Dune is a science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. It was awarded the Nebula award in 1965 and tied for the Hugo award in 1966. It was also a huge commercial success and has now sold more than 20 million copies. Dune was followed by five sequels. The Dune saga is considered by many fans of the genre to be the best science fiction epic ever written. It is certainly one of the most popular; Dune is number six in the Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy list. Dune has been turned into a film made by David Lynch, a mini-series made by the Sci Fi Channel (United States) and a series of computer games.
Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.
Herbert dedicated the novel to dry-land ecologists.
The success of Dune has ensured several sequels. The overall theme for the dune series is the focus on the actions and consequences of superheros.
Frank Herbert says:
- "I had this theory that superheroes were disastrous for humans, that even if you postulated an infallible hero, the things this hero set in motion fell eventually into the hands of fallible mortals. What better way to destroy a civilization, society or a race than to set people into the wild oscillations which follow their turning over their critical judgment and decision-making faculties to a superhero?"
The Dune Universe
In the Dune universe, advanced computers are forbidden due to the Butlerian Jihad against thinking machines, and so as a replacement human skills have been developed to an astonishing degree:
- Mentats use intensive training to allow themselves to enter a heightened mental state in which they could perform computer-like computations.
- The Spacing Guild use the "spice" drug to enhance their prescient abilities and see a path through folded space, allowing instantaneous travel across the universe.
- The Bene Gesserit is a secretive group of female witches with almost inhuman powers developed through many years of physical and mental conditioning.
Against this background, Dune chronicles the conflict between the aristocratic House Atreides and House Harkonnen, behind whom lurks the power of the Emperor and House Corrino, and the Spacing Guild which has a monopoly on interstellar transport.
The Fremen are the indigenous population of the planet Arrakis. They are a hardy people, used to the hardship and deprivation of their desert-planet. They await their Messiah because of a legend planted intentionally across the Universe by the Missionaria Protectiva, a division of the Bene Gesserit dedicated to religious manipulation. The Messiah legend is intended to ease the path of the Kwisatz Haderach when they bring him into being.
The Harkonnens are ordered by the Emperor to cede stewardship of the planet Arrakis (known generally as Dune) to the Atreides. The planet Arrakis is extremely arid and inhabited by giant, menacing worms which live under the sand (the Fremen call them Shai-Hulud). The Fremen, adapted to this harsh climate, are obsessed with water and consider the worms holy.
Dune is the sole source of melange, a "spice" that gives limited prescience and prolongs the user's lifespan; with it the Guild Navigators see a path through foldspace, and the Bene Gesserit can enhance their abilities. The spice is the most valuable commodity in the universe and it is found only on Dune. Thus, the planet is the political fulcrum of the Universe.
On the political level Dune is the tale of a political conflict between three noble houses - the House Atreides, the House Harkonnen and the House Corrino. The Corrino Emperor has come to see the Atreides as a threat to his throne. This is for two reasons. Firstly, Duke Leto Atreides is very popular among the noble houses of the Imperium, and has become something of an unofficial leader. Secondly, the House Atreides is in a position where it could potentially undermine the fundamental source of Corrino power: The Corrino's power base is their military strength, their specially trained army - the 'Sardaukar' - who per soldier are five to ten times better fighters than the military forces of the other noble houses. However, Duke Leto Atreides has created a military force which has been trained to a standard equivalent of the Sardaukar, and though comparitively small in number they are potentially capable of training many others to the same standard. The Corrino's have not ruled the Imperium for so long by ignoring such potential threats to their power base.
The Emperor therefore decides that he must destroy House Atreides, and so he decides on a subtle plan. For centuries the House Harkonnen have been ancestral enemies of the Atreides, and so he uses the Harkonnen in his attempt to bring the Atreides down. Naturally the Baron Harkonnen, happily agrees to this because of his hatred for the Atreides, and because it would put the Emperor in his debt.
The plan is a cunning one to trap the Atreides with their own ambition. Realising that the Atreides are next to impregnable on the home planet Caladan, which they have ruled wisely and well for centuries, and thus have an incredibly loyal populace, the Emperor realizes the Atreides need to be lured away from this safety. The Emperor therefore offers them the stewardship of Arrakis, a desert planet which is incredibly important the imperial economy, because it is the only source of the 'Spice', a drug which increases life expectancy threefold, and increases mental abilities. Indeed for the two most important organizations in human space - the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit - spice is required to train their people. The Spacing Guild pilots would be unable to pilot between the stars without spice, and the Bene Gesserit would be unable to access their ancestral memories without it. Obviously then Spice is incredibly valuable, and whoever rules Arrakis, and thus mines the Spice, controls a source of huge power and wealth. Offered this 'wonderful' opportunity by the Emperor, the Atreides have little choice but to accept.
The Atreides do this knowing full well it is a trap. They expect to be attacked by the Harkonnen, and probably disguised Sardaukar troops in the near future. But they walk into the trap for two good reasons: 1) If the refuse this trap, they know future plots are inevitable, and with the Emperor's resources they would be very unlikely to escape them all. 2) They see that if they walk into this trap, there is the potential on Arrakis to not only evade the Emperor's trap, but indeed become virtually impregnable. The Atreides understand how the Emperor's Sardaukar are created, that those troops are all recruited from a hell planet Salusa Secundus, where only the strongest survive the planet and each other, and so the Emperor recruits from a populace that are simply quicker, stronger, fitter, and more dangerous than the people of the civilized worlds of the Empire. On Arrakis, there is an independent people the Fremen, who live in the deep desert, and have been oppressed for thousands of years by the rulers of Arrakis, and also having to deal with an incredibly hostile planet, they have been bred in much the same way as the Sardaukar. When Atreides takes over Arrakis, they hope to befriend the Fremen, and recruit them into their service, and thus they will be able to defeat attacks by the Emperor's Sardaukar. And in the longer term their position would be secured by the immense wealth which could be gained from good stewardship of Arrakis.
The central figure of the book is Paul Atreides, son and heir to Duke Leto Atreides, head of the House Atreides, and Leto's concubine, Jessica, a Bene Gesserit lady. The Bene Gesserit perform many functions in the Empire, Truthsayers(human truth machines), negotiators, advisors, teachers, but all these functions serve one deeper purpose: they are breeding humans trying to improve the humanity. One specific type they are trying to create is the Kwisatz Haderach, a human being who will be aware of both the female and male ancestral memories, plus the prophetic skills of a guild navigator. The Bene Gesserit are close, they believe, to the fruition of their plan, and Paul Atreides is at the heart of it. Jessica, his mother, disobeyed Bene Gesserit orders out of love for Leto Atreides, and gave birth to a boy, Paul. Her express orders had been to produce a girl, who the Bene Gesserit would have mated with a Harkonnen, and they hoped from this union they would produce the Kwisatz Haderach. What this means is that Paul Atreides has resources one would not expect, and possibilities that were unforeseen by everyone.
The Harkonnen attack is more diabolical, and more powerful than the Atreides imagined. The Harkonnens have managed to gain a spy in the Atreides inner household, and in doing so they achieve something unique in Imperium history, they manage to break the 'imperial conditioning' of a Suk doctor, which is believed to make such a person incorruptible. However, the Harkonnens with their gift for cruelty and manipulation have managed to break the Doctor - Yueh - to their will, they many years ago kidnapped Yueh's wife, and use her to manipulate him.
So when the Harkonnen attack, Yueh lowers the defensive shields, and uses gas to disable Leto, Paul and Jessica, leaving the Atreides leaderless and disorganized under the Harkonnen and Sardaukar military onslaught, which is far more powerful than the Atreides ever expected, and the leaderless Atreides army is crushed, with only a few remnants managing to escape.
Paul and Jessica are sent out into the desert to die. Because of the use of truthsayers in the Empire, the Baron Harkonnen needs to be able to say truthfully that he was not (directly) responsible for their deaths. However, this plan misfires and Paul and Jessica manage to kill their captors, and escape into the desert leaving the Harkonnen to believe that they died in a huge desert storm.
Meanwhile Leto Atreides nearly manages to kill the Baron. Yueh realizes that it is likely that the Harkonnens have been playing him for a dupe, and that is wife is probably dead already, sp he plants a poison gas tooth in Leto's mouth, and informs Leto about it. When Yueh hands over Leto, Baron Harkonnen lets Yueh join his wife... in death. Leto, still suffering from the gas in his system then attempts to kill the Baron when they meet, but misjudges his moment, and is only successful in killing the Baron's advisor and mentat, Piter.
Book one ends in the deep desert. Under the pressure of extremis, and the increased doses of Spice that Paul had been ingesting simply living on Arrakis, some of his powers come to fruition, and his ability to see possible futures explodes into awareness. He sees many things, a way out of his situation, and the restoration of the Atreides, if only he can make contact with the Fremem...and survive.
After a dangerous crossing of the desert, Paul and Jessica manage to meet up with a group of Fremen. Paul and Jessica prove their worth by disarming Fremen in unarmed combat - the weirding way - and the Fremen leader Stilgar gladly accepts them into his tribe because he would like to add that skill to the Fremen people. But during this scuffle Paul disabled a proud Fremen, who takes offence at this 'presumptious' youth, and challenges Paul to a fight to the death. Superficially, this contest between a grown man, and an untried fifteen year old boy would seem grossly unfair, but this boy had been trained by masters of the sword, and he triumphs easily, making his name in the tribe, and also giving him the household of the killed man. At the same time, Paul and Jessica are introduced to the deadly harshness of the Fremen lifestyle, as the Fremen ritually drain the dead man of his water because it is so precious to them. Paul is named 'Usul' by Stilgar as his private name within the tribe, and names himself Paul Muad'dib as his public Fremen name.
Indeed when they return the tribe's sietch, they discover the Fremen Sayaddina is near death, and with the fortuitous arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit lady, they make Jessica their Sayaddina. Jessica, not realizing the consequences of what the Fremen are about to do, accepts to cement her place in the tribe. Halfway through the process she realizes she has made a mistake, that she is involved in a similiar process to how the Bene Gesserit make their own Reverand Mothers who can see genetic memories, and realizes that the baby in her womb will also go through the process. This has truly unfortunate consequences, because it is a Bene Gesserit teaching that the baby will not have the strength to withstand her ancestors and sooner or later their consciousness will be overwhelmed by an ancestor - creating an 'abomination'.
Years pass. Paul Muad'dib learns to be a Fremen, and becomes something of a religious leader among the Fremen. He also meets a young woman, Chani, daughter of Liet, who he has long seen in his dreams, and she becomes his lover. He and his mother train the Fremen of Sietch Tabr, and other Fremen who seek out Paul in his religous guise in the ways of the weirdling way, and advanced Atreides battle tactics. Under his leadership his 'Fedaykin' experience victory after victory. His prestige and aura grow daily.
However, in order to be truly accepted by the Fremen he must become a sandrider. The Fremen have a great secret, they have learned to control the Giant Worms, through the use of 'maker hooks' they have learned to climb aboard worms, and then take control of their course, which enables them to quickly move around the desert. Obviously this is not the safest of tasks, but Paul finally attempts it and succeeds. He is a sandrider at last.
The same day smugglers seek Spice to deep in the desert and the Fremen of Sietch Tabr spring a trap. In the middle of the battle Paul recognises his weapons teacher Gurney Halleck, and calls on him to surrender, and surrender his men. Gurney is overjoyed and overwhelmed in equal measure. He surrenders his men, and joins Paul's service. Among Gurney's men, however, are some Imperial spies who attempt to kill Muad'dib, they are unsuccessful, and they are captured by the Fedaykin. Paul gives secret orders for the spies to be allowed to escape, so they reveal that Paul Atreides still lives on Arrakis. Taking advantage of recruting Gurney Halleck, Paul uses the moment to solve his leadership problem. Since he has become a wormrider many of his followers have expected Muad'dib to challenge Stilgar, his greatest friend among the Fremen, in order to take control of Sietch Tabr. But Paul breaks tradition and in doing so forces Stilgar to do the same, managing to sidestep this issue by proclaiming himself the ruling Duke of Arrakis, and thus taking power without killing his friend.
They return to Sietch Tabr. Gurney is shocked to discover Jessica is still alive, because he believes she was the one that betrayed the Atreides and that Paul does not know, he is about to kill her, when Paul walks in, and manages to stop him, and explains that it was Yueh. Gurney is almost broken by his almost fatal and tragic error, but Jessica forgives him and he is bound even further into Atreides service.
Pauls power among the Fremen grows, but he is still frustrated, he is not all he could be, he cannot control his journeys into the future, much of it is still blank to him. So he takes a truly risky step and takes the spice essence, and so attempts to perform the male equivalent of the Reverand Mother ceremony. Previously to this no man has survived this experience, and it seems he fails also, because he sinks into a coma.
Paul neglects to tell anyone what he is doing, and so many people think he is dead, though others do think he is in a religious trance. His mother, Jessica, does all she can to wake him but fails, so out of desperation she calls Chani from the deep desert to help. Chani, through her more personal knowledge of Pauls dreams and desires, realises what a mad thing Paul has done, and uses Spice Essence, to bring him out of his trance. For Paul no time has passed, and he glories in his new memories, and powers. Now he declares is the time to destroy the Harkonnen.
Paul has a great plan. First he steps up Fremen attacks on the Harkonnens and manages to almost entirely stop the flow of the spice from Arrakis. This forces the Emperor to act, and he comes to Arrakis with all his Sardaukar, and also levies of all the other noble houses, to annihilate the Fremen if necessary in order to get the Spice flowing again.
When the Emperor lands, Paul launches his full attack. Using the secreted family atomics, he blows a hole in the shield wall, and under cover of a huge desert storm attacks using giant worms. The Sardaukar, only half landed on the planet, are unable to withstand the full force of the Fremen, caught as they are in total surprise and the Emperor is forced to call a truce totally surrounded as he is, unable to land all the troops he has in space.
By now the Emperor is aware of who Muad'dib is. He sent a large Sardaukar force into the deep desert for information. Attacking a Sietch, they manage to kill Pauls two children, and capture Alia -Paul's sister - but were driven off from Fremen children and old people and women. In the surprise of Muad'dibs attack, Alia manages to escape, and in the process kill Baron Harkonnen.
Realizing that Muad'dib is not some mad Fremen religious leader gives the Emperor possibilities. Feyd Ruatha Harkonnen, the Barons nephew, and an acclaimed gladiator, challenges Paul to single combat. Paul agrees even knowing that it is possible he will die, but after a hard fight he eventually triumphs.
Paul refuses to take anymore nonsense. He retires the Emperor to Kaitain, by the simple expedience of taking power from the real rulers of the Empire - the Spacing Guild - who control space travel. He threatens to destroy the Spice if they do not ship all the troops home. The Spacing Guild have no choice, the limited powers of prophecy show Paul is capable of it and they send everyone home. The Emperor abdicates and retires to Kaitain, Paul marries (in name only) the Emperor's eldest daughter, and assumes control of the Empire.
He promises the Fremen that he will turn Arrakis into a garden planet, and all seems well in the universe of Paul Atreides.
Artistic works in the Dune universe
The original series
There is also a prequel trilogy to Dune, known as the Prelude to Dune. It was written by Brian Herbert (son of Frank) and Kevin J. Anderson and based in part on Frank Herbert's notes, found after his death. These books have been extremely successful and have introduced the Dune universe to a new generation of fans. This trilogy is set in the years leading up to the events in Dune.
- Dune: House Atreides
- Dune: House Harkonnen
- Dune: House Corrino
Second PrequelBrian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson followed this with a second prequel trilogy called the Legends of Dune This trilogy is set at the beginning of time - in regard to the Dune universe - when Humans and sentient machines fight a devastating war.
- Dune: The Butlerian Jihad
- Dune: The Machine Crusade
- Dune: The Battle of Corrin
Other artistic works based in the Dune universe
- Official website
- The official website. However, seems more interested in the new books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson rather than Frank Herbert's legacy.
- alt.fan.dune FAQ
- Frequently asked questions and answers compiled by alt.fan.dune
- Fan site with excellent messageboard
- Another excellent fan site.
- Spark Notes
- Detailed examination of Dune by Spark Notes.
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Review of novel by Nicholas Whyte. Whyte's website includes reviews of many of the Hugo and Nebula winners.
- The Internet top 100 SF Fantasy lists
- The site as maintained and updated these lists since 1997.