Frank Herbert's Dune was originally published in 1965. It was an instant classic, a genre-defining tale for science fiction the way The Lord of the Rings was to fantasy. It won the first-ever Nebula Award for Best Novel and tied for the 1966 Hugo. It is the world's best selling science fiction novel of all time. Herbert wrote five sequels before his death in 1986, and his son has gone on to pen 17 more, based on his father's notes. For those just getting into the series, these Dune details will help take you to a very different galaxy far, far away.
The world of Dune is set thousands of years in the future and several hundred since interstellar space travel was invented. Humans have done what they always do, heading out to explore and treating the galaxy beyond our solar system as a Manifest Destiny, conquering planets and declaring ownership.
As is the way of the capitalist society, money rises to the top. By the time the original Dune novel opens, wealth and power have consolidated into the hands of a few "House Majors," which are the Great Houses who have set up a feudal empire known as The Imperium. Much like Game of Thrones' Westeros, these houses are playing the Great Game, attempting to jostle for superiority over each other.
1. The Great Houses
Though the expanded Dune series would go on to tell the stories of dozens of Great Houses, in the original novel, there are 10 ruling families. They are, in alphabetical order:
- House Atreides
- House Corrino
- House Fenring
- House Ginaz
- House Halleck
- House Harkonnen
- House Metulli
- House Moritani
- House Novebruns
- House Steel
Of those, three are central to the main story: House Corrino, House Harkonnen, and House Atreides.
2. The Imperium & House Corrino
House Corrino is the family who currently sits on the Golden Lion Throne. The grandest of the Great Houses, it ruled the Imperium with the capital located on the inner planet of Kaitain. The Corrino's ancestral home is located further out on Salusa Secundus.
But when Dune first opens, House Corrino, led by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, is losing their grip on power, as a new House, Atreides, has risen to wealth and power.
3. House Atreides
House Atreides had, until recently, resided on the planet Caladan, from which they had successfully ruled for 20 generations. Their commitment to a democratic socialist state among their fiefdom had made their one of the most peaceful corners of the galaxy, from which they were amassing power under the rule of Duke Leto.
At the start of the novel, House Atreides has moved its central power. Shaddam IV has requested their governing ability move to the planet Arrakis, one of the galaxy's most vital world, the only world from which spice can be mined.
4. House Harkonnen
Prior to the Atreides taking over Arrakis, it was under the control of House Harkonnen. Ruled by Baron Vladimir, their corner of the empire was known for its underhanded and questionable tactics, and their economy mostly functioned via grift.
Shaddam IV's moving Arrakis from Harkonnen's control to the Atreides on the outside looks like a family on the rise being awarded a prize. But Houses Corrino and Harkonnen have something else planned.
5. Bene Gesserit
But while House Atreides needs to watch its back politically, the family does have an ally in the Bene Gesserit. This ancient sisterhood is a powerful political and religious force in the galaxy, ruled by a Reverend Mother Superior, intending to help humanity along a path of stability.
The Bene Gesserit have already taken a particular interest in House Atreides, sending one of their members, the Reverend Mother Jessica to become concubine to Duke Leto. (Marriage has changed a bit in the intervening centuries.) Jessica was ordered to bear Leto a daughter, but she has disobeyed and given birth to a son, Paul.
The spice planet Arrakis, nicknamed "Dune," is a prize on paper, but as the Atreides learn upon arrival, it is a terrible place to live. Located on the far edge of the galaxy, it has a brutal, waterless environment on the surface. There are vast reserves of water deep underground, which is where most people on the planet live.
The native people, the Fremen, are an efficient, hardy people, and they are not impressed with their new overlords. The planet is also populated by giant beings known as sandworms, who are attracted to rhythmic sounds.
7. Spice Melange
Generally referred to as "Spice," this is no ordinary kitchen seasoning. It is what is known as an "awareness spectrum narcotic," an addictive substance that helps expand consciousness. Over the last millennia, it has become one of the galactic economy's foundational trades.
Spice is created by sandworm larvae, known as sandtrout, deep beneath the planet's surface, making mining it an expensive and challenging task even without the territorial sandworms and the Fremen reluctant to let any off worlders mine their prize substance.