Herbert: Dune
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Dune is one of the most popular novels in the history of science fiction. It has spawned two film versions, a host of sequels, a fake encyclopedia, and several video games. It was originally published in two pieces, each of them serialized in Analog (as Astounding Science Fiction was renamed in the 1960s, still with Campbell as editor). Published in 1965, it won both Hugo and Nebula awards. Thirty six years on, its popularity shows little sign of waning.

Discussion Questions

  1. The whole business of who is really related to whom gets a little tricky here. Draw a family tree for the Atreides and Harkonnen characters as you read -- we'll go over it in class, which will make discussion easier.

  2. Herbert gives his future world some very advanced technology, but deploys it in a very distinctive way. What is distinctive here, and why do you think he wants to do it. How does his use of technology differ from that of writers like Heinlein and Bester?

  3. What kind of role do women enjoy in this future? What power do they enjoy, and how do they gain it?

  4. Herbert borrows from an amazingly broad range of different sources here. As you read the book, be on the lookout for echoes of other characters and kinds of story. In turn, it has influenced many later stories. Make a list of both, and be ready to discuss them in class.

  5. Herbert's story integrates a large number of different themes (religion, politics, adventure, ecology) and nowhere is this clearer than in the character of Paul himself. What different roles does he play during the course of the book? To what extent is he in control of the historical events he triggers? How does Herbert feel about heroes and power?

  6. This is the first book we have read from the 1960s. While the book is set in the distant future, some of its concerns mirror those of the time in which it was written. To what extent, and in what ways, was it a product of its time?


bulletDavid Lynch filmed Dune -- the results were pretty but (apparently due to studio pressure for a short film) almost entirely impossible to follow. So don't try watching the film instead of reading the book!
bulletThe Sci-Fi Channel did a mini-series version, which I hear is longer, more faithful but a little plodding.
bulletFrank Herbert wrote five further Dune books. Dune Messiah and Children of Dune -- the next two -- are weaker than the original but worth considering. I'd advise you to skip the final three, and some recent posthumous sequels by his son. Hellstrom's Hive and The Dosadi Experiment are the most interesting of his other books -- both deal with non-human societies and intelligence.
bulletThe Clute & Nichols entries on Herbert, Messiah, Ecology and Planetary Romance are important here.

Page created by Thomas Haigh. Last edited  01/12/2002.