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Review: Exploring Frank Herbert's 'Duniverse'

The Science of Dune: An Unauthorized Exploration into the Real Science Behind Frank Herbert's Fictional Universe edited by Kevin R. Grazier, Ph.D. Benbella Books, 232 pp. $17.95.

One remarkable sign of the popularity of the most famous invented worlds of science fiction and fantasy is the ongoing publication of works exploring their cultures, anthropology, languages, science, etc.

It's a phenomenon not seen in better-read genres such as mystery or romance, but it continues to sell to fans of, most notably, J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth tales and Frank Herbert's "Dune" stories (including the posthumous novels by his son, Brian Herbert, and Colorado writer Kevin J. Anderson, which have by now far surpassed Herbert pere's Dune word count).

"The Science of Dune," an unauthorized collection of essays on aspects of the "Duniverse," is a well-done example of the subgenre. Herbert's desert planet and the universe around it are filled with spectacularly detailed cultures, religions and politics, as well as less-fleshed-out fantastic technologies. In this volume, unabashed "Dune" fans, ranging from biologists to physicists to anthropologists, deconstruct Herbert's inventions.

Could such a thing as a mile-long "sandworm," which burrows through dense-packed desert terrain, have evolved? Boulder author Sibylle Hechtel lets us know in her essay, "The Biology of the Sandworm." Would Herbert's "stillsuits," which capture and distill urine, feces and breath to save water in a harsh desert environment, really work? Is "folding space" a legitimate way to think about interstellar travel?

The answers here show that Herbert was a man with an astounding imagination, and that some of his inventions are plausible, while others are simply entertaining dreams.

"Stillsuits designed using strict literal interpretations from the Dune books probably would not work and most likely would cook the wearer like a Crock-Pot," concludes John C. Smith, whose field of expertise is celestial mechanics. "However, engineering solutions can be envisioned for all the suit's shortcomings."

And that, of course, is what makes science fiction science fiction: Stretching the limits of imagination.

"The Science of Dune" is clearly aimed at Dune fanatics, for whom it will prove entertaining -- except for those who want to remain in a state of suspended disbelief, who should skip it.

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