When Frank Herbert wrote "Dune" in 1965, it was something different. Although Dune was accepted and read by the same circles who read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, "Dune" represented a new kind of science fiction. Asimov’s and Clarke’s works were original but stylistically plain—all one needed was a futuristic idea. Dune combined the basics of science fiction’s trademark futurism with strong literary and social ambitions. The novel boasted an elaborate epic plot and intricately developed characters with quasi-mystical powers such as telepathy and precognition. It also featured a bold ecological message and even a little sociological equality mission hidden within.
Dune proved that literary science-fiction novels could be more than thinly veiled social satires, such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune presents us with a self-contained world, complete with its own races, religions, politics, and geography. Herbert introduces this new world and then adds a fascinating and intricate story, with vivid characters and scenes bolstered by an underlying ecological message. Dune has become the central masterpiece of science fiction, just as The Lord of the Rings is to the genre of modern fantasy.
Set 10,000 years after the Butlerian Jihad, dune takes place in a future where interstellar travel is achieved through folding space. This travel is not without a price. The universe depends on what is known as Spice Melange. The Spice, prolongs life, gives some individuals prescience, is a highly addictive recreational drug and enables the Guild navigators to Fold Space. The universe has come to rely on Spice so much that the slightest upset in the flow of spice is felt throughout all the universe. The major fault in all this is that the Spice is found only on one planet, Arrakis (Dune).
The Atreides family headed by Duke Leto Atreides, has just been assigned governorship of Arrakis by Emperor Shaddam IV, a position previously held by the sworn enemy to the Atreides, the Harkonnens. As is with all of this book there are plans within plans within plans. The emperor wants to rid the universe of the Atreides because they are becoming too popular with the Landsraad, the league of planets. By sending Duke Atreides to Arrakis, the Emperor hopes to seal their fate and let the Harkonnens destroy House Atreides.
The Harkonnens attack the Atreides and kill the Duke, but not before the Dukes Concubine, Lady Jessica, pregnant with the Duke's daughter, and the Dukes son and heir Paul Atreides escape into the desert of Arrakis, to a land ruled by the Fremen. Before we talk about the Fremen, Paul must be explained. Paul's mother the Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit witch, she was ordered to bear a daughter to the Duke but disobeyed to give the man she loved an heir. The Bene Gesserit have been interbreeding bloodlines for thousands of years to create the Kwisatz Haderach, a superbeing that can be in all places and times at once. Paul is that Kwisatz Haderach.
The Fremen are the desert people of Arrakis, they are working to make Dune a planet of life. By secretly creating water basins and plantings, they are wanting to change the face of Dune to a planet with water and abundant life. Doing so could destroy the Sandworms which are the source of the Spice.
Paul becomes the leader of the Fremen due to his supernatural powers and the religion of the Fremen, in a final battle he takes back Dune with himself as Duke and dethrones the Emperor.
That's it in a nutshell, but this book is more like an onion with layers upon layers of plots, subplots and messages. A great classic novel in the literary and Science Fiction worlds.