Human drama hides behind science fiction's settings

Tackling the epitome of political Science Fiction: The DUNE Saga (First approach)

Art by: Gary Jamroz - See original Here

It's been a while since I last read the DUNE saga, but if there is one thing that you can never forget after reading it is that the whole thing revolves around the intricacies of politics and power. For those of you who have never read the book, and have only seen the movie and/or TV adaptations of it then the story is mostly about the action and daring-do, but you are missing out on so many levels of detail and nuance that it's almost as if you were seeing an entirely different story. For this post I will concern myself only with the first book in the series, but might mention ahead.

The main story revolves primarily around the political relationships of three of the galaxy's Great Houses: the Atreides, the Corrino and the Harkonen; which are the main political entities of the Empire, where blood feuds are everyday occurrences. The basis of political power in this universe is derived primarily from economic power, and the greatest source of wealth is the substance know as the "spice", Melange. In a society where technology has fallen back to mechanics and computers, or thinking machines, are forbidden, reliance on human intelligence and abilities, as well as deliberate "genetic" modification, has become commonplace.

Despite it being a story filled with action sequences, duels to the death, escapes into the dessert, treachery and all out war, the core of the story is power relations; this is a book where political and social relations are described and discussed freely by the characters, where the decisions of people with power define the action sequences of the book, and not the antics of some backwater, unknown character who is suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into the role of hero.

In Dune, the hero is Paul, Muad'Dib, Atreides, heir to a powerful house, who has been has been trained to be a Duke of the galaxy, educated in court politics and behavior and several other topics needed for ruling. The first part of the novel allows us to get a glimpse into his training and education, making for a very interesting look into political thinking and scheming on a galactic scale. At first he is only the heir, but when his father, Duke Leto Atreides, is named ruler of Arrakis, the planet known as Dune and source of the most sought after commodity in the Empire, we are thrust head first into a political maelstrom that will end with Duke Leto's assassination at the hands of the Emperor's Sardaukar guards disguised as Harkonnen troops; after this, we get to see a new Paul Atreides, whose every decision is fueled by a political motivation.

In this book we see only a brief glimpse of the other political entities that populate this galaxy, such as the Bene Gesserit, or the guild, or the Tleilaxu, but they are always in the background, and in further books they will become incredibly important to the story.

There are many other politically motivated characters throughout the novel, such as the Fremen leader Stilgar, but unlike Paul, they can only decide on small scale tactics and actions, they lack the vision to make decisions on a planet, nay galaxy-wide, scale, such as threatening to destroy all melange, and thus holding everyone else hostage to their will. This is one of the most complex and intrigue ridden works of speculative fiction, where the focus is more often on the wider picture than on the specific actions of individuals that the reader is seeing.

If you agree with this interpretation, by all means follow this blog, and if you disagree, then tell me why and we can talk about in the comments section below.