I first read Dune several years ago, and remembered being intrigued, but also frustrated by it. I decided to re-read it (and the following 2 sequels),...moreI first read Dune several years ago, and remembered being intrigued, but also frustrated by it. I decided to re-read it (and the following 2 sequels), and my memories were confirmed. Herbert is often described as the science fiction equivalent of JRR Tolkien, but Herbert's world-building isn't the equal of Tolkien's. Someone who reads the Lord of the Rings without reading Tolkien's other Middle Earth stories would still find Tolkien's world complete. Although the history of the Elder Days is revealed in glimpses, it's clear that Middle Earth--and Frodo's quest--fits within a well-realized world with a long history preceding the story in LOTR.
Herbert created an intriguing universe and striking political dynamics. But I don't think the universe, and its history, was fully thought out. For example, he frequently references religions such as Zensunni and Buddislam, but there are no convincing examples of how such religions work and how belief systems such as Buddhism and Islam merged. Most of the Bene Gesserit and Zensunni sayings quoted in the books are left without context; there's no real sense of how they fit together or how the philosophies differ. I think Herbert's imagination could best be described as broad, but not necessarily deep. His interest in philosophical and psychological theories seems to have trumped his interest in creating a thoroughly-realized universe.
I appreciate the political dynamics that Herbert explores, but, in the Dune universe, apparently no one ever has a straight-forward thought or discussion. Instead, everyone speaks in riddles, allusions, and metaphors, seemingly trying to be as obscure as possible. Certainly, when in a delicate political situation that linguistic approach makes sense, but its not realistic that family members and friends would communicate in this way.
I also feel that Herbert doesn't develop characters convincingly. Why do Chani and Paul love each other? What draws them together? There's no development of their relationship. In one scene, they meet, several things happen in rapid succession (Jessica takes the Water of Life and becomes a Reverend Mother, Paul inherits Jamis' family, Alia is pre-born in the womb), and then there is a transition to a couple of years later, where Chani and Paul are now parents. Why does Duncan Idaho trust Jessica during the Harkonnen attack when he suspected her to be a traitor shortly before? Why does Shaddam support the Harkonnens over the Atreides? The Atreides threat to the Padishar dynasty is never made clear.
Another frustration that I have is with Herbert's concept of prescience. I like the overall concept that prescience doesn't mean that someone like Paul can or will know everything in detail, and that there are blind spots. But does prescience set the future in stone? Herbert frequently implies that, but then pulls back. So Paul sees the coming jihad but wants to avoid it; every time he does something, his internal monologue reflects whether the jihad is still inevitable (which, apparently, it is). But why is it inevitable? That's never made clear. If the future can be changed, then why is Paul trapped? And, if seeing the future essentially locks it in place, how does Paul have the power to lock that future in place for the rest of the universe? The Kwisatz Haderach has the ability to see into the past, present, and future, but how does he have the ability to force a single path on the rest of the universe? This prescience problem becomes increasingly apparent in the sequels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.
I realize that these criticisms make it seem that I dislike Dune. I don't; I'm frustrated because the universe and the story is so intriguing, with great potential, but the treatment feels superficial more often than not.(less)