Fear Is the Mind Killer

You now have a year to read all the Dune books. Here's how to do it

There are a lot of Dune books. Which order should read them in? What about the prequels? Do you need to read them all?


It might seem like bad news that Dune isn't coming out in 2020 after all, but it's actually great if you were hoping to become a Dune scholar overnight. Now, instead of a couple of months to cram in reading a bunch of the Frank Herbert books, you have an entire year. The new release date for Denis Villeneuve's Dune is October 1, 2021, and in that time, you can do a lot of reading.

There's just one problem. Counting non-fiction books about Dune, and all the prequels and sequels written by Brian Hebert and Kevin J. Anderson, there are roughly 25 Dune books. So do you need to read all of them to be fully prepped for the new film version of Dune in 2021?

Nope! Here are three ways to tackle reading Dune books between now and next October.

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3. The Frank Herbert-only scholar

If you want to keep things simple, but you still want to do a serious deep reading of Dune, you can just read the six novels Frank Herbert actually wrote in the Dune saga. Those are:

  1. Dune
  2. Dune: Messiah
  3. Children of Dune
  4. God Emperor of Dune
  5. Heretics of Dune
  6. Chapterhouse: Dune

Those six novels, published from 1965 to 1985 will take you through several thousand years of the history of Dune. Because of that, most of the characters you meet in the first book aren't around by the last book. But, then again, you might be surprised.



2. The prequel-curious reader

Let's say you plow through the original six books pretty quickly. Do you want more background information about how things came to be in the Dune-verse? Well, there are a lot of prequels written between 1999 and the present day, all by Frank Herbert's son Brian Herbert — along with famous Star Wars novelist Kevin J. Anderson. Are all the prequels good? Do fans like all the prequels? Short answers: No and no again.

I can't in good conscience recommend that a new reader tackle all the Dune prequels, but, I also refuse to be a hater and tell you to ignore all of them, either. Over the years, some readers have accused the Dune prequels as coming across more like fan fiction than a real extension of the series. But, that doesn't mean there's not some great stuff in these books. If you're looking to fill-out your Dune knowledge, here are three prequel books I can recommend with all my spice-loving heart.

  1. The Butlerian Jihad
  2. The Machine Crusade
  3. The Battle of Corrin

These three books tell the centuries-old backstory of Dune and get into depth how A.I. went from being commonplace to totally banned throughout the galaxy. It also helps to establish how and why the various noble houses operate the way they do. Because almost none of the major heroes from the core Frank Herbert books appear in this distant past, these books can almost be read as standalone science fiction. But because you'll understand how the Dune-verse works a little bit better after reading these, of all the prequels, these three are worth it.



1. The quirky Spice-head minimalist

Does thinking about reading six books and then three more books out of 25 books sound like too much to think about? You've got a year before Dune hits theaters now, but you don't want to spend the entirety of that year reading Dune, right? Well, I disagree with you, but that's okay. Reading and rereading Dune books is super fun, even when they're not the greatest individual Dune books ever. That said, I get the need for a minimalist approach. How can you read enough Dune to know more than your average moviegoer, but not so much that you get sucked into the sands of Arrakis forever?

Here's the approach: Just read the first three Herbert novels.

  • Dune
  • Dune: Messiah
  • Children of Dune

Unlike some of the huge time-jumps that occur in the last three books, the first three mostly are concerned with a group of characters and their families that you can track over two generations. In other words, the first Dune "trilogy" is kind of like One Hundred Years of Solitude. You need a family tree to sort it all out, but you're not jumping too far ahead that you're disoriented.



Bonus: The antique book collector

Okay, do you want to do something really weird? Do you want to become a bizarre Dune expert without actually reading Dune? If that's the case, then you should save-up between $200 and $800 dollars and track down an out-of-print version of The Dune Encyclopedia. This book was published in 1984 and is presented as an in-universe reference guide to everything that happens in the books prior to Chapterhouse: Dune. It was compiled by Willis E. McNelly with the help of several other academics.

Most Dune fans consider it to be non-canon, but the book itself already knows that. Within the book are conflicting accounts from different "historians" who try to figure out the "true story" of what happened on Arrakis with Paul Atrieds and countless other characters. Basically, the book imagines future scholars trying to piece together the history of Dune, but coming at it from the perspective of historians working centuries later.

Why the hell would you read this instead of Dune? Well, you really shouldn't, but let's say you wanted to preserve an air of mystery about how the story itself unfolds in the movie, but you also wanted to know who everyone was and what role they are supposed to play. This book will do that.

But. It's out of print and pricey as hell. I got one on eBay this year for just under $200. Good luck doing the same.

Dune comes out on October 1, 2021.

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