How Dune influenced pop culture and sci-fi genre

Joe Millward explores the impact of Frank Herbert's Dune series.

Joe Millward
21st October 2021
Credit to: IMDb, Flickr,, Wikimedia Commons, Ulyces
Dune is brutal, devoid of mercy - and that's just the reader experience, let alone its setting, Arrakis. Much like Arrakis though, scattered throughout Dune are gems of ideas that have been exploited and sprinkled through our media for over 50 years now.

For the unaware, Frank Herbert's Dune series provides a history of the desert planet Arrakis, and its place in the galaxy: from grand political schemes, down to the merciless struggle for survival on its surface. The only export from this harsh world is the Melange, a drug that drives society forwards. It allows humans to function beyond the need for computers - which is critical, as all ‘thinking’ technology is long outlawed.

R2D2, credit to: Pixabay

It's an interesting concept since our typical thought of sci-fi is R2D2 knocking heads with Replicants. Where is Dune’s influence on that? All of its vehicles are modelled after bugs, not greeble grey warships. While it’s a stretch to suggest Herbert invited the desert setting, he was first to create a desert planet and immediately immerse the reader in its struggles. Before this, science fiction would muse over technology and its subsequent dystopias. Dune chooses a grounded environment to generate struggles we can understand, and so more easily focus on the characters inhabiting this empty space.

While it’s a stretch to suggest Herbert invented the desert setting, he was first to create a desert planet and immediately immerse the reader in its struggles.

Following from this concept, you have Tatooine, Warhammer's multiple ‘deathworlds’, and Mad Max’s stomping ground. All of which use the environment's scarcities to create stronger characters. Arrakis provides immediate danger, but the evil is the bureaucracy - Dune is a grand space opera, composed of trade deals, intertwining houses and sects. This brings to mind Game of Thrones, whose faceless men mimic Dune’s assassins, the face dancers. But even greater influence is found on the Wheel of Time. Long regarded to be one of the greatest fantasy series (with an Amazon Original Series coming soon), WoT has similar themes of desert nomads and a messianic figure, prophesied by an all-female sect.

Dune’s sandworms have had their teeth in people since 1968, so the 2021 release is not the first adaptation. ‘The largest film never made', by director Alejandro Jodorowsky would have been a 14-hour epic. The infamous H.R Geiger provided Dune concept material that would later be re-used for the Alien series. These designs inspired Ridley Scott, who took the team for Blade Runner

So yes, despite Frank Herbert uncaringly plunging the reader into a truly alien galaxy, it clearly impacts the reader more, as we can see the influence of Dune all around.

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