opportunity to gain the experience of lifetimes vicariously through the characters, thus gaining some measure of further insight into what it means to be human.