Dune by Frank Herbert
I finally read Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune after avoiding it for a long time. My father gave me a copy after finishing the [Lord of the Rings] during middle-school. At the time I found the book to be slow and overly political, but I came back to it at the perfect time. The world rife with political unrest and I am more capable of dealing the the moral ambiguity of the work. I am also more excited by the ecological and social phenomenon of the Freemen and Spice. This book has been discussed many times before; however, here are a few major take aways:
- The parallel stories of Princess Irulan and the Muad’Dib himself, Paul Atreides, is very well executed. You actually get a brief and clever glimmer into the emperor’s court without ever going there, and the author gets a way to foreshadow without relying on Paul’s murky ability to see into the future all of the time. I felt this device tied the story together in an elegant way.
- The oppression of Arrakis due to the spice is tragic and echoed through many Earth civilizations, where a more powerful nation might take control of a nation through various methods to mine and drill resources for their own benefit. The locals having nothing to do with this other than being there. I love the Fremen’s subtle plot to undo much of the spice production on Arrakis and that their oppression has led to their deadly precision as a fighting force. I strongly dislike that their rather pure motivations get unhinged by Paul’s murkier motivations.
- I read this around the same time I listened to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast series about the Fall of the Ancient Roman Republic. And though the Galactic Empire in the book has already decayed quite a bit I thought that the ruthless self-promotion of the Harkonnen’s and the conflict between the “more royal” and the “richer” families echoed some of the conflicts of the Roman Republic towards the end. That said, I think that this theme has played out repeatedly in history.
- The background that AI and computing technology is severely limited due to a series of laws passed after an AI uprising is very interesting, especially since these tenants are baked into the religion and mutliple major organizations in the universe (Mentats, Bene Gesserit and the Space Guild). The interesting thing is that by removing AI the humans have figured out how to utilize humans with special training, and abilities, to compute extremely difficult problems. The interesting thing here is that the main reason these “super-human” intelligences are manageable is that they have classic human flaws, such as addiction to drugs, mortality, and emotional reliance. Over and over again these super-humans and undermined by normal humans in higher position by a combination of cruelty and loyalty. In a way this is what makes Paul such an anomaly. He is trained as a Bene Gesserit and a Mentat, and due to exposure to spice has many of the abilities of the Space Guild; however, unlike them he is also from the nobility and ruthless. This combination makes him almost as dangerous as the AI super-intelligences before, the reliance on human computing created the monster they hoped to deny by limiting artificial intelligence.
I really enjoyed Dune and would recommend it, just maybe not when you are 13.