Reread Dune – Quick book impressions

It’s been… I want to say 20 years but possibly more since I last read Dune by Frank Herbert, a classical work of science fiction. I still remembered a lot of the main points of the story but the finer details had long since been lost to history. After watching several anime series with overpowered main characters (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, etc) I decided to return to a much earlier example just for kicks. Go on, Paul Muad’Dib Atreides, show those amateurs how a real Gary Stu does it.

BlurbSet on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

It IS indeed a stunning blend of adventure, mysticism, environmentalism and politics. For once the blurb did not lie. I stayed up to like 3am reading it and continued the next day until I finished. There are plenty of hair-raising will-they-make-it adventure sections, way too much BS psychological mysticism, enough environmentalism to make you develop an interest in desertification and its reverse and, of course, politics up the wazoo. The politics was the most interesting part IMO, there should have been way more of it.

So is Paul really a Gary Stu? You betcha! He’s sooo smart and sooo strong, and sooo psychic, he can do at age 15 what thousands of predecessors have failed to do, he learns everything so quickly, and on and on and on. There are suggestions here and there of the probability that he might fail at something, but of course it never comes to pass and he always sails through just fine and comes through even stronger.

That’s okay with me in the earlier parts of the book. It’s justifiable to have a super-strong, super-perfect character if the alternative is certain death. Of course he’s strong, if he weren’t strong he’d be dead. It’s the later parts of the story where he’s no longer in any danger but continues to get even stronger and even more perfect to the point where almost nobody in the whole universe can hold a candle to him physically, psychically or mentally that made me think, oh brother! Frank Herbert really laid it on thick.

To his credit, the negative side effects of his perfection do trouble Paul quite a bit. He gets fear, worship, reverence, fanatical devotion and even love in spades, but all he really wants are friends. He’s also worried by persistent visions of a universal jihad caused by his followers – an eventuality he seems to stop fighting after a while because, *shrug*. Dunno why, he just does.

It also bothers him how little he feels even when tragic things happen. Or so he says, anyway. Frank Herbert was probably trying to soften the super-perfect, super-competent image on Paul, but it backfires a bit, IMO. It just makes it much harder to get under his skin or relate to his feelings as he gets more and more prefect. Which is kind of the whole point of his dilemma so it works and yet doesn’t work at the same time. Very… complicated.

I also enjoyed the fact that Dune doesn’t start out focusing exclusively on Paul Atreides. Sure it’s his story, but there’s plenty of time spent developing characters like his doomed father, his mother, retainers like Thufir Hawat and Gurney, and even side characters like the geologist Liet. When you watch anime or play games about a prince taking back his kingdom, the kingdom is usually lost pretty quickly. Sometimes it’s lost even before the story starts. Dune, on the other hand, takes the time to sketch out the previous status quo and show how and why things went wrong. It’s very enjoyable stuff and I’m a little sorry other series haven’t imitated that approach since.

So, as I’ve bseen saying all along I had fun rereading Dune. It’s not a perfect book, though. When I was younger I found the swashbuckling adventures in the desert to be the main point of interest. This time I enjoyed the social and political intrigue and found the geological and ecological details to be far more interesting than the “Paul does something awesome yet again” parts. If I had to find fault with anything it’s that there wasn’t half enough attention given to those sections as there should have been.

For example Herbert portrayed Baron Harkonnen as a sneaky, wily, highly competent foe early on, but then the character vanishes for a while and the next time we see him he’s just a fat buffoon. There are attempts to build Feyd Rautha up as Paul’s ultimate rival but not only is he out of focus for most of the book but when we do see him he’s just a spoiled brat. Same goes for the emperor, who is never given a chance to show us what, if anything, qualifies him to rule the known universe. The supposedly powerful Guild is yet another example. It’s not that they aren’t all powerful in their own way, just that Paul is portrayed as so much stronger and smarter and more determined that they might as well not bother. I would have enjoyed a bigger focus on all of them, but it wouldn’t affect the ending in any way so I guess it’s all the same in the end.

Long story short, Dune is a great read/re-read for fans of overpowered main characters. There’s a lot of new terminology thrown around but you can usually figure it out from the context without referring to the glossary. And the story is just plain interesting and easy enough to follow without being simplistic. Good books are just good, you know, Gary Stu or no Gary Stu. I’ve never read any of the sequels because I hear it’s all downhill from Dune Messiah, but I’ll give it a chance anyway. Looking forward to it!

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