Frank Herbert’s Dune can be read two ways. The first is as a story:
With a few twists, the story behind Dune is an old one. A noble family travels to another fief, only to fall victim to treachery resulting in the death of the father and forced exile of the son; the son must get his revenge and reclaim the throne. Make the fief a planet named Arrakis, and add in prophecy, mystic abilities, and futuristic tech, and you’ve got the story of Paul Atreides.
The second (and I believe better) way to read this novel is as a portrait:
Like I said, the story throughout Dune is an old one, one that will not surprise the reader too much. But the point isn’t the plot, it’s the planet. What Herbert attempts and (I believe) succeeds in doing, is giving us enough of an understanding of an entire world and population to be able to extrapolate and comprehend their present, past, and future. He covers topics ranging from ecology, to theology, to military strategy, to Xenobiology. The scope (and, I presume, intent) of this novel gives the readers more than just a window into another world: It gives them a guided tour.
In creating a world, some things get more attention than others. The simplicity of the characters is my biggest complaint (followed closely by the hundreds of times I had to skim through the glossary). But the people are not the point. They, like their culture and environs, exist to bring Arrakis to life. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from the amount of work and detail put into bringing to life a nearly lifeless planet.
At almost 800 pages (not including the appendices which cover ecology, history of noble families, the intent of a sacred order, and a glossary), Dune may require a bit of work. Picking up on the lexicon of Arrakis may take some time at first, but is rewarding as you go along. Dune also asks the reader to accept the mysticism as well as the superscience. I am, admittedly, not a big fan of the fantasy genre, with many exceptions. So take it with a grain of salt when I say that the mystic abilities are somewhat confusing in their limitations and uses.
But at its heart, Dune isn’t any more about magic than it is about any one aspect of the Arrakeen society. This novel is a portrait of an entire planet. And it paints that portrait spectacularly.