Originally published 2003-09-07
PRELUDE TO DUNE is a trilogy written as a prequel set one generation before the events in Frank Herbert’s classic sf opus DUNE, perpetrated by his son Brian Herbert and a co-writer. They’ve now written another trilogy set thousands of years earlier in the Duniverse at the time of the Butlerian Jihad (LEGENDS OF DUNE). These books were obviously always going to be a rather cynical ploy by the publishers to cash in on DUNE’s continuing popularity, but did they have to suck this bad??
Herbert fils and his
ghost writer accomplice Kevin J. Anderson may have had access to Herbert pére’s notes on the Duniverse, but must have only read the actual novels in the most cursory fashion, and seem to have understood the themes and society not at all. I can think of no more damning indictment than to say Frank Herbert would have hated these books carrying the DUNE name.
There is no appreciation of the subtleties of semantics and politics that Herbert pére unfolded so elegantly: all the PRELUDE characters have the grossest motivations, dialogue and actions. The authorial voice lacks descriptive power, unable to evoke more than generalities of location. Because of the scope of the Duniverse, the PRELUDE TO DUNE books can appear as superficially impressive space opera, but compared to the original six DUNE books they can only be described as jejune.
Worst of all, if a reader were to come to these books before reading DUNE itself, that great book would be ruined for him by clumsy foreshadowing and unforgivable continuity bloopers.
SPOILERS ALERT: if you have not read DUNE plot spoilers are included in the following material. Do not scroll down further if you do not want important plot details revealed.
In the original DUNE, Paul M’uadib Atreides must penetrate millennia-old veils of secrecy regarding the properties of the spice melange, commonly viewed in the Imperium as a life-prolonging drug (thus priceless) with minor mind-enhancing side-effects of curiosity value only. The two groups most dependent on the hidden properties of spice, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and the Spacing Guild, have kept the secret of how melange enables prescient visions entirely to themselves, using their knowledge of future events to manipulate Imperial politics. DUNE is clear that only someone trained as Paul was — a Mentat-Warrior, with the aid of his mother’s Bene Gesserit abilities, and brought to maturity in the crucible of Fremen culture — could piece the puzzle together and use a threat to the existence of spice itself to force the Guild and Sisterhood to catapult him to the Emperor’s throne.
But in PRELUDE TO DUNE, apparently everybody — the Emperor, the Landsraad, the Tleilaxu — already knows that melange brings prescience to the Guild and Sisters. So much for the central mystery of DUNE.
In the original DUNE, Paul’s mother Jessica was pregnant when she took the spice drug that changed her consciousness and transformed her to a Reverend Mother, with access to ancestral memories and the serially transmitted memories of a train of Reverend Mothers extending millennia. Her daughter Alia was born with all these memories also, and in CHILDREN OF DUNE tragically succumbed eventually to possession by an ancestral personality, losing herself in Abomination. The books make it very clear that the Sisterhood of this era was well aware becoming a Reverend Mother meant that further children would be ‘pre-born’ in this fashion, that this was so horrific that such children were routinely executed, and so were very careful to ensure that Reverend Mothers bore no children.
Yet in PRELUDE TO DUNE, Reverend Mothers are bearing children all over the place. Seems to make Leto II’s renouncing his humanity in GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE so he can guide his breeding program for a thousand years rather pointless, what? I can only assume that Herbert fils and friend failed to read deeply enough and thought that only actual pregnancy when taking the Water of Life resulted in a pre-born, or else looked at the last two novels, set thousands of years after Alia when the God Emperor’s breeding program had succeeded in eradicating the danger of Abomination, and thus Reverend Mothers were no longer restricted as breeders, and totally overlooked the earlier significance of the taboo. Either way is sloppy, very sloppy.
In DUNE, Thufir Hawat is unaware of the Bene Gesserit Voice until Jessica demonstrates that she can use it to control him. Paul only knows of it because Jessica, in defiance of Bene Gesserit guidelines, has told him. It is a big, big secret, hiding behind superstitious stories of witches’ spells that the Sisterhood encourages in order to keep others guessing and underestimating them. The Sisterhood can implant false memories and speech inhibitions in anyone to whom the Voice is revealed, therefore the secret is kept very effectively.
Yet, in PRELUDE TO DUNE, Piter de Vries not only knows that Voice exists, but knows how to block it using special earplugs that will enable normal speech to be heard but will not admit the controlling extra-perceptual overtones of Voice.
- The Tleilaxu as overt religious fanatics rather than a people hiding their deep religious fanaticism from all the universe. How on earth are later characters in the Duniverse meant to not know what many characters in this prequel discuss as common knowledge?
- Paulos bullfight but no Leto revenge on bull
It gets worse. I can’t go on. Prelude to Dune really sucks.