I'm in the weird position where, aside from school-assigned reading, every book I've read in the last 2 years has had the word 'Dune' in the title.
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Heretics of Dune
Hunters of Dune
Sandworms of Dune
Having finally finished all roughly 3,500 pages of these so-called Dune Chronicles, I can't help but feel empty. What am I going to read now? What can I ever read that won't completely pale in comparison?
I think... I cannot but believe... that Frank Herbert knew me. Personally. Never mind my being born a year after his death, he somehow knew me. He sat down, thought about what I would want to read, and wrote it.
He took a setting he knew I would drool over; science fiction, but with strong hints of fantasy and steampunk. The series is literally set in what would be the year 23,190 AD, and itself takes place over some 5,100 years. So far advanced as to be almost unrecognizable, and yet they fight with swords and don't have basic computers or microchips. And, in universe, it actually makes sense.
He took all the topics I would want to read in a book, and combined them. Politics, philosophy, religion, sex, psychology, sociology, anthropology. And, for good measure, he through in ecology. Just because. And he intertwined all of them into one cohesive story.
He took characters he knew I would like; lying, manipulative, brilliant people. People that go into trances in order to compute massive mental calculations. People that artificially create religions in order to exploit the resulting superstitious societies thousands of years in the future. People that plan thousands of years in the future. People that excel at lying, cheating, and stealing. At advancing hidden agendas. At plotting, planning, conniving...
He made me look at politics in a whole new light. Politics at a personal level, between interacting individuals. When Aristotle said 'Man is a political animal' (or: 'Man is an animal of the polis/city-state') I think he meant that, by man's very nature, we create social hierarchies and structures, and create socialized-systems of interaction between people, classes, races, professions, etc. That are observable and manipulable. Politics isn't just the two-way interaction between the government and the constituency, but how all people and all institutions interact with all other people and institutions in micro- and macro-environments. Dune personifies that. Politics between the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild. Politics within the Bene Besserit factions. Politics among the Bene Gesserit leadership. Politics between a single Reverend Mother and her Other Memory.
Or: Politics as two people sitting at a table, negotiating. Each has information they must keep secret, and each has information that wish to extract from the other. And so they use word choice, word selection/omission, sentence structures, body language, lies, bluffs, exaggerations... to keep hidden or uncover secrets.
And, he did some bizarre things just to spice things up. A several thousand year gap between Children and God Emperor. Then, God Emperor, a book which itself takes place almost entirely in the inner-monologue of a 3,500 year old prescient half-man half-sandworm who happens to control the entire known universe. Then another several-thousand year gap between God Emperor and Heretics.
I truly, honestly believe that, after every book, Frank Herbert said to himself, "I believe Preston will like this one." Except Dune Messiah.
One thing I've tried to do, and I've been asked this repeatedly, is to summarize the entire Dune series. All 5,000+ years from Dune to Sandworms of Dune.
I cannot do it. It is that epic.
My guess would be: "Dune is about the rise and fall of the Atredies Imperium, and the consequences for universal human survival." It's hard to tie in the pre-Leto II part of the series with the post-Leto II part of the series. I bet a lot of people that have read the book disagree on the extent to which they interact. Personally... I'm a Leto II fanboy. I think the series ended with God Emperor of Dune, and Heretics/Chapterhouse/Hunters/Sandworms is one giant epilogue.
So, a more broken-down summary would be as thus:
Dune/Messiah/Children: The rise of and establishment of the Atredies Imperium.
God Emperor: The rule of Leto II, and his Golden Path for humanity's survival.
I really cannot do it.
It is amazing some of the artistic risks I think Frank (and Brian) Herbert took with the series. It spans over 5,000 years. Only one character is in all 8 books. As I said, God Emperor of Dune is a book which itself takes place almost entirely in the inner-monologue of a 3,500 year old prescient half-man half-sandworm who happens to control the entire known universe. The goal of his reign; to manipulate human nature and the human psyche to prevent man's eventually-yet-distant extinction in the millennia to come. The series isn't about two warring factions fighting for power, or some lover vying for a woman's attention, but the survival of the entire human species. And not in a militaristic or political fashion, but by... selective breeding over thousands of years, the spreading and killing of religions, and the altering of various central tenets of the entirety of the human psyche. This is not what most authors write about.
In terms of entertainment, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's sequels, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune were decent. A good, entertaining read. No where near the level of Frank Herbert's Byzantine plots, impressive writing, and three-dimensional characters. But decent.
My hatred of these books is in their content. The final chapter in the final book of Frank Herbert's, Chapterhouse: Dune, ends in an epic cliffhanger, implying that everything you've read was part of a plot by as-yet-unmentioned enemies. Really. Epic Cliffhanger. And yet, in an attempt to canonize their own fanfiction, the ultimate antagonists of the Heretics/Chapterhouse/Hunters/Sandworm arc, and, more generally, the entire series, are revealed to be... characters from their prequel trilogies.
It embitters me.
I read every page Frank Herbert wrote for Dune. I did. And, reading these final two books... I'm confronted with page after page of characters and wars and backstories I've never heard of. Norma Cenva? Serena Butler? Omnius? Erasmus? FRANK HERBERT NEVER MENTIONED ANY OF THIS BULLSHIT. The final bad guys of the universe? People that never existed in Frank Herbert's universe. The final two dues ex machinas of the universe? People that never existed in Frank Herbert's universe. All of which were survivors of a conflict that never existed in Frank Herbert's universe. In fact, the entire Frank Herbert-written Dune series is retconned to be nothing more than an extension of a war that never existed in Frank Herbert's universe. Sure, the Butlerian Jihad is mentioned, but it's mentioned as a social and cultural revolution, led my humans disgusted at the physical and mental state of their race in a culture defined by slave-machines. Not a Human vs. Skynet nuclear war.
Yes, you read that right. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson retconned the greatest science fiction series ever written into a Terminator Clone.
I spent two years of my life reading this series, only to be confronted with characters I've never heard of fighting a war that I've never heard of, that itself was unfaithfully depicted.
It was entertaining, but I feel cheated of an ultimate ending. Or a penultimate ending.
Still. I love Dune. I cannot imagine reading a more incredible book series. I almost want to stop reading fiction entirely, because I think it's all downhill from here.