Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Cover art by Stephen Youll
Cover design by Loose Change Studio
Published by Tor Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The cliffhanger with which Chapterhouse Dune ended was so frustrating that many Dune fans struggled mightily to make it into some kind of conclusion, particularly after Frank Herbert died without producing a sequel. Some people tried to argue that the cliffhanger was in fact the author letting go of his characters and acknowledging that they had slipped his grasp in the end. Yet that interpretation was never really satisfying, particularly when the rumors began to appear of an outline or partial draft that was supposed to have been found among his papers.
After the horrible Dune prequel trilogies, particularly the one set immediately before Dune, I was apprehensive about Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson tackling the fabled seventh Dune book. After all, given how long people had been chattering about the sequel to Chatperhouse Dune for over a decade, and given the simple fact that that imagination is almost always better than reality, I knew there was a very real possibility of a letdown. On the other hand, given the major flaws in Chapterhouse Dune, it was actually possible that a sequel could end up doing some cleanup of the problematic elements.
The first time I started reading it, I found it very difficult to keep the two storylines -- the one in the Old Empire and the one aboard the no-ship Ithaca -- clear in my mind. It probably didn't help that Chapterhouse Dune had never made a strong impression on me, and as a result I wasn't really clear on the various threads that had been established in it. In fact, I got about a hundred pages in and realized that I wasn't sure exactly what was going on, so that I had to start over and read more closely to tell which characters were on what planet and which ones were on the no-ship Ithica fleeing through the void.
Once I did, I also noticed that the characters were actually more clearly deliniated than they had been in Chapterhouse Dune, which just goes to show how hastily that volume must have been written. I was actually beginning to be able to keep some of the various Bene Gesserit and Honored Matre characters apart that had all been blurring together in my mind in the earlier volume.
And then Rebecca, the Jewish Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother who had been one of the few characters in Chapterhouse Dune who actually engaged me enough to keep her straight, becomes so frustrated with the Rabbi that she decides to respond for volunteers to fill the need for axolotl tanks. It struck me as such a complete cop out that I came very close to throwing the book against the nearest wall.
And I'm not just talking about the character's behavior, although it could certainly raise all sorts of interesting ethical questions about when self-sacrifice can be used as a way to legitimize a self-destructive action. I'm talking about the authors -- the whole thing made me feel very much like the authors didn't know how to deal with the character, couldn't figure out any better way to get her out of her impasse with her own people, and decided to take the easy way out and effectively kill her off -- but leave just enough of her around so the guilt-stricken Rabbi would have to pray over her living corpse. Maybe it would've been different if it had been a character who hadn't really engaged me, but I actually liked Rebecca and wanted to see more of her.
And back in the Old Imperium there's the whole business with the fusion of Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres into a New Sisterhood under Murbella, which I found even harder to deal with. It seemed like every twist in that plotline got steadily more ridiculous the further it went. In particular the part about very young women undergoing the Spice Agony to become Reverend Mothers -- it was my impression from the original Dune that the necessary training took decades to master, such that only women nearing menopause would be able to safely undergo it (hence the surprise that Lady Jessica was pregnant with Alia when she underwent it during the Fremen Tau Seitch ritual.
But even that wasn't as bad as what was going on among the independent Honored Matres on Tlielax and Dan (formerly Caladan) with their ghola of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Baron in the original Dune was a complex character, but this one is a caricature of villainy taken almost to the point of absurdity. He's not only a sadist, but a masochist as well, to the point that it was actually laughable when the Tilelaxu were trying to find something nasty enough to awaken his other memories. And when they do finally succeed, he unaccountably has the voice of Alia in his head.
Yes, Alia was his granddaughter, and in her later years his ancestral memory came to possess her to the point her own personality began to disappear. But there is no mechanism within any of the previous books to explain how one could be haunted by a descendent. Not just a message left in future time for a prescient to find, as she did with her brother Paul, but a fully interactive persona who becomes the source of continual mocking comments. So we're left hoping that it will be explained in the final volume.
A volume about which I am extremely ambivalent, given the Great Revelation about the identity of the mysterious old man and old woman that we get in the end of this one. I usually don't like to give away the endings of books, but in this case, this one is so teeth-grindingly bad that there's simply no way to discuss why without giving it away.
In my reviews of the Butlerian Jihad trilogy I've made my views on Omnius and Erasmus amply clear. To have them suddenly reappear, their key programming having survived the destruction of Corrin by the merest hair's breadth of coincidence, is simply too much. I simply cannot believe that they were in Frank Herbert's original outline for the seventh Dune book (assuming that it actually existed -- we have yet to see a real scholarly edition of his papers on the level of Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series), so I feel insulted by what can only be regarded as the insertion of their own (badly thought out) creations into the storyline. In fact, my only real motivation to go on and read the final book is to see just how bad they can manage to get.
Review posted March 8, 2009.
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