dune, the novel.

April 18, 2009

i’ve been a quiet fan of science-fiction for as long as i can remember. there was something about the possibility of the genre that really drew me in, as it was usually linked to some kind of social structure that was inherently familiar. thus, it struck me much more profoundly than any kind of fantasy story based in the supernatural.

that being said, the supernatural continues to exert its influence on science-fiction. to me, this seems counter-intuitive: while magic fused with technology can make for excellent narrative, it creates an inherent contradiction in that human matters are governed by some kind of deity or deities who struggle to be known with no real reason as to why they act as they do.

maybe that’s why i really like dune by frank herbert. it is really a science-fiction novel in the most cursory sense of the term. it can probably be more accurately described as “political fiction” – not unlike brave new world or nineteen eighty four.

for all of the talk of destiny and prophecy, herbert creates these within a humanistic framework, with detailed reasons for why a certain way of thinking persists in his universe. there is no god in his story, at least not one that escapes explanation as the product of human need. case in point: the bene gesserit, a class of powerful female political guides, derive as much power from their training as from the legends around them that they have created. none of this power, however, comes from a higher power. instead, it – along with the powers of many other characters in the novel – come from the ubiquitous spice melange, a drug that extends perspectived prescience to the user. as it is the most valuable substance in the galaxy – all interstellar travel is made possible due to the spice – it sets the characters neatly in place in a story where economics and politics run tightly together.

although star wars will always remain dear to me, the concept of “the force” remains deeply problematic. perhaps the reason why it became such a powerful franchise compared to dune is because it better taps into the archetype of a subject being governed by an omniscient power. where lucas embraces this, and roddenberry suggests it (but allows the audience to come to their own conclusions), herbert passively rejects this.

and maybe that is why it never succeeded: when so much of science-fiction depends on escapism, herbert does not allow this. he forces us to look deep and hard into ourselves and, in the process, question if we are indeed ready to inherit the future.

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2 Responses to “dune, the novel.”

  1. Milan Says:

    Arguably, Dune is as much allegory as anything else.

    Ever notice the similarity between the Fedaykin and the Fedayeen? Or between oil and the spice?

  2. mkushnir Says:

    of course.

    funny thing about allegory: one thing i forgot to mention was that it is hard to believe sometimes that it was written in the mid ’60s. it almost reads as it were allegory for today’s world.

    ps. is it just me or does it seem that, wherever david lynch goes, kyle mclachlan is not far behind?


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