It would be hard to overstate the influence of Dune in science fiction—and, by extension, our science-fictionalized pop culture in general—over the last half-century or so. Take the broadest outline of the plot: A chosen one, ordained by an inscrutable interstellar religion, uses deadly mind powers to rise up from a barren desert planet to battle the evil galactic emperor. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Star Wars imported all of that from Dune.
At 20 million copies moved, the book is considered the best-selling science fiction work of all time, even today, over 50 years after its original publication. This is fairly insane, considering that it has never had a single hit cinematic adaptation or popular television tie-in, the fuels that juice our pools of permanently recirculating IP. Outside dedicated fandoms and science fiction reading circles, the Dune “brand” was famously nonexistent. Until now, maybe.
People seem to like this one—at least, it’s not a disaster, and it will probably be a blockbuster, whether or not it’s not a great film. Which makes this a good time to talk about Dune. As the buzz cycle for Denis Villenevue’s take steadily built over the years of production and pandemic delays, as anticipation clearly grew, and fans from Gen Z and boomerdom alike came out of the woodwork, the question gnawed: What is it that has kept Dune not just relevant, but influential, for so long? Did Dune predict the future? Or did it make itself a vital part of how we imagine our futures? Either way, how did it pull all that off?
These are some of the questions that we are going to attempt to answer over the next week, in a miniseries we’re calling Motherboard Does Dune. In a series of conversations with fans, experts, and tech and science fiction writers, which will be aired on our new Twitch channel, we’re going to get to the guts of Dune, and take a good hard look at one of our core but still stubbornly obscured science fictional mythologies.
We’re going to look at how Dune reflected and accelerated the counterculture’s interest in psychedelics, drugs, and mysticism, and its controversial treatment of race and foregrounding of eugenics. We’ll dive into Dune’s parables about oil scarcity and threats to planetary ecology, its treatment of colonialism and geopolitics, its questionable appropriations of religion. We’ll talk about how while Dune may not ever have had a good movie adaptation, it launched an entire genre of video games that endures to this day. Dune is a weird beast.
When we’re through, we’ll understand a little better the future that Dune predicted, the ways in which we are still living in that future, and why, for better and worse, its DNA, its spice, is everywhere we look. Tune in tomorrow at 2:00 Eastern!