I read this book about 15-Jan-2014. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1965. This note was last modified Wednesday, 22-Jan-2014 14:37:30 PST.
This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.
One of my top-five list SF books. For years that list had 4 books on it, but I guess it now has 5. My theory is I'm doing a reread, but if this is an example, I still love the book, but I don't have much new to say about it.
So why do I think it's so good, anyway? I'm always a sucker for a coming-of-age plot, which this has. I like the message that humans can be trained to perceive more closely than most do and can learn to control their bodies more precisely than most do. The Fremen culture is really interesting, and one of the earliest uses in SF of Arab culture (and one of the friendliest). The long-term scheming of the Bene Gesserit is fascinating, too. Paul is a sympathetic character, and his primary goal of avoiding the jihad that is trying to rise up to mix the gene pool is one I support. And it's such a dense book; it's got all that, and mentats, and the Guild, and economics, and the feudal society, and ecology in some detail, and the spice cycle, and Gurney's poetry. And the long extracts from the works of the Princess Irulan, too.
I felt I was noticing an excess of typos in this edition (the 25th anniversary paperback). Maybe that's because I've been proofreading Doc Smith ebooks again, or maybe it's because they reset the type for the 25th anniversary edition and messed it up, or maybe something I'm not thinking of. (The content seems identical, not even a new introduction or anything, and the book was continuously in print, so resetting it makes little sense.)
I really hate that Herbert introduced prescience in such a central position. The Guild relies on it to make interstellar travel work, and Paul and Alia use it to try to plan strategy. Other than that, the book seems to avoid PSI phenomena. It has extreme training of the body and mind in ways related to what we would have called "oriental mysticism" at the time the book was written (and which we don't seem to be able to talk about as a group any more; perhaps they were a granfaloon and that's progress) to produce fighting skill, the ability to sense truth, and even control of the body to the point of altering poisons in the bloodstream, but it stops short of telepathy and has nothing like telekinesis or ESP. But prescience is in many ways the worst of the family.
The book doesn't seem to make any effort to explain its gender essentialism. None of the figters or leaders are female; all the Bene Gesserit are female. And of course the Kwisatz Haderach must be male. Noble titles seem to be held only by males (though it's never said, and there's talk of the Baron Harkonnen naming his heir, suggesting it's not simple male primogeniture). Fremen leaders are male, and Chani and Harah cut down on challenges to Paul by forcing challengers to fight them first—after killing the first umpteen, people start avoiding the ignominy of being killed by one of Paul's women (and what is it in Fremen culture that lets them insist on that?).
On the other hand, that's not what the book is about, either; those are just background details, though details that exclude some readers from full participation.
In addition to cautioning you against any further books in the series, I should also note that the movie is terrible, too.