Classic science fiction is not an easy genre to read. Most "big" science fiction novels are so slow-paced that some might even consider them boring, and are filled with more ideas and philosophy than space battles and extraterrestrials. Most of the works considered the greatest have nothing to do with these famous clichés - they focus on human nature and society instead, criticizing today's problems through a futuristic lens. And maybe the greatest such novel of all times is Dune, written by Frank Herbert in 1965, which this year turns 50 - and it is still one of the most popular science fiction novels of our times. And it still has not been adapted to screen with success.
Dune is not a novel I would recommend to anyone. It is exciting at times, but outright boring at others - a work so complex it takes at least two or three readings to be understood completely. Finishing it for the first time was for me an achievement - I was relieved when I finally read the last page, but soon I started reading it again. I've seen both screen adaptations of the book - the 1980s version directed by David Lynch, and the 2000s miniseries created by the Sci Fi Channel and Hallmark, and having read it (and all of its sequels), I have to say that both of them have failed miserably in grasping the very essence of the story.
The complexity of Dune can be described best by using a quote from the very novel, words said by the author through the mouth of the Baron Harkonnen: “Observe the plans within plans within plans.” The action of the novel is unraveling on several planes, conspiracies are hidden within conspiracies, covered in layer upon layer of political and economical turmoil. Dune is a novel about a people's struggle for freedom, as well as a noble house's fight for the ultimate power, not to mention a religious society's fight for control - all this impregnated by a powerful message about religion, treachery, global warming and the importance of a well balanced ecosystem. The movie adaptations so far fail to grasp the complexity of the world of Dune, focusing more on hand to hand combat and grandiose visuals (not to mention the great sand worms of Dune, which make it the most important planet in the universe). The movies have left out details that would have made the story complete, and complete civilizations that have very important roles in the story, thus making it incomplete and impossible to grasp in its entirety.
One of the most striking realities of the Dune series is clairvoyance - the ability of its protagonists to see the future. Our life is governed by probabilities - chance, if you want.
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Chance is banished from the lives of the Dune novel's protagonists - Paul is blessed or cursed with the ability to see the future, and is forced to find an unlikely way out of its trap. His son (born in Dune Messiah, and the main character of the Children of Dune) is born seeing the future and the past, and also sacrifices himself - but in a completely different way. Different, and horrifying - but I won't spoil it for you. Make sure to read the book.
Dune - and its sequels - is a work I would recommend for every hardcore science fiction fan. But be advised - it is an incredibly complex work that needs to be read several times for full understanding. Besides, be sure to avoid all the Dune novels not written by Frank Herbert himself - they are a complete disappointment.