How do you make a story about a desert so good? Well obviously the story isn’t about a desert, it takes place in one; but the setting gets as much ‘screen’time as any other character. This is the best selling sci-fi book of all time, a precursor to Star Wars (one..I.. could say that Star Wars is a loose adaptation of this book), and a damn good book. This was my second time through the book, this time via audible, and it was awesome to hear the sound effects and multiple voice actors.
Paul Atreides is the son of a duke (in the galactic sense) called Leto. His mother Jessica is the only member of Leto’s concubine, he loves her but doesn’t marry in case he can secure a political alliance through another marriage. Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, which basically means shes a jedi, and Paul also has these abilities which is uncommon since he is male. The Bene Gesserit are way more scheming than the jedi however, they have their own plans for the Universe, and are deep into selective breeding…the long game.
The Atreides family and their ‘subjects’ are assigned, by the emperor, reign over the desert planet Arrakis. This is because the Atreides are gaining a ton of power and support, and the emperor is scared. The Harkonnens, already on the planet, have a long feud with the Atreides and the Emperor hopes for the Atreides to be destroyed by them. The Emperor helps this happen by supplying his own imperial troops, who are super badass and never lose, the Sardaukar.
Ultimately, the Atreides are betrayed by their own trusted doctor Yueh. The doctor hates the Harkonnens because they killed his wife, which is why Jessica’s mind powers don’t discover the betrayal till too late. Yueh allows Jessica and Paul to escape, but captures Duke Leto and gives him to the Harkonnen baron, Vladimir. Vlad is an all around shitty dude, way worst than Darth Vader in that he is nonredeemable (and a child molestor). We also later learn that he is Jessica’s father. Yueh attaches a tooth filled with poison gas to Leto, which almost kills Vlad, and does kill one of his most powerful subjects, Piter.
Meanwhile, Paul and Jessica are stranded in the desert (Yueh didn’t help them out that much). They are eventually found by a tribe of Fremmen, locals of the planet, who decide to kill them for their water, nothing personal. Paul and Jessica use their Bene Gesserit powers to outsmart and outfight the Fremmen tribe’s leader Stilgar. Paul and Jessica are welcomed to the tribe and quickly become leaders.
Jessica becomes the reverend mother, basically their spiritual leader, by going through a ritual called spice agony. The ritual involves drowning a sand worm in water and drinking the poison it spews in death. The drinker must transmute the poison and in doing so will gain the memories of the reverend mothers before her. The kicker is that Jessica was pregnant with a daughter, and she went through the ritual as well. The daughter, Alia is born with the mental abilities of an adult, and the memories of the reverend mothers as well.
Paul in the meantime becomes a leader of the tribe, and even rides a giant sandworm, which is a like a ritual of adulthood for the Fremmen. Paul marries a Fremmen, Chani, and has a child Leto II. The Fremmen expect him to fulfill the prophecy of the Lisan al-Gaib: ruler of the Universe basically. These powers started getting unlocked when Paul started taking spice/melange (product of the sand worms, extends life/health but is also wholly addictive). Paul gains prescience, the ability to see futures, and in many futures sees a mass genocide on billions of people committed by the Fremmen with himself at the helm. He focuses all his efforts on avoiding this future, but only has so much prescience.
Eventually Paul reunites with his old master at arms, Gurney Haleck. Gurney attempts to murder Jessica, whom he wrongly believed betrayed Leto. Paul stops him, but is terrified that he did not see this future, and realizes he needs more power. Paul goes through the spice agony ritual, which is not meant for males. He is out for 3 weeks and barely comes out alive, but his powers have increased immensely and he knows exactly what to do.
The Emperor and his forces, along with the Harkonnens, are waiting above the planet in preparation for assault on the Fremmen resistance. The Emperor discovers where the Fremmen keep the women and children: on the other side of the planet that was assumed uninhabited. The Sardaukar kill Paul’s child, Leto II, and Alia allows herself to be kidnapped. She is not afraid at all and ends up killing Vlad, her grandfather, in the ensuing attack.
Paul and the Fremmen pull out all their wildcards in the attack. They fire nukes at the enemy force’s shields, which is technically legal since they are firing at a shield not directly at people. Then they all ride their sand worms into battle, which no one knew was possible. Paul confronts the defeated Emperor, kills Vlad’s nephew in a duel, and forces the Emperor to give his wife, Irulan, to Paul in marriage, making Paul the Emperor of the universe. The book ends with Paul consoling his concubine, Chani, that Irulan is only a political move and will receive no love. History will say that Chani was his true partner in the conquest of the universe.
I skipped more than I included. The politics of melange, the spice guild, mentats, Liet-Kynes the ecologist, Duncan Idaho the swordmaster, Thufir Hawat the master of assasins, Feyd-Rautha the cunning Harkonnen, the tribe dynamics, the Fenrings. This book is DENSE.
Ultimately the genocide was not prevented. Even with all that power, Paul could not prevent or even see the death of his child. I guess if he, or anyone, had absolute power that wouldn’t be fair, or fun.