Poor Irulan.

Being an intergalactic pawn must be awful. She is never allowed to have her own destiny, it was hijacked at birth by the Bene Gesserit breeding program. Her husband sees her as a necessary evil and won’t lay a finger on her. Her father never valued her as anything more than a political tool. Really, I pity her. She does little to endear herself to anybody, I’ll admit, but I still think she deserved better than she got.

But I digress…

Frank Herbert created a universe unto itself. There are echoes of Earth, but they are distant indeed. The feudal rule enacted across galaxies is perhaps the most romantic, but the Orange Catholics also hearken back quite clearly. An enthralling admixture of politics, mysticism, social commentary, and psychedelic journey, Dune manages to touch some of the most deeply meaningful aspects of human reality all while offering a thrilling adventure story in the offing.

This book is, however, a challenge. It is dense and byzantine in the truest sense of the word; the political maneuvering and machinations of various clans, houses, factions, and religious orders is dizzying at times. Herbert manages to stay flawlesslyconsistent in his details, and this alone could stand as a mark of his genius. Even the most determined reader might occasionally balk at the laberinthine course of this tale.

For all of that, it is nevertheless compelling enough to make one press on. Reading this book never feels like a chore so much as a complete departure from reality. The details are rich and engage all the senses. The way Herbert describes the arid landscape of Arrakkis, our Dune planet, surpasses anything a human from our gloriously hydrated world could ever truly relate to. It makes one conscious of the tongue sent out to wet the lips; we are parched by proxy. I am profoundly aware of the luxury of submerging my bare flesh in a substance so precious, the Fremen would kill for the portion of it left inside my skin.

This book has fans who are not only devoted, but in some cases, rabid. Just as easily (perhaps even more so) as L. Ron Hubbard turned Dianetics into a cult, so too could have Herbert. His own ethics caused him to dismiss this notion as rightfully absurd (though someone once pointed out that we could easily call them the Bene Jesuits) but it was by no means because there was insufficient passion for the notion, or fodder for the purpose to be gleaned from the novel. 

It’s capacity to do so marks it out as a true classic of literature. Science fiction is often sidelined as trivial and not worthy of status equal to Dickens or Austen. However, in the best examples of the genre, the human imagination is unhampered by the bounds of reality, yet can reveal more truth about the universe we can see as well as what we can only imagine. It is liberating and deserves as much reverence as any other form of truth revealed upon the page.