Dune is one of the most ubiquitous fantasy novels ever written and maybe because of this reason, I found the book incredibly boring. Undoubtably author Frank Herbert created an expansive and unique universe; however, when the central themes revolve around the intricacies and political bodies of space spice-mining operations, well, it isn’t particularly captivating. The giant sandworms are a fascinating concept and were my favorite part of the novel, but these creatures didn’t feel too original. In the science fiction world if there’s sand, chances are high there’s also something massive below the surface. Dune came out in the 60s and it had such an impact on people that there are still references to it even today, even if younger generations don’t realize it. This was the first book to have giant sandworms, but today it feels like everyone has used these creatures. Heck, there’s even an episode of Spongebob referencing giant sandworms. The universe crafted by author Frank Herbert doesn’t feel original because it’s been emulated in the science fiction genre so often.
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, water is the most precious commodity outside of spice. This alien society is complex, but within that complexity there’s realistic reactions and one can understand why the society acts in this way, whereas the characters are dreadfully boring though and don’t feel natural. Every character is surprisingly rational and logical in every situation, yet simplistic when the plot needs them to be.
While the pacing is slow in the first half of the book, in the second half, time flies by. The first half of this massive novel sets the stage for the world and then orchestrates the main family’s fall from power. The pacing is slow as the author takes us through the mindset of every character and their perspective for every event. The protagonist goes from on the run to a powerful messiah relatively easily. He goes from learning how to fight with a sword to unbeatable in war.
After the first act, there are two characters that believed the protagonist’s mother was the one whom betrayed them and they vow to get their revenge. They spend years trying to get their revenge and it’s a big motivational factor for them, but then the main character talks to them for one paragraph and everything is cleared up. This conflict drove those character’s motivations for so long and it was dismissed like nothing.
This happens with a ton of things throughout the story. There’s tension between the protagonist and his right-hand man put on by his new followers, but then one speech later and it’s resolved. The author builds up conflict, but rarely delivers. The final climatic war has the protagonist’s son die off screen, but we were introduced to him only a few pages before and it literally held no weight. It was like “hey I have a son now, oh no he’s dead! Tragedy!”
Despite constantly living on the border between life and death, it never felt like the main character’s life was in danger. He was prophesied to be a great leader since chapter one, and everything after that was just the details. And there are a ton of details. Reading his internal monologue was like reading the inner workings of a robot. “I’ll just do this and this, and it worked. Now on to the next thing.” The antagonists are “smart” in their POV chapters, but then act like buffoons/jabronis when confronted by the main character. These were the same people that removed his family from power right? Was that just a fluke? Why are they so incompetent now?!
Dune feels like a rational telling of history from some characters with complicated names and then it’s over. No wonder the movie bombed, the book is all inner monologues, exposition, and landscape detail. This wasn’t the hardest book to read through, but it wasn’t easy. I would imagine reading Dune would be like reading the Harry Potter series after seeing all the movies, the magic is gone and nothing really surprises you.