By Frank Herbert
Grade Levels: 9-12 and Adults
With a new movie adaptation scheduled to come out later this year, now is a great time to start reading the classic science-fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The novel is very well-known and has been adapted to the small and silver screens several times, most notably in 1984 by director David Lynch and featuring a cast so 1980s that it included both Patrick Stewart and Sting in the same movie. Written in 1965, the book belongs to an era of sci fi that was extremely conceptual and exploratory. And although its narrative centers around a fairly typical, almost fantasy-like story of a hero’s journey to reclaim something stolen from him, the underlying themes relating to environmentalism, sociology, and religion are much deeper than they appear.
The plot follows the son of a powerful Duke in a neo-feudal future. Our protagonist is Paul Atreides, whose family is tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. When his family is betrayed, it sets him on a journey toward a destiny he could not imagine, as he learns the truth of his parentage and how it interweaves with structures of power and planned genetics set up centuries before his birth. As Paul evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will become the catalyst for humanity’s next stage of societal evolution.
Although the narrative is compelling and will keep the reader engaged through the entirety of the novel, the real strength of Dune is its world building. The small tidbits of information that we are fed throughout the narrative hint at background information that invites us to ponder larger questions. What is the place of advanced AI in human society? What does power do to a person? How much influence do our genetics have over the kind of person we become? And it reminds us of the essential connection between the health of our world and our future as a species. Dune is a classic work of science fiction in all the right ways, dealing with big and daunting questions through a story that is thoroughly enjoyable. That is the reason we are continuing to see, and will continue to see adaptations of it well into the future.