Fear is the Mind Killer, and Dune is the Mind Number

Author: Frank Herbert

Dune has long been on my list of must reads, and I am probably the only person on the planet who a) didn’t know even the basics of the plot and b) has never seen any of the movies. I went in knowing only that Dune was mostly set on a desert planet and there are giant worms. And honestly, I came out with about the same amount of knowledge.

Dune is a Game of Thrones like story of betrayal, interplanetary politics, mysterious religions with centuries of scheming, wealth and power, and this one man, Paul Atreides, who will somehow bring all these disparate elements together as he becomes the inhuman prophetic super figure of Muad’Dib.

The novel starts by throwing the readers into the middle of a very complicated world without any backstory. The scheming and relationships are already well underway, and it’s nearly impossible to sort out who is who, what the scheming is for, who it is levied against, and what is going on. And it stays that way for 896 grueling pages (21 hours for the Audible). This is one of those books that you need to annotate in the margins and keep a character list and interaction chart – all things I am not willing to do. Fiction reading should be fun, not an assignment.

Just as it starts to get interesting, even dramatic, Dune is over and we, the collective exhausted readers, must decide if we want to wade through another several hundred pages now that what is essentially a glorified prologue is over. For me, the answer was a definitive NO. NEVER. I probably won’t even bother with the movies.

I honestly don’t have that much more to say. Not a lot happens in this book, although there are so many characters, each with their own complicated and complicating shenanigans. Figuring out the day to day, non-essential interactions is a task in and of itself. Then we have Paul’s mother, a central figure who doesn’t really add that much and reveals even less. In the end, we know that she is still somehow connected (perhaps willingly) to this prophetic fulfillment, but we don’t really know how she feels about that or if we are even right. And honestly, we don’t care about her anyway. None of the characters have any real personality outside of their supposed “duty” and it’s impossible to really care if they live or die, much less if their elaborate schemes are ever successful or not.

Image by Steve Art from Pixabay

I’m a little surprised at all the Dune love. I see how, condensed, this storyline might make for a good movie or series, but in that case most of the first book, other than Paul’s first test and introduction to the Gom Jabbar (i.e. “fear is the midn killer”), could simply be thrown away. Dune makes George R.R. Martin look like he gets right to the point, which is honestly an achievement in and of itself. I had downloaded the unabridged Audible for a 30+ hour flight to Tanzania and was looking forward to it. I ended up barely listening to it, choosing in flight TV and neck craning naps instead because the story was simply too complicated, too boring, too slow, and too pretentious to keep my interest.

The audiobook made the story conversely better and more difficult to follow. I did like the theatrical nature of the audiobook, which helped make this dull story a little more palatable, but ultimately, I am perplexed. Why do people love this book so much? Why is there a cult following? I was just relieved when it ended, although mildly annoyed that when I finally started to feel interested it was over. I don’t get it, and I won’t be reading more.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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