Today’s book review is slightly later than scheduled as I had an exam on Wednesday that I was preparing for. I’m pleased to say that all my efforts were worth it and I passed!
I’m looking forward to sharing today’s review of Dune by Frank Herbert. It is a book I really enjoyed reading earlier this year and is the introduction to a grand science-fiction series but I’m looking forward to exploring in more detail!
Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable – and rarest – element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.
Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.
When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.
In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.
And his journey will change the universe.
Having just read a science-fiction novel before reading Dune, I was excited to immediately pick up another. It’s a genre I am reading a lot more of. But where my prior read, The Feedback Loop, was light and palatable, Dune offered me a fantasy-esque epicness I love! I had sampled of the first few pages of the book casually before, so I had an idea of what I was committing to reading. And yet, it became so much more! Dune was plenty I hoped for, and then some more.
This book is a science-fiction on a grand scale. There is a vast amount of history in world-building that is incorporated even as the opening chapters unfold. It is clear that a lot of investment was put into the characters backstory, and it is entertaining to uncover as the main story begins. There is a lot of familial conflict and resentment that drive the plot. Think of Game of Thrones, but in space! It’s a complex web of alliances and forces, but without being too difficult to follow.
The events that take place are consistent within the universe created and the flow of the narrative is impressive. There are also elements of mystical powers and magic to the story, which I really enjoyed. As a huge fantasy fan, this really appealed to me, although unfortunately the book employed some fantasy tropes I am less than enthusiastic for.
Our protagonist Paul is his mother’s son, and much more besides. Jessica is Bene Gesserit, part of an exclusive sisterhood who have trained themselves to acquire and hone magical abilities. We discover very early on that Paul has inherited these abilities, and Jessica has been training him to control them. What I really didn’t like, however, is that boys are not supposed to have the magical power that Paul does. But of course, Paul having this ability makes him *much better* than women who have it.
Obviously… Why is this gender difference a thing?
There is another character for whom I think the author did injustice, and that is our villain, Baron Harkonnen. Described as so grossly fat that he cannot support his own weight every time he appears in the narrative, Frank Herbert shows an obvious prejudice that he employs to paint this already immoral character in an even worse light. This isn’t the worst though. Around 200 pages in, I feel like the author challenges to make Baron Harkonnen even more of a villain, and decided to do so by making him gay. Bear in mind the book was originally published in 1965, and in this sense it definitely shows its age. Society has a very different attitude now to that which was present when the book was published – and certainly for the better!
Whilst I didn’t love every aspect of the book, overall I enjoyed it very much and added the sequel to my TBR immediately after finishing it (which I have since gone and read). No book is ever perfect, and the great elements outweigh the few gripes I have. It’s an entertaining science-fiction read all the same, and a bit of a classic, so I hope that you will give it a chance for yourself!
Have you read Dune, or any other books in the series? Have you watched the recent film that was released? I’d love to hear in the comments!
Empire of Silence is classic space opera. Set approximately twenty thousand years in our future, humanity reigns across the galaxy, with seats on millions of worlds, on uncounted moons and asteroids, and even across the Dark between the stars. So what can you expect to see as you journey with Hadrian through the pages of this first adventure? What brave new worlds—and what people in them—will you encounter along the way? Here’s a quick rundown of five things you can expect for the world and worldbuilding in my novel.
WE’VE GOT THE EMPIRE, NOW AS THEN
More than sixteen thousand years old by the time our story begins, the Sollan Empire is the largest nation ever to exist. With the control of nearly half a billion habitable worlds and hundreds of trillions of people, it stretches all the way from the Perseus Arm at the outer rim of our galaxy towards the dense Norman Expanse near the center, carving out a wedge of human-controlled space in an uncaring cosmos. Interstellar travel being slow, the Empire is essentially feudal, each planetary system acting more or less independently, with minimal oversight from the Emperor (and minimal interference from his legions) in his palace at Forum. Each feudal territory—be it a moon, a planet, or an entire solar system—is under the command of one or many noble houses. These nobles are the beneficiaries of the finest genetic engineering: they’re stronger, smarter, better-looking, and they may live for centuries, ruling their respective worlds like tiny gods. Founded as they were out of a reaction to the abuses of artificial intelligence and other forms of high technology, the Sollan Empire tightly regulates access to anything more complicated than an automobile.
The Empire’s culture is self-consciously traditionalist. Built on the back of a human victory over their own machines, the first Sollans experienced a renaissance during which the ancient aesthetic and cultural traditions of our checkered past were revived as emblems of an age before our near extinction. Anything that smacks of the postmodern, the artificial, or the inhuman, is cast out or destroyed.
BUT WE ARE NOT ALONE
There may be billions of habitable worlds in the Milky Way, but if there are other civilizations, we have yet to hear from them. As humanity made its way into space, we discovered the answer to Fermi’s Paradox was rather simpler than we expected: we were early risers. Intelligent life is relatively rare in the cosmos. In nearly twenty thousand years of exploring deep space, we encountered dozens of intelligent species, but none of them had developed any technology more advanced than steel. Some of these species we uplifted, others enslaved. In all that time, we have only encountered one other species capable of star travel: the Cielcin. Like humanity, the Cielcin homeworld is lost, destroyed in the deeps of time. Unlike humanity, they have not settled other worlds, but set to roaming, wandering in the black of space inside ships hollowed out of asteroids: gathering fuel from gas giants, sucking water from comets, and harvesting planets for food—when they can find it. Roughly humanoid, they are carnivorous to a fault, and it is this need to eat that has driven them to assault human colonies. Entire cities are captured and butchered to feed their migratory hordes, leaving only smoking ruins in their wake. Because of their migratory nature, humanity has been forced to fight a defensive war for centuries, unable to find the aliens’ fleets in the dark of infinite space. For mankind, it’s been nothing but a series of losses and losing battles, punctuated by the odd, startling success…that is, until Hadrian Marlowe appeared.
BIOLOGY IS DESTINY
Hadrian Marlowe is a child of lords. A palatine. Born at the very top of the imperial caste system, he is the the beneficiary of dozens of generations of breeding and genetic engineering. Members of the palatine caste may live for centuries, with the very oldest and noblest families living as long as six or seven hundred years. They’re free from most diseases, taller, smarter, more attractive than their low-caste plebeian counterparts who—like you and I—are doomed to live a mere 80-some years with various health problems and insufficiencies. Between them are the patricians, low-caste people given gene therapies and other medical interventions in return for services rendered. Such patricians may live longer—some as many as three hundred years—and may even pass those inheritances on to their children, if their lords are gracious enough. But not all is well for our palatine overlords. Their genomes are so heavily modified, so idiosyncratic, that they cannot reproduce without scientific help. That’s all well and good. The palatine nobility wouldn’t want children the natural way to begin with, preferring instead to have their children in artificial wombs under the watchful eye of scientists. But they also cannot reproduce without imperial permission, as the keys that would allow each noble couple’s children to develop healthy are tightly controlled by the Emperor’s office. Thus the Emperor retains control of the noble houses: through their children.
NEVER TRUST ROBOTS
You won’t find any robots in the Sollan Empire (and if you do, you must report them to the Holy Terran Chantry at once). They’re forbidden. Long ago, before the foundation of the Empire, the ancient Mericanii were ruled by machines, vast artificial intelligences that governed Old Earth in its dying days. Those would have been humanity’s dying days as well, for our machine children turned against us, and it was only the actions of a few offworld colonies—led by the man who would become the Sollan Empire’s first Emperor—who delivered mankind from the machines. Never again, they vowed, would we make monsters out of metal and silicon. That’s where the Chantry comes in: part religious institution, part judicial apparatus, the Chantry polices the imperial world. Every citizen, from the lowliest serf to the Emperor himself, is subject to their inquiry. Their influence even stretches beyond imperial borders, into Jaddian space and amongst the Norman colonies. Though they police all manner of crimes-turned-sins, their primary charge is the hunting down and destruction of illegal technologies, especially any technologies with a glimmer of intelligence. Cybernetic implants are strictly forbidden, as the mixture of man and machine is considered the worst abomination of all.
But beyond the borders of the Empire—in the Dark between the stars—the Chantry’s power breaks down. Among the Extrasolarians (human pirates and barbarians that rejected imperial civilization) it is said the old, forbidden technologies still prosper. Perhaps the machines are not so dead as the priest-hunters of the Chantry believe.
THE SWORD IS MIGHTY
It was space travel that first revived the age of the sword. The delicate hulls of spacecraft and the presence of volatile chemicals made firearms a poor option, but it was the development of the Royse field that truly restored the sword to its rightful place in the hand of every soldier, mercenary, gentleman, and privateer. The force field sidelined traditional firearms, forcing common soldiers to adopt plasma weapons—whose ambient heat can pass through a Royse barrier—and melee weapons, which are slow enough to pass beneath a shield’s energy threshold. This revolutionized combat and reshaped human culture as we expanded into space. Most battles between human groups became fought on the ground or the air, most inter-ship weaponry having been made obsolete by the shield and by the blanket ban on artificial intelligence, and what space combat there is most often performed by boarding parties and by stealth. Just an importantly, the swords themselves improved. Highmatter is a form of programmable exotic matter discovered some millennia before Hadrian’s day. A kind of liquid metal, highmatter is used in some electronics and especially in spacecraft, but it is also used for swords. Highmatter swords can cut through almost anything. Their edges are programmed to an atom’s thickness, and they might cut steel or stone as easily as an arm or leg. The atoms of a highmatter blade are bonded together, making the sword essentially one massive molecule, and nigh unbreakable. The only defense against a highmatter sword is the long-chain carbon atoms that are found in starship hulls—or, of course, another highmatter sword.
About The Author
Christopher Ruocchio is the author of The Sun Eater, a space opera fantasy series from DAW Books, as well as the Assistant Editor at Baen Books, where he co-edited the military SF anthology Star Destroyers, as well as the upcoming Space Pioneers, a collection of Golden Age reprints showcasing tales of human exploration. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where a penchant for self-destructive decision making caused him to pursue a bachelor’s in English Rhetoric with a minor in Classics. An avid student of history, philosophy, and religion, Christopher has been writing since he was eight-years-old and sold his first book —Empire of Silence— at twenty-two. The Sun Eater series is available from Gollancz in the UK, and has been translated into French and German.
Christopher lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he spends most of his time hunched over a keyboard writing. When not writing, he splits his time between his family, procrastinating with video games, and his friend’s boxing gym. He may be found on both Facebook and Twitter at @TheRuocchio.