Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune, first published in 1965, is still extremely influential. Science fiction author Matthew Kressel recently re-read Dune for the first time in more than a decade.
“I was worried,” Kressel says in Episode 417 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I was like, ‘Am I going to read this and not like it now? Have I outgrown this book?’ And absolutely not. It was the exact opposite. I love it even more.”
Dune contains a depth of worldbuilding that is seldom matched in science fiction. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley has always found the book a bit slow, but he acknowledges it as a great achievement.
“It’s a really impressive book, just coming from the point of view of a writer,” he says. “I’m in absolute awe, just thinking about the kind of effort and thought it would take to write a book like this.”
Dune has influenced many subsequent works, from Star Wars to Game of Thrones. TV writer Andrea Kail says that Dune‘s influence on the Wheel of Time series is particularly obvious. “I remember clearly reading the Wheel of Time books for the first time,” she says, “and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, this is totally Dune.’ He just lifted it wholesale.”
Frank Herbert wrote five sequels to Dune, and his son Brian Herbert (together with Kevin J. Anderson) has written more than a dozen more. Fantasy author Rajan Khanna sampled the first few sequels, but remains most interested in the original novel.
“I was feeling a sense of diminishing returns as I went further,” he says. “So I decided, ‘No, I’m good. I’ll just re-read Dune.’ Maybe someday I’ll read the whole series. But after watching too many movie series where they just get worse and worse, I thought, ‘Maybe this time I’ll just leave it at the beginning.’”
Listen to the complete interview with Matthew Kressel, Andrea Kail, and Rajan Khanna in Episode 417 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David Barr Kirtley on Dreamer of Dune:
“There’s a biography of Frank Herbert that I read called Dreamer of Dune, written by his son Brian Herbert, who went on—along with Kevin J. Anderson—to write the sequel/prequel books. Unfortunately it was 15 or 20 years ago that I read it, so I don’t remember it in detail, but I just remember really vividly there was a part where [Frank Herbert] had put everything into Dune, and if it wasn’t a success he was going to have to give up writing. I just remember I closed the book at that point, and was really depressed. I was like, ‘Oh man, this is so hard.’ Then I picked it up the next day and started reading again, and everything went great for him, in terms of the book, after that.”
Matthew Kressel on court intrigue:
“What I love about this book is that there are so many layers of manipulation—and Herbert speaks openly about this, the feints within feints within feints. Everybody is playing each other on multiple levels, even to the point that the Bene Gesserit might have been played by somebody else on an even bigger scale. … [Herbert] understands what really motivates people. In that dinner scene, every glance, every motion, where someone’s standing, it all has significance. Sometimes I’ll read a science fiction book and I’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s kind of ridiculous. I feel the author’s hand.’ But in Dune, there was never a moment where I thought, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous. That would never happen.’ He’s just an astute observer of human nature.”
Rajan Khanna on Dune vs. Game of Thrones:
“When I was reading [Dune], it felt very Game of Thrones to me, in that you realize that Vladimir Harkonnen, the Baron, is just playing the game better. In a way, you can draw a direct line from Leto to Ned Stark, and be like, ‘Oh, he died because he didn’t play the game right.’ He was trying to be too noble, and the game doesn’t work that way. So I think as you read more of it, the Baron is just doing what he needs to do to put his house on top. And I feel like if you looked at the other houses of the landsraad, you’d probably see more of that kind of scheming, based on every other single noble person we see in this book.”
Andrea Kail on the power of literature:
“Reading [Dune] made me realize where I got my entire life philosophy from. I always say that I was raised by books—my entire approach to life I got from books. This is the book where I learned about honor, and sacrifice, and doing the right thing no matter the cost to you. I’d forgotten where it came from—I knew it came from books—but this was the source, this was like a personal Bible for me. And realizing that was incredibly emotional. I was reading this while I was on a business trip, and I’m sitting alone in a hotel room, reading, and actually just crying. Not so much because of the book, but because I was re-discovering myself as a teenager who was easily influenced by literature.”