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Dune, and the long range plan

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few weeks ago Whitney Johnson  posted on “The Book That Changed Me.” Whitney cited Enders Game  by Orson Scott Card, and then asked “what about you?”. My reply was Dune, by Frank Herbert. At Whitney’s suggestion I’m going to explain why I chose this book and how it changed me.


I was thirteen when I first picked up this book. Dune is a science fiction/political thriller set on a hostile desert planet with no open water. The planet is inhabited by a native human population (the Fremen) that has developed the necessary technology and psychology to thrive in a deadly environment where water is literally a matter of life and death. Dune provided a fantasy world I could disappear into, and a story line that suited my own imagination about myself. I could easily insert myself into the story; imagining myself as any and all the characters. In Dune I found the “Hero’s Journey” presented in the context of planetary ecology, religion, politics, and space travel: all the stuff that appealed to my thirteen year old self.  This story also had desert wisdom blended from high science, hard realities, and common sense. That innate wisdom compelled my return to Dune over the years.

The Fremen’s ecological vision for their hell planet forms a subtext for the political story that comprises the Dune saga. The technologically sophisticated Fremen were possessed of an unshakeable belief that they could transform the desert ecology and landscape of their planet into a paradise with open water. This transformation would take hundreds of years, and nobody in the story would ever live to see it. Yet they were onboard with the sustained sacrifice and group discipline required to achieve the vision. The Fremen discipline for long-term effort, their communal vision, and their utter commitment to future generations (read sustainability!) in the face of overwhelming, or even impossible odds forged in me a desire for that same sense of discipline, community, and mental toughness. This book changed me by showing the relationship between hard work and results. Even now, in times of professional hardship, conflict, and long odds I draw on the Dune story for strength, inspiration, and refreshment. When I think about the Fremen I tighten my own belt and get back to work.

Here are some quotes that hopefully convey the message better than I can:

“The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “Spannungsbogen” – which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.”

“They’re in league with the future, she thought. They have their mountain to climb. This is the scientists dream…and these simple people, these peasants, are filled with it.”

“This was a dream for which men would die willingly.”

“In the manner of a teacher answering a child who has asked the sum of 2+2, Kynes told them: “From three hundred to five hundred years.” A lesser folk might have howled in dismay. But the Fremen had learned patience from men with whips. They tightened their sashes and went back to work. Somehow the disappointment made the prospect of paradise more real.”

“So it was true as this umma had said in the beginning: the thing would not come in the lifetime of any man now living, nor in the lifetime of their grandchildren eight times removed, but it would come.”

So now it’s your turn: What book changed you?

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