The science fiction classic Dune is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.
On release it was the winner of both the prestigious Hugo Award and the inaugural Nebular Award. It has gone on to sell over 12 million copies since then and frequently appears on sci-fi must read lists. Dune has been favourably compared to Lord of the Rings trilogy for its grand scope and sighted as an influence on numerous creative projects from Star Wars to Game of Thrones, it even inspired an Iron Maiden song “To Tame the Land”.
Set in a heavily feudal society of the future where “spice “mined from treacherous sand dunes is the most valuable commodity in the galaxy Dune is the first book in an epic saga charting the life of Duke Paul of the House Atraides. When his family is betrayed by another Noble House, Paul is forced to flee with his mother Jessica into the unforgiving terrain of the desert planet Arrakis. Far from perishing in this punishing environment as their enemies anticipate, the pair survive and Paul discovers that the dunes and their inhabitants are key to fulfilling a destiny far greater than any he could ever have imagined.
Author Frank Herbert masterfully pulls together multiple layers of political intrigue, adds complex themes of religion and culture, mixes in a healthy dose of adventure and frames the story within a meticulously constructed fictional universe. The resulting novel is considered ahead of its time in exploring issues of ecology and environmentalism but has faced criticism for what some see as its poor development of female characters.
Herbert went on to wright five sequels before his death in 1986. His Dune legacy lives on thanks to his son Brian Herbert who along with established science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson has written a number of prequel novels beginning with the Prelude to Dune Trilogy published from 1999 as well as two sequels Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune based on Frank’s own 30 page outline for the continuation of the series.
If you have already read Dune or would like to try some other great science fiction titles which also explore themes of politics, culture and religion try these compelling reads:
Sand by Hugh Howey. Staying with the desert theme Sand is the new novel from the acclaimed author of the bestselling Wool trilogy. An old civilization is literally buried under massive sand dunes. It’s up to four siblings born into this barren new to world dig deep and uncover the secrets of the lost one.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Jesuit priest Father Emilio Santoz leads an expedition to meet a sentient alien race after he is moved by their use of music but the consequences are devastating. Russell makes excellent use of her own experience as a paleoanthropologist to injects a sense of real life into her alien world and its strange new species. Exploring human concepts of morality and faith this and sequel Children of God are as intelligent, compelling and challenging as science fiction gets.
Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon 1) by China Mievelle . Welcome to the sprawling city of New Crobuzon where humans live side by side with all manner of strange creatures from khephris (insect headed women) to winged garuda. When one such garuda who has been stripped of flight approaches an amateur scientist to help him regain it they unwittingly set in motion events which will leave the whole of the city gripped with terror. This is a massively ambitious story which mixes politics, ethics, science and fantasy to astonishing effect.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Introducing The Justice, the AI mind of a destroyed warship trapped in the reanimated body of a single dead human or “corpse soldier”. Used to controlling thousands of “corpse soldiers” simultaneously The Justice must adjust to this reduced state if she is to complete one last mission and exact revenge on those who destroyed her. Author Leckie became the first person to collect the Hugo, Nebular and Arthur C Clark awards for Best Novel in the same year with this her 2014 debut novel. Its sequel Ancillary Sword is also available now.
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks. Between 1987 and his death in 2013 Banks wrote a series of highly acclaimed novels and short stories set in and around the supposedly utopian interstellar society of The Culture. Essentially space operas the novels are less concerned with scientific fact than exploring complex themes such as identity and politics. The Player of Games is an accessible entry point into this Universe. It tells the story of Gurgeh a man famous throughout The Culture for his mastery of board games. Coerced into participating in a game called Azad in an Empire far from home Gurgeh soon realizes that he will not only be player but also pawn and that the stakes are literally to die for.
Post by Gemma Alexander, Information and Research Library