Reading Fantasy with an open mind led me inexorably to Sci-Fi; whether one caused the other – and if so, in which order – I know not.
The first Sci-Fi book I remember reading, and it was one life-changing read, was ‘Dune’, by Frank Herbert. The only way I could describe it at the time – in terms of its epic scope, fully-realised, flawed characters and vividly depicted reality so similar and yet so different to our own – was as a Sci-Fi ‘Lord of the Rings’, which I read when I was 11 or 12; I still believe this is the best way of describing it to people who have no idea of the rich rewards that await the reader within its pages.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the best-selling Sci-Fi book of all time, ‘Dune’ was published in 1965. It deals with a spacefaring feudal society (with all the intrigue, nobility, baseness, violence and politics that that entails), in which various noble ‘Houses’ vie for the Emperor’s permission to control the planet Arrakis (known as ‘Dune’), the only galactic source of the spice melange which allows space travel and prescience. The House put in charge can then harvest the spice in whichever way it deems fit, in order to maximise production and keep the empire running smoothly, but must be wary of falling foul of the local populace, the mysterious Fremen.
The first in the series of six books originally written by Frank Herbert (his son, Brian Herbert, has since added to the canon, co-writing several more prequel and sequel novels with Kevin J. Anderson), ‘Dune’ is the best introduction to the reader of the franchise, a 15,000 year-long journey of the ‘Dune’ universe – or the ‘Duniverse’, as it is never known and I’ve just made up. (Note: I have recently seen this term attributed to the filmmaker Faran Moradi, who I had never heard of, but I’m not precious [unlike water on Arrakis] – he can own it, if he wants!)
It has since begat a raft of computer game, film, comic, board game and TV adaptations, none of which do it justice – despite what lovers of the David Lynch film might say (see note, below), though I do have a soft spot for the old ‘Dune 2’ PC game.
I am now onto my fifth copy of ‘Dune’, having loaned out the previous four copies to friends and never getting them back; bibliophiles out there will understand that this is a clear indication it is that good.
Note; in 1973, 11 years before the Lynch film, the director and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky set about creating an epic adaptation featuring (among others): Pink Floyd for some of the music, Giger (of Alien fame) for design, and Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and David Carradine as some of the cast. The script was so big, it was thought the film would last 14 hours (the only way you could do the book justice, in my opinion). Unfortunately, the finance wasn’t there and this project never happened, more’s the pity. There is reportedly a new adaptation currently in the pipeline – a two-part series, due to be directed by Denis Villeneuve.