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Dune: The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Published by Tor Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This is the second volume in the Butlerian Jihad trilogy, and unfortunately it continues to suffer from the same weaknesses that plagued the first volume. I still find the cymeks, the computer overmind Omnius and his robot servant Erasmus to be shallow and cartoonish, completely at variance with the Dune universe as I always understood it. They seem to belong more to an action-adventure anime or maybe a Saturday morning cartoon to the rich and evocative universe of Paul Maud'dib and his various allies and enemies. Dune was about the exploration of human nature and the human condition, but there are no insights to be found here.

Instead, we continue to have the simplistic machinations of computer enemies who seem to be straight out of the fears of the earliest pulp robot stories, the sort that John W. Campbell was responding to when he suggested to Isaac Asimov the idea that would ultimately become the Three Laws of Robotics. Omnius and Erasmus never have any nuanced motives for their contempt for humanity and their continual cruelty toward individual humans. Instead, it would seem that they do it because that is what their kind does.

Even the human characters and their interactions are without depth and nuance. Serenna Butler is the Virtuous Woman Done Wrong, while Iblis Ginjo is the Self-Serving Rabblerouser and Vorian Atreides is the Brave Hero. They never act against type, and quite honestly I get no sense that any of them have an inner life that impels them to act. Instead they march obediently from plot point to plot point at the bidding of the authors, bipping each plot box at the appropriate moment.

And quite honestly, that is all it is -- a series of plot points that follow the formal plot outline we're taught as writers, but never becomes anything more. And quite honestly, I have never read a book to admire the careful plotting and tick off each plot box properly bipped. I want to either sink into the characters and their lives or have my mind expanded by the ideas that they are propounding. And quite honestly, this book delivers neither.

So again I must say buy only if you absolutely must have every single book in the Dune universe, or if you just enjoy fast-moving plot-driven stories. But if you want a nuanced and complex treatment on the level of the original Dune, either re-read the original or look elsewhere, because it sure isn't here.

Review posted January 15, 2009

Buy The Machine Crusade (Legends of Dune, Book 2) from Amazon.com