The urge to read Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s continuation of Frank Herbert’s Dune series is a bit like the urge to purchase a lotto ticket. Buying the ticket makes sense because what you’re gaining is the thrill of anticipation. What makes very little sense is checking your numbers as your chance of being disappointed is infinitely greater than your chance of actually winning. Checking your numbers is frankly a complete waste of time.
Frank Herbert died in 1986, one year after his sixth novel in the outstanding Dune series, Chapterhouse Dune, was published. Chapterhouse ends with a cliff hanger – it’s clearly not intended as the end of the series but death has a way of stuffing up good intentions. Twenty years later Herbert Jnr and Anderson’s Hunters of Dune picks up where Herbert Snr left off.
In the Authors’ Note to Hunters of Dune we’re told that in 1997 Brian and Kevin had discussed writing the fabled Dune 7 but that with no extant notes by Frank they would need to base the work solely on their own imaginations. For a number of reasons they decided to write a three book prequel to the series – House Atreides, House Harkonnen and House Corinno. Somewhere along the way, we’re told, they made the serendipitous discovery of two safe-deposit boxes containing notes by Frank Herbert for Dune 7. And thus from the master’s notes we have Hunters of Dune and its companion Sandworms of Dune (due out in August 2007).
I doubt whether Tor’s marketing division could come up with a better idea than the serendipitous discovery of the note books, an implausible (but not impossible) story: in an infinite universe I’m sure there are several good reasons why an author would keep the notes for what was presumably a work in progress in a safe-deposit box with not even a single copy around the house in case he had a desire to do some writing.
Hunters of Dune was released in August 2006 and for several reasons it’s taken me almost a year to get around to reading it. For a start I hadn’t read the Dune series for more than a decade and I was keen to read the whole thing from beginning to end. And the verdict: the whole series stands up extremely well. Dune itself really does deserve its ranking as the greatest SF novel of all time.
That was one reason it took me a while to pick up Hunters of Dune.
Another is that I’d already been burned reading House Atreides, the writing duo’s first offering and one that I’d read with great anticipation on its release in 1999. And the verdict: I haven’t been game to read House Harkonnen and House Corinno or, until now, anything else the duo has done in the Dune universe. To be fair to Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, it’s a tough task to pick up where the master left off, particularly as there are so many devotees of the master’s work. Expectations are high and perhaps unrealisable even if you do a good job.
Unfortunately they don’t even do a good job. Their writing is often poor and the complexity of plot, of ideas and of character that typified Frank Herbert’s work and made the reading experience so satisfying is, frankly, absent. This is not the criticism of a Dune purist or conservative fan, jealous of Frank Herbert’s legacy: if the new works were good, I’d be delighted.
My hope was that after honing their skills on six prequels (the three in the Prelude to Dune series and three others in the Legends of Dune series) Brian and Kevin would have improved enough to produce a worthy conclusion to the series. And there is definite improvement but in the end there really is only one thing to recommend Hunters of Dune and its companion Sandworms of Dune. I’ll get to that one thing in a moment. In Hunters of Dune the prose is often flat, frequently reading like a stilted report about the protagonists. We’re not invited to get inside these characters, and in any case they’d need to have an inside first: these characters might have the same names as they had in Chapterhouse, but they’ve lost the immense depth that Frank Herbert had bequeathed them and there’s only surface left.
Also lost is any complexity and intellectual sophistication. Take this example of a discussion between mentat Miles Teg (a human computer) and Garimi, a Bene Gesserit. They’ve discovered a planet formerly belonging to the Honoured Matres, devoid of life although the infrastructure of civilisation is untouched (except by time). It’s known that the Honoured Matres who invaded the Old Empire were fleeing something and that they wanted knowledge from the Bene Gesserit about how to manipulate and control their immune functions. So we have a planet with no living people but no obvious signs of destruction and a people seeking to control their immune functions as the Bene Gesserit do in order to overcome any pathogen:
Garimi held up one finger. “The whores came to the Bene gesserit demanding to know how we control our bodies. They were frantic to understand how Reverend Mothers can manipulate our immune functions, cell by cell. Of course!”
“Speak clearly, Garimi. What do you mean?” Teg’s voice was abrupt, the hardened battle commander.
“She tuned a sour look on him. “You are a Mentat. Make a prime projection!”
Teg did not bristle at the scolding. Instead, his eyes became glazed for just a moment, and then his expression returned. “Ahh. If the whores wanted to learn how to control immune responses, then perhaps the Enemy attacked them using a biological agent…”
Frank Herbert’s Miles Teg was a genius. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s Miles Teg is a moron. A Sinclair ZX81 (circa 1981 with a huge 1K of memory!!) could have pulled that one out of the box.
So, the one thing to recommend these books: they are a continuation of Herbert’s work, purportedly based on his notes and the loose ends will therefore be tied up. And sadly, that’s sufficient reason to read them.
Although some (Leto II for instance) might argue that the uncertainty of non closure is preferable.
Sandworms of Dune is due out in August 2007.