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Dune: House Corrino by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Published by Bantam Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this volume the writing team of Brian Herbert (son of Dune creator Frank Herbert) and Kevin J. Anderson (who made his literary chops writing Star Wars tie-ins) conclude the prequel trilogy that is intended to tell the story of what created the situation at the start of the original novel. However, it continues to disappoint in exactly the same way that the first two volumes were. Namely, the characterization and worldbuilding remain excruciatingly shallow (particularly when compares them with the richness and depth of the original, in which there are layers upon layers of meaning, many of which reveal themselves only upon the eighth or tenth careful re-reading), and the plot seems to be forcibly marched to its proper ending-point instead of developing organically from the premises that were presented to us in the beginning.

The entire House Vernius storyline continues to peg my implausibility meter. There is simply no support in the original Dune series for the sophisticated prosthetics with which Prince Rhombur is reconstructed, and certainly not for Dr. Wellington Yueh to be the man to create them. His characterization as a money-grubbing medico fascinated with the mechanical is completely at variance with the portrayal of him in the original as a gentle mystic tormented by the impossible pull of twin loyalties and Harkonnen cruelty, to the point that all attempts to reconcile the two images fail. I feel as though a famous name has simply been slapped onto a completely different character, solely to tie it in with the original while making it relevant to modern concerns about medical costs.

And that is only one of the most glaring gaps between the originals and what I can only call a bastard stepchild prequel trilogy. Almost every plotline gives me the feeling that the authors perceive only the surface characteristics of the world of Dune, with no sense whatsoever of the underpinnings. In fact, there are many places where the world they have created feels almost more like Star Wars with a thin layer of Dune nomenclature applied on the surface. The entire principle of the original Dune was a future in which technology had been reduced to the minimum necessary to support a spacefaring civilization and human talents had been developed to their utmost, often in conjunction with mystical schools of thought. There was a little high-tech, but it was highly stigmatized and from questionable sources such as the Tlielaxu. By contrast, the world they have created has the much more technological feeling I associate with the Star Wars universe, although not to the extent we see in Star Wars, where droids and computers are ubiquitous.

Although there are the zombies that the vile Tlielaxu researcher Ajidica created out of executed Ixians, using them simultaneously as a low-grade labor force and as a warning of the dreadful fate awaiting any Ixian patriot so rash as to raise a hand against their new masters. However, these creations have more in common with the zombies of various horror movies than they do to droids, and reflect the instrumentalist view Tlielaxu have toward life, an attitude that reaches its ultimate expression in their treatment of women. They are of course the famous axolotl tanks, not mechanical devices at all in spite of what their names would suggest (an impression that was successfully carried through the first several books of the original series), but in fact human beings whose higher brain function has been destroyed and whose bodies have become little more than life support systems for a grotesquely enlarged uterus in which the Tlielaxu can carry out their various experiments.

People wonder why I bristle so intensely when they wax rhapsodical about "the vessel nature of woman." The horror of the axolotl tanks is simply the ultimate expression of what is wrong with that attitude -- it ignores the person nature of women. And once that fundamental personhood is lost and we think of a woman as only a container in which something else is contained or grown, we start thinking of her as a means to other ends, rather than an end unto herself. At least the Dune series has the decency to regard the Tlielaxu as nasty people who happened to provide useful stuff, rather than merely misunderstood geeks.

Ideally the ending of a book should draw the threads together to a satisfying conclusion, and the ending of the final book of a trilogy should carry through the themes that have been building throughout all three books. Unfortunately, the conclusion to Dune: House Corrino succeeds only in being the summation and capstone of everything that is wrong with all three volumes. I simply could not make my suspension of disbelief stretch far enough to believe that Paul was born not on Caladan, but upon Kaitain, the Imperial capital, and that the Lady Anirul, consort of the Padishah Emperor, gave her life to protect him from assassination. Sorry, but this is simply asking too much.

Everything after that point is merely mopup, trying to bring the last stray bits of story into line so that it points to Dune. But it still fails to satisfy or convince, because no matter how hard the authors work, it still reads like a rather shallow fanfic. At best it's some fun light reading, but only if you can forget all your expectations from the masterwork that was the original Dune.

Review posted January 15, 2009

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