Sunday, July 5, 2015

Reflecting on how Frank Herbert's Dune inspired me on its 50th

I've been asked many times which authors influence me the most. Always at the top of my list is Frank Herbert. I was reminded of this today when I saw that it's been 50 years since the publication of his master work Dune.

I read Dune as a young person. I consider it my first experience reading an adult novel. I was utterly captivated by its third-person omniscient multiple character point of view. I loved having insights into the thoughts of so many of the characters.

As for the universe of Dune, I was amazed by its cultural detail. It had politics. It had religion. It had a history, most notably the Butlerian Jihad that had freed people from their machine masters. (We're obviously just entering that grim age.)

As a girl, I was quite blown away by the Bene Jesserit Sisterhood. The concept of a powerful female society that manipulated politics and religion on a galactic scale appealed to me utterly. I wondered unhappily why there were no female institutions like this in the real world. Maybe someday...

And of course their scheme to breed a super being was exciting. How the Sisters would get pregnant to capture a certain genetic was just plain cool. Talk about taking one for the team.

The aspect of the novel that really hooked me the most was the fact that the spice must flow. The spice or melange that came from Dune (Arrakis) powered interstellar travel. The entire empire and its economy were based upon control of the spice. The parallel to our oil-based civilization was blazingly bright. The novel revealed the ruthlessness with which this power would be defended. Paul lost his father and his children in the battle for control of the empire.

Another element of the novel that I still ponder all these decades later was how the Bene Gesserit had seeded the Fremen culture with a messiah prophesy so they could exploit it one day. Paul was not a native. He was not a Fremen, but he was accepted into the society and took control of it because of his abilities and the culture's receptivity to his authority. Quite brilliant.

I still gain meaning and inspiration from this great work of science fiction. Dune inspires me with the scope of its story and the breadth of its emotion. The story is exciting, thoughtful, tragic, brutal, dark, and triumphant. It has everything! As someone who studies the craft of making stories, I can always find new lessons in its pages.

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