Dune is an incredible feat of imagination and writing. Frank Herbert intermingles history, religion, politics, ecology, and philosophy into an epic adventure of intrigue and revolution.
One can see the influence Dune has had on later science fiction. It’s hard not to imagine Tatooine as one reads about Arrakis. The intrigue among the great houses will be familiar to Game of Thrones readers. Equally so, Dune is itself influenced by earlier works, such as Asimov’s Foundation series.
The world created by Herbert is complex. A long history. A complicated set of mystical, religious beliefs intermixed with science and politics. Court intrigue that sets up the underlying conflict of the novel. Cultural norms and rules that are unknown. The reader is, to borrow the now hackney phrase, a stranger in a strange land. As such, one needs a little patience when starting Dune. You have to allow yourself to become familiar with this world.
There are many themes explored and played with by Herbert in Dune. To name but a few: The obvious exploration of religion and its influence. The ongoing conflict of civilization v primitivism (city v country; empire v fremen). The evolution and persistence of religion and culture. Man v environment. The dangers of fundamentalism and Messianism. The pitfalls of ‘Great Men’. The role of computers and technology in society.
It is also fun to try to untangle and spot the real-world influences. What language is this word coming from? What religion influenced Herbert for this or that practice or mystical belief?
It is interesting how conservative the whole galactic culture appears to be. It is a deeply aristocratic society. Women occupy traditional roles. There is little in the way of what one might call ‘alternative lifestyles.’ Like many traditional/conservative cultures, honor plays a huge part. I am sure there are many English PhDs that have made their bones chewing on all this!
If I have a criticism, it would be that the characters could be tools of the plot, rather than the driving force of the plot. The grand sweep of time moving everyone along to the conclusion. The motivations of the character could be at times opaque or hidden behind too many layers.
Dune deserves the praise it gets; it deserves its place in literary history (though maybe not quite as high as Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert’s son would place it). If you only know of Dune because of the David Lynch/Sting movie from the 80s, it is worth reading with fresh eyes.