Ecology, feminism, artificial intelligence: why “Dune” still fascinates

By Damien Leloup

Posted today at 12:02 a.m., updated at 4:26 a.m.

The genesis of Dune begins with an article that will never be returned. In 1959, Frank Herbert, a jack-of-all-trades journalist who contributed to several local newspapers and had already published early science fiction stories, was commissioned a large article on the dunes of Florence, Oregon, a gang of sand over 60 kilometers long whose stability is threatened. Herbert is so passionate about the subject that he accumulates reports and documentation … without deciding to write the article.

Read the interview with Denis Villeneuve (2021): “” Dune “is the precursor of the idea according to which ecology is a movement which goes beyond politics and can also become violent”

Instead, he embarks on a great novel, which will be published in stages in a science fiction magazine, Analog. Rejected by some twenty publishing houses, the – very long – manuscript will finally be published by Chilton, an editor specializing … in technical manuals. And who will achieve there one of the best operations in the history of publishing.

  • One of the major classics of science fiction

When it was released in 1965, Dune won in quick succession the two prestigious Hugo and Nebula prizes. It has since been one of the best-selling science fiction novels in the world. With 20 million copies sold, it has sold more than all the other great novels of the genre, and is clearly surpassed only by the saga Hunger Games.

Above all, Dune has left its mark on generations of readers, and exerted a considerable influence on science fiction. First of all because it is one of the first novels that “Make a world”, notes Roland Lehoucq in the preface to the collection of essays Dune. Scientific and cultural exploration of a planet-universe (Le Bélial, 2020).

The novel takes place almost entirely on the desert planet Arrakis, where Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family who received Arrakis as the emperor’s stronghold, takes the lead of native warriors, the Fremen, after the assassination of his father. by the sinister Harkonnen family. The control of Arrakis is a major stake: it is the only planet where one finds the spice, substance which allows to see the future and is essential to the pilots of spaceships since the humanity. rid of all the artificial intelligences that enslaved her.

But the novel and its sequels also reveal a gigantic, living world, where intrigues and plots are omnipresent, where religion, genetic manipulation and technological developments form a coherent whole. All served by a host of striking details. Dune, they are characters whose eyes have been made totally blue by the consumption of spice, giant sand worms, ornithopters that have replaced airplanes or even automatic shields that block any object attempting to penetrate them at high speed – making firearms useless …

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