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Comparing Galactic Empires: Dune, Hyperion, Foundation

The YouTube channel Ideas Of Ice And Fire has published a short but informative video essay comparing the three most influential “space empires” in literary science-fiction, examining the now quaint but still fun Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, the initially entertaining Dune books by Frank Herbert and the more complex Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons (a particular favourite of mine). As the author points out in the ten minute clip, the real world inspirations for the fictional interstellar polities are rather obvious, from Classical Rome to Victorian Britain, expressing a very Eurocentric view of history, both the past and the imagined future. Herbert’s works in particular bear an obvious debt to the rapacious record of the British Empire, its rise to near-global hegemony through its dominance of the early North Atlantic slave trade and the Asian opium markets as well the military-industrial structures they supported, this model serving as a template for the sci-fi Galactic Padishah Empire and the importance of the planet Arrakis (the eponymous Dune) and its life-extending drug, melange or “the spice”.

1 comment on “Comparing Galactic Empires: Dune, Hyperion, Foundation

  1. One thing to consider is that when at least “Dune” and “Foundation” were started (ei when the earlier books were written), “The Age of Nation States” in the sense that Empires had given way to to a world dominated by Nation States was very, very young . Also with the Cold War, even people who liked nation states better, suffered a lot of uncertainty. Looking to a history filled with Empires simply provided more material!!!!

    There is a common but rather cynical belief that Republics invariably turn to Empires, but one wonders if that reflects the fact that few Republics other than Rome got any real press for a long time. Herbert was pretty cynical about Democracy.

    “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper is one book that many people see as an literary response to not just “Dune” but also “Moby Dick” and “Leaves of Grass”. My beef with that was is that it was rather vague about what kind of government and economy they, and focused almost entirely on the major religions and on the aristocracy of a single backwater planet.


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