Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review of Dune by Frank Herbert (audio book)

Breaking down the plot of Frank Herbert's science fiction epic Dune (1965) is probably more than I am capable of doing at this time of night.  I chose this audio book because I have rediscovered a love of science fiction this year and thought I should give this classic title a go.  I think the audio format worked well, as trying to read this dense volume may have defeated me.

Alright, the story takes place on the sand planet Arrakis.  The noble family of  Atreides have just taken up residence and assumed control of the planet and its lucrative spice industry, when the novel opens.   Duke Leto Atreides is assassinated early on, and the novel charts the rise of his son and heir, Paul Atreides as he attempts to avenge his father and reclaim control of the planet.

The plot is complex and has a very serious tone. There are many different interests struggling for ascendancy on the planet.  There is an overarching imperial force, which controls a number of planets, of which Arrakis is only one.  There is also a personal side to the plot, that makes it more than just a war story.  The Lady Jessica, Duke Leto's concubine and Paul's mother, plays a central role in the novel, as do a number of the late Duke's loyal retainers who are forced to scatter when the Duke is killed. 

The language of the novel is beautiful.  Herbert creates a believable arid and inhospitable desert world.  Like with so much good science fiction, it is the small details that make this alternate world seem real.  A great many words are given to describing the special suits that the desert tribes people, the Fremen, have to wear to survive.  The intricacies of the role of water and different rituals also add a richness to the narrative.  There are obviously too many aspects to the plot to go into.  Perhaps my favourite part of Arrakis, and I am sure I am not alone in this, are the giant predatory sand worms that eat every living and non livng thing in their path. It suffices to say that Paul Atreides's rise to power is fraught with challenge and difficulty.

As an aside, I feel it necessary to comment on the audio book production itself.  This audio book is the most elaborately "produced" I have listened to, and I am not sure if all the extra bells and whistles really worked for me.  There are many narrators, I think more than ten, for the different characters in the story.  This is unusual.  Often a single narrator will do the reading for an entire novel, altering their own voice for the various characters.  My real annoyance though, was with the overlay of music at certain times during the narration.   I found it distracting.  Overall these are small issues, but they are curious to me, so I have mentioned them.

This is a novel that I admire tremendously for its enormous scope and detailed execution.  I didn't fully enjoy the general tone of the novel, maybe the background music, underlining the portent and seriousness of events  was part of this problem.  The slipping in and out of religious themes, with associated fervour was a bit over the top at times for me too.

I am very glad I have experienced Dune, and would thoroughly recommended it to anyone who likes their sci-fi in grand and dramatic dallops.


  1. I read Dune twice many years ago-it is a great science fiction book-the two movies based on it are also worth watching-your review brought back a lot of good memories

  2. I have found that the addition of music to audiobook narration is very distracting for me. On the other hand, I do appreciate when, as here, there are multiple narrators in a story with alot of characters; I don't like hearing one person trying to do a million different "voices."

    Science fiction is a genre that I read rarely, but on the occasions when I do, I usually like it, lol. I want to look into this one. Thanks for the great review :)

  3. I don't like "enhanced" audiobooks either, the background music always seems to be distracting

  4. Great review! Dune has been in my TBR pile for quite a while, but your review made me want to go and read it. I think that most sci-fi novels suffer from too much detail, but Dune feels like it's just right for a sci fi novice like me. :)


Comments are very welcome.