Classics Reissued: Dune
By Frank Herbert
Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics, 2013
The good folks who dream up, somehow organize, and then so wonderfully execute the leatherbound classics line for Barnes & Noble have produced another gem in their recent edition of Frank Herbert’s towering 1965 science fiction classic Dune. The book is a bright, burnt orange in color, with an inset cover illustration showing rippling sand dunes under the blue-black of space. The thing is rock-solid, proof against any amount of re-reading the purchaser decides to dish out.
Any excuse is a good excuse to re-read this fantastic book, the complicated, thoroughly adult story of quasi-feudal intrigue and messianic fervor set thousands of years in the future and far, far from Earth. A vast galactic empire is ruled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, who has begun to fear the growing popularity of the noble House Atreides. The emperor orders the Atreides to take up the fiefdom of the brutal desert planet Arrakis, colloquially known as Dune, which had formerly been ruled by the Atreides’ blood enemies, House Harkonnen. Dune is a fierce world, inhabited by hardy, mysterious desert people known as the Fremen and prowled in its sandy wastelands by enormous sandworms.
Dune is also the only place in the galaxy where the spice mélange can be found, and it’s not only the Empire’s most coveted drug (for its ability to lengthen the human lifespan) but it’s most essential one as well, since the spice enables the prescience with which the Spacing Guild is able to navigate the space travel. Without the spice, intergalactic civilization would come to a halt.
The leader of House Atreides, Duke Leto, knows he’s taking his family into a trap, but he can hardly refuse – and he’s a proud and able enough man to hope he can turn it to his advantage. And he’s not walking into that trap alone: he’s bringing his entire household, including the Lady Jessica, his concubine and a member of the supremely influential Bene Gesserit organization of super-nuns who have complex, generation-spanning plans of their own. And with Lady Jessica goes her teenage son Paul, heir to the dukedom, a brave and resourceful young man who will find on Dune a destiny he could scarcely have conceived – a destiny that, once ignited, will change everything, not just on Dune but throughout the galaxy.
Herbert’s novel won the Hugo Award and the first-ever Nebula Award and is usually regarded as the single greatest science fiction novel ever written. The book was adapted in 1984 into a David Lynch movie that was atrocious and glutinous even by David Lynch standards, and it was also adapted in 2000 into an extremely good TV mini-series starring the luminous Saskia Reeves. And along the way, the novel has had innumerable paperback reprints.
The cover art of those reprints has been less capricious than usual for an oft-reprinted work of science fiction, mainly because it’s for fifty years sheltered under the incredible artistic vision of the late John Schoenherr, whose conceptions of Herbert’s world stamped an entire generation of readers with their quiet majesty (the current very tasteful Ace paperback features the last Schoenherr Dune cover).
The sole drawback of this new B&N leatherbound edition is that it doesn’t incorporate Schoenherr’s artwork. But on the plus side, this edition won’t ever need to be reinforced with packing tape.