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Dune    by Frank Herbert order for
by Frank Herbert
Order:  USA  Can
Audio Renaissance, 2007 (1965)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Like many others, I read Nebula and Hugo Award Winner Dune, one of the all time greats in SF, when it was first published, and have since watched the 1984 movie adaptation of the novel, though I haven't followed the series continuation in sequels and prequels by the author's son Brian Herbert and by Kevin Anderson.

Listening to this brilliant new audiobook version (18 CDs, 22 hours) reminded me of how much the movie simplified the original, and of the intricate depth that Frank Herbert built into his societies (Imperial and Fremen) and competing factions - the Ducal Houses, the Guild controlling space travel, the Bene Gesserit witches with their genetic breeding project, the super-logical Mentats, and the interstellar economy's strong dependency on melange, the spice (found only on desert planet Arrakis) that provides longevity to the rich and powerful and allows the Guild to operate.

The audiobook production creates an immediacy to the saga, while the variety of accents and voices bring the characters and their motivations to life. It takes many voices to carry a story of this complexity - Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance et al do fine jobs, though it was a little disconcerting to hear Atreides Duke Leto's part spoken by different voices, and I wish that more female narrators had spoken the parts of the Duke's concubine Jessica, Fremen Chani, and so on (only the Princess Irulan had a true female voice).

We first meet the Atreides on their lush home planet of Caledon, where we see the Duke's teen son Paul with his various mentors - in particular weapon master Duncan Idaho and wise troubadour Gurney Halleck - and with his mother Jessica. A Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother arrives to submit Paul to a horrifying test of his humanity. This is when we first hear a refrain that will be echoed throughout the story, 'fear is the mind killer', and first get an inkling of Paul's destiny - is he the long awaited Kwisatz Haderach, the aim of Bene Gesserit breeding programs?

The Atreides travel to Arrakis, knowing they're walking into a trap set by their evil enemy, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, but unaware of its extent or of imminent betrayal by a close member of their entourage, and by the Padishah Emperor himself. Leto dies but Jessica (pregnant with Alia) and Paul escape to the deep desert, where they join the warrior Fremen. They learn their culture and of the passionate Fremen dream that will eventually launch a galactic jihad. While full of Macchiavellian plots, this first book is also a coming of age story, as boy matures into superman and Paul Atreides morphs into Paul Muad'Dib.

Paul, who has always had flashes of prescience, finds that his powers grow once he starts ingesting spice on Arrakis, and even faster in the deep desert with the Fremen. He is soon 'caught up in his own mythology'. Herbert explores what it would be like to know that your choices are pivotal in unleashing horrors across the universe, showing us Paul's angst as he looks ahead at branching, bloody futures. Almost despite himself, Paul becomes the Fremen's military (and religious) leader, sabotages spice production, and eventually exacts a thoroughly satisfying revenge on his father's killers, in a climactic ending.

I very much enjoyed reliving the epic (as did my teen son who never read the original but was spellbound listening to it). This time around, what struck me most strongly was Herbert's extrapolation of the core SF question, what if?, developing an entire culture around the extreme scarcity of water on a planet highly valued for another resource, melange. I highly recommend this Dune audiobook to you, and hope that someone will produce a new and better movie - as finally happened with Lord of the Rings - that does this monumental SF saga justice.

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