Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Published by Bantam Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson is the long-awaited and much promoted (or should we say "much hyped") prequel to Frank Herbert's classic Dune saga. It is set about fifty years before the beginning of Dune, when Paul Atreides' father Leto is still a young man. Supposedly it was written from background notes that were made by Frank Herbert during the process of writing the original six books, but my own impression is that if that is indeed the case, those notes didn't seem to sink in very well.
Like many prequels, it suffers most from the problem of trying to tie everything together a little too neatly. (Darkover: Rediscovery was a big offender in this regard). In many places the efforts of the writers to explain how things got to the state they are in at the beginning of Dune is just a little too painfully obvious. In other places glaring inconsistancies with facts established in the original books jar the reader. (It should be noted that the writers of this volume saw no need whatsoever to even attempt consistency with the materials in the Dune Encyclopedia, which many Dune fans had come to see as authoritative, and frequently went so far as to completely contradict it). Also, there is the problem of, having known how things will be later, constantly wondering "now how are they going to get there from here?" when presented with events that don't seem to quite fit with one's understanding of the backstory of the original books.
It is frequently a let-down to actually see events and people who were only glimpsed or hinted at in the original series. Pardot Kynes somehow seemed greater, wiser, when we knew him only through his son's memories and through the brief essay at the end of the original book. When we meet him in this volume, he becomes much more a stereotypical "absent-minded professor" scientist, and we wonder how he even managed to win the fierce loyalty of the clannish and insular Fremen. Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien's warning about inquiring too deeply about the world of fairy stories, that "to go there is to destroy the magic," holds true in science fiction as well.
Part of it may be simply the fact that this is not the work of the original creator of Dune. New hands have taken it over, and even if one pair does belong to his son, they still can only echo what was established, guess at the unverbalized intentions that lay in the original creator's mind. Perhaps the best way to read this is not as a real addition to the Dune cannon, but as a sort of authorized, legal fan-fiction. Enjoy it, but don't take it seriously as representing the genuine Dune. Review posted January 15, 2009 Buy House Atreides (Dune: House Trilogy, Book 1) from Amazon.com.