Civic Imagination


Dune is a sprawling series of epic science fiction novels written by Frank Herbert and turned into a 1980s movie by David Lynch. The first novel was published in 1965. The story takes place in the very distant future where humanity has spread out into the galaxy, Earth is long forgotten, and interstellar travel is facilitated by a hallucinogenic life-extending substance called the Spice Melange which is found on only one planet in the entire galaxy: Dune. The first novel is about a young heir to a powerful noble house, Paul Atreides, and his journey to the planet Dune where his family and their people are all but wiped out and he is driven into the vast desert wilderness with his mother Jessica who is an initiate of the ancient and powerful order of the Bene Geserit who have foretold and are working towards the coming of a powerful messiah figure. Paul emerges as this figure, though he is at odds with the Bene Geserit and aligns himself more with the native people of Dune, the Fremen, who have messiah prophesies of their own. He becomes a religious geurilla warrior who leads the Fremen in revolt against the empire and their henchmen who destroyed his house, exacting revenge and becoming the most powerful force in the galaxy as he takes control of the Universe's only source of Spice Melange.

You can read more about the saga on Wikipedia here:

The rest of the series tells stories of subsequent generations of Paul's ancestors and delves into the problems of power and religious fanaticism. This complication is part of what draws me to the story. At first blush, it is a story about how individual ability and will can change the fates of nations and worlds; it's about how the downcast can come together to defeat evil and choose their own fates. It's also very much about ecology; Paul Atreides is an eco-warrior and part of his mission is to transform the desert of Dune into a more forgiving landscape. Herbert was very conscious of environmental issues, an din many ways was ahead of his time. You can also see connections to modern struggles around other natural resources such as oil which is so central to the global economy. I first learned the story of Dune through director David Lynch's 1984 feature film starring Kyle MacLachlan. I was only 5 when I saw it and it made a huge impression on me. It's a strange, sprawling movie full of Lynchian weirdness and is both revered and reviled in the pop-consciousnesses. But for me it had a very simple message about how through personal discipline, force of will and extraordinary effort one might achieve an extraordinary destiny. It gave me a vivid sense of individual potential to shape and change entire worlds. As I grew older and read the novels, the story continued to appeal to me because of its nuance; it's not a simple story of hero worship and exceptionalism but is actually simultaneously a cautionary tale about power, religious fanaticism and the repercussions of our choices. I think these are also the reasons the stories continue to live in the world of pop-culture with cyclical reboots and reworkings of the stories on TV and in film. The imaginative scope of the stories is amazing, but they also attempt to grapple with big issues like religion and politics with a level of complexity that is useful to us in our consideration of contemporary global issues. I'm not sure if Dune has inspired specific movements, but I know that it was seen as inspirational to growing environmental awareness in the second half of the 20th century and a movement towards that kind of ecologically aware science fiction. I think that these stories continue to have the potential to inspire people towards action. The stories could resonate with and inspire people who have been marginalized, who see problems in the world, threats to the environment, colonial exploitation of natural resources, and who want to work hard to unite and organize themselves in ways that can upset the entrenched power structures and interests of the global corporate aristocratic elite. Simultaneously, the stories encourage careful and critical reflection about the nature of any new power structures that may be created in these efforts so that they do not wind up simply trading one system of imbalance for another.

Wikipedia link on Dune: Image of Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides in Dune film by
David Lynch:

Film Poster for David Lynch's Dune:

Dune Trailer:

Dune Book Cover:

environment, energy, science fiction, religion, individualism, colonialism

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