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Machiavellis in spaceships meet the biggest nightcrawlers you've ever seen...

* Dune
* By Frank Herbert
* Ace Books
* $6.99
* Paperback, Feb. 1995
* ISBN 0-441-17271-7

Review by Tamara I. Hladik

The universe of Dune buoys great ships. Over these turbulent seas sail the Bene Gesserit, a tight-lipped sect with almost supernatural powers. The Mentat order sails too, hyper-trained in logic to a computer-like degree. There is the Spacing Guild, whose strangely evolved minds fold space and control a monopoly on trade and travel. And there are familiar vessels as well -- political, aristocratic vessels. Shaddam IV rules the Imperium and works to maintain his power against the shifting armada of the Landsraad, a consortium of Great Houses.

Our Pick: A

Paul Atreides, the heir to House Atreides, is young but keenly intelligent. He is trained in subtle ways by his Bene Gesserit mother, the Lady Jessica, and trained in rulership by his father, Duke Leto. Powerful but vulnerable, House Atreides has many enemies, chief of which is House Harkonnen. Led by their Baron, the Harkonnens have maneuvered with the Emperor to force House Atreides to trade its ancestral planet of Caladan for the fearsome desert-planet, Dune. On Dune, wealth is measured in water, which is so scarce that spitting is a sign of respect.

But Dune is not a hell-world without riches. Most would kill without conscience to rule it, as it is the sole source of the spice melange, upon which the universe is dependent. Under certain conditions spice heightens mental abilities, and it is coveted by all. Spice is rare, however, and spice-miners hazard much to win it -- flesh-rending sandstorms and leviathan sandworms 400 meters or more in length. House Atreides knows Dune is an intricately architected trap, but it is also a gambit. But whether gambit or trap, in all the plotting of all the cabals, all have underestimated the fierce, desert-dwelling Fremen, Dune's native people. They walk in mystery and eye Paul with special interest, for he may be the summation of their ancient prophecies...

Plausible, mysterious, immense

In both inspiration and execution, Dune masterfully crafts a universe where lesser novels promulgate excuses for sequels. All its rich elements are in balance and plausible -- not the patchwork confederacy of made-up languages, contrived customs, and meaningless histories that are the hallmark of so many other, lesser novels. Dune's well-planned architecture makes a gift of a credible world to the reader, rather than clumsily asking for a leap of faith.

Well-paced throughout, Dune falters only at the end. While Paul is on a human scale, he is interesting and sympathetic, but as he achieves demi-godhood he becomes remote and a shade boring. With near-omnipotence, single-handed combat against his Harkonnen counterpart is no climax, just a turkey shoot. The novel's resolution bows before its spectacle.

Additionally, the novel's last, ringing sentence tastes ever-so-slightly sour. Jessica (Duke Leto's concubine) speaks to Paul's mate, as she accepts that Paul will marry the Emperor's daughter: "...we who carry the name of concubine -- history will call us wives." Rather a poor tribute to two characters proven to be fierce, independent and resourceful. This is especially true for Jessica, the novel's other main character. But accolades should go to Dune for having a worthy female character like Jessica at all, let alone in 1965.

Hard to really fault this one, this Dune. Its biggest challenges are telling the stories of individuals ensconced in an epic, and pacing that epic over nearly 400 pages. This is a task that separates the art of writing from just plain typing. And this is writing, make no mistake.

Probably the most difficult thing about reading this book is putting it down. -- Tamara


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