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

Published by Bantam Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Dune: House Harkonnen continues the prequel trilogy that was begun in Dune: House Atreides. Unfortunately, it also continues all the gross flaws that mar the first volume, making it a very frustrating read.

As is indicated by the title, this volume focuses primarily upon the Harkonnens, and we get a ringside seat to Baron Vladimir Harkonnen's descent into the swollen and dissipated monstrosity of the original novel. Yet it all seems forced and unconvincing, as if it were being forcibly marched to the pre-ordained endpoint rather than developing organically from the starting point. Furthermore, there are several scenes -- most particularly the dinner scene at the mansion -- which seem to be variations on scenes from the original novels. The feeling I get while reading it is rather similar to that I got when watching Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and seeing scenes that seemed to be taken shot-for-shot from scenes in the original trilogy.

Then there is the entire plotline with House Vernius and the Tlielaxu conquest of Ix. It puts me in mind of Marion Zimmer Bradley's saying, "suspension of disbelief does not mean hanging it by the neck until dead." Every aspect of it sends my implausibility meter off the scale, from the entire "amal" spice project (excuse me, but I was under the impression that the effort to make artificial spice didn't really take off until the era of the Tyrant, Leto II) to the whole business of the heir to Vernius being such a buddy of Duke Leto Atreides. I simply cannot square any of it with the situations we see at the beginning of Dune. It is about as implausible as the whole sequence of Baron Harkonnen's raid upon the Bene Gesserit at Wallach IX.

But even that pales before the whole idea of Duke Leto having had a son before Paul. I am sorry, but the whole business of his little boy Victor makes my suspension of disbelief crash and burn. There is nothing in the character of Duke Leto as we see him in Dune that even squares with his having had and lost a child already. Everything we see in that novel indicates that Paul is not only his only living son, but the only one he ever has had and the only one he ever expects to have.

On the whole, the problem remains much the same as it was in Dune: House Atreides -- namely, that it reads like fanfiction, and not that great of fanfiction either. I've seen a lot of actual fanfiction in a number of universes that shows a much better grasp of the original than these volumes, and often without benefit of access to unpublished notes of the original writer. It's almost as if the authors simply don't grasp the idea that one cannot just go and add anything that seems neat to a fictional universe without twisting it beyond recognition. Having the estate's authorization simply makes it legal to publish and profit from it -- it doesn't automatically make what they're writing any good.

Quite honestly, I can only recommend these volumes to someone who is so voracious for anything Dune that they don't care about quality. If you want the authentic Dune experience, go back and re-read the original another time, and savor the richness and depth of the worldbuilding , characterization and every other aspect of the writing. You sure aren't going to find it here.

Review posted January 15, 2009

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