Friday 14 May 2010

Book Review: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Dune: the Butlerian Jihad

Book Review: Frank Herbert – Dune

After reading Dune and its sequel Dune Messiah, I decided to pick up one of the back stories which act as prequels to Dune. Dune and its sequels were written by Frank Herbert and the original book in particular creates a rich, varied world full of detail and history. This meant that after Frank Herbert died, his son Brian along with his co-writer had plenty of material to write a series of prequels from.

Dune was set 10,000 years in the future, a time period hard to grasp. In contrast this, the first of the prequels, is written 1,000 years into the future. Humanity has been enslaved by the very computers and machines it created and which have gained consciousness through artificial intelligence. Space travel across galaxies has meant that the influence of the machines has spread to all of the planets colonised by humans except a few worlds in the far reaches which have formed an alliance in the shape of the League of Nobles to fight back against the machines and preserve the freedom of their people.

One of the planets in the league is Salusa Secundus home to the soldier Xavier Harkonnen and his fiancé Serena Butler, daughter of the planet’s viceroy. When Salusa Secundus is attacked by the machines, it is Xavier that leads the fight against the machines despite massive losses and damage. This leads to him being made leader of the League’s military arm. Before long the thinking machines are attacking other planets and Xavier, Serena and those that follow them realise that they will have to take drastic actions to take back the worlds they have lost.

In contrast Vorian Atreides is the human son of the cyborg Titan Agamemnon. The Titans, originally human, have exchanged their human forms for brains with only their in-tact brains inside mechanised bodies. This has allowed them to take control of earth for a hundred years until the machines they have created become aware and enslave them and all humans for the next 900 years. Vorian is loyal to the machines, not knowing the brutality and horror the Titans and thinking machines have unleashed against humanity. This is until he begins to suspect that the official story he has been told may not be entirely accurate.

This book is very different in its tone to the original. Where the original books have a strong philosophical feel to them, this novel seems much more like a traditional straightforward adventure/sci-fi novel. The story is fast-paced and the multitude of characters and world means that there is always something to keep the reader interested. The original Dune, is so very rich in detail and history that even important events and elements are treated in an almost throw-away fashion, creating far more material than one book can explore (hence the numerous prequels). This novel doesn’t quite have that level of detail although there are still many strands to the story, with as many left to the imagination as there are explored.

One area that this novel does fall down a little is dialogue and emotion. The dialogue is passable, but where there are emotional scenes, for instance between Serena and Xavier, they feel trite and not very natural, something I find common in sci-fi novels.

Overall, whilst the story is engaging enough, I suspect that this will only interest those who have read the original Dune book and want to fill in the gaps in the history created in that book.

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