i’ve been a semi-rabid fan of Frank Herbert’s Dune series for many years. actually, it’s probably fair to say that i’ve only been a true fan for the past 2-3 years since i finished all of the first six books. those other years in between having read the original Dune and the rest don’t count…
i don’t actually remember what it was that sparked me to read the final five books a few years ago…i guess i just felt a sense of incompleteness after having read the first book (and having watched the movie) several times. the first book stands as one of the greatest science fiction novels of the 20th century, independent of the rest…maybe i held off reading the others thinking that they could never reach the level that Herbert had set with his first Dune novel. i was wrong, of course. the series as a whole has more impact and is much more impressive; awe-inspiring, even.
and then he died. and there were no more books for many years. and then, all of a sudden, his son published a prequel…
it was my sense of awe and admiration for the original series that led to my profound skepticism about brian herbert’s prequel(s). when his first Dune prequel was released, it struck me as opportunistic; clearly, it was an effort to cash in on Dad’s fame and fortune. what literary merit could come out of this kind of money-grubbing? none, i thought.
and so i let brian herbert (in conjunction with kevin j. anderson) write six books before i decided i could give them a try. the pair have penned the "House Trilogy" (House Atreides, House Harkonnen, House Corrino) and the "Legends" trilogy (The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, The Battle of Corrin), each of which serves as a set of prequels in the Dune universe.
it’s easy to imagine prequels that fail miserably in their attempts to recapture the glory of the original novels. after all, how could they not fail? how could anyone do what frank herbert did? how could anyone match the combination of philosophy, narrative drive, character development, and universe creation that herbert achieved?
well, somehow, i think that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson did a fantastic job (at least, with the first novel). they did it better than anyone else, obviously, since no one else even tried (or were granted the right to try). my skepticism was erased after reading Dune : House Atriedes, for the most part, and i look forward to reading the remaining five prequels.
<minor spoilers follow>
when i heard the title, i though the entire novel was going to be centered around House Atreides. i’m not sure why, because this makes little sense, given the way the Dune universe was developed (i.e., as a set of interlocking stories involving multiple major Houses, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, miscellanous dramatis personae on Arrakis, etc.). and so it went with herbert’s prequel. in the course of House Atreides, multiple story arcs are pursued:
- House Atreides (under the rule of Duke Paulus Atreides, grandfather to Paul Atreides, hero of Dune)
- House Harkonnen (and the multiple plots it undertakes to try to screw just about everyone they possibly can)
- House Corrino (the Royal House on Planet Kaitain, and how rule evolves from Emperor Elrood to Emperor Shaddam IV)
- the Bene Gesserit (and the evolution of their breeding program for the Kwisatz Haderach)
- Duncan Idaho (and how he becomes attached to House Atreides)
- House Vernius and how it loses control of Ix
- the Bene Tleilax, their plot with the Emperor, and how they gain control of Ix
- Arrakis, and how it starts down the path towards ecological evolution under the guidance of Pardot Kynes (father of Liet)
as with the original series, you will need to keep track of many different characters spread across multiple geographies. Herbert and Anderson have tried to provide backstory for most of the personae that appear in the original novels (with a few notable exceptions, like Gurney Halleck). this is one of the things that i found particularly rewarding…when frank herbert wrote the original series, he provided a gaggle of characters with implied histories, but didn’t provide the histories themselves. one had to accept allegiances and friendships on faith, rather than on experience. the prequel(s) fill in those gaps, illuminating the experiences that created the relationships that Dune takes for granted.
who will you see from the original Dune series in the first prequel?
- Leto Atreides
- Thufir Hawat
- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
- Rabban Harkonnen
- Piter DeVries
- Duncan Idaho
- Gaius Helen Mohiam
- Pardot Liet Kynes (briefly, as a baby)
- Emperor Shaddam IV
- Hasimir Fenring
What didn’t i like about this prequel? in summary, i guess i’d have to say that it felt like it demanded less of its audience. even though the plotlines sprawl, and the intrigues nest one within another, there was still a measure of explanation that wasn’t present in the first series of novels. frank herbert didn’t club you over the head with relationships and motivations and backstories. brian herbert and kevin j. anderson, on the other hand, do. they repeat things, three, four, five times, to make sure the reader gets it. this was completely unnecessary, although i’m sure very calculated to appeal to an audience that had not read the original Dune series.
the other thing that seemed missing was the level of philosophical insight present in the first series of novels. frank herbert not only created a world, but he provided commentary on the relgious, socio-political, and ecological structures that gave rise to this world. perhaps brian herbert could do nothing but adhere to the worldview that his father created, which makes his work seem less innovative on a philosophical level.
with all of these things said, i must say i enjoyed reading House Atreides. in fact, i kept going back to it, day after day, curious to find out what happened next. regardless of whether or not herbert lived up to the impossible standard set by his father, this to me was a viable metric for a good book: does it make you want to come back for more?
in the case of brian herbert and kevin j. anderson’s Dune prequels, the answer is an unequivocal Yes.
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