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Sandworms 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

This volume completes the story arc which Frank Herbert originally began with Heretics of Dune. Given that the last two Dune books Frank Herbert wrote were extremely weak compared to the original, and how poorly the Dune prequels were written by his son Brian Herbert and Star Wars tie-in writer Kevin J. Anderson, and given the completely stupid Great Revelation with which they ended the first volume of this conclusion of the Dune series, I held forth very little hope for this one.

Having read it, I would say that if it were an original-universe novel, using characters of their own invention, I would classify it as being not bad, perhaps even a pretty good science fiction adventure. But because it is set in the Dune universe and uses so many of the characters of the original (if only brought back as gholas, clones with the memories of the originals awakened through a Tlielaxu trick), the reader is going to bring to it expectations of excellence that simply are not met.

Oh, there are the occasional gems of ideas scattered here and there throughout the story, including the utterly poignant scene in which Miles Teg uses his mysterious power of acceleration in a desperate effort to repair sabotage to the Ithica and escape the thinking machines' net, burning through all the years of his life in the process, only to fail because the damage is simply too extensive. But even heart-wrenching scenes like that aren't enough to carry the story over all the flaws.

For instance, there is the whole storyline of the Ithica's desperate quest for volatiles and water to replace that lost as the result of repeated sabotage by the Face Dancers who slipped aboard during their ill-fated visit to the planet of the Futars' Handlers. I kept wondering why they kept looking for terrestrial planets, when the easiest way to find these necessary substances would be to look in the outer reaches of a solar system (not necessarily even a habitable one) for comets and ice asteroids and mine the necessary chemicals from them. Of course part of the problem here could simply be that the characters themselves are so accustomed to thinking in terms of terrestrial planets that it never occurs to them that solar systems have other resources, but it was a real sticking point in my mind (probably as a result of reading so much of John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor's writing).

And then there were the scenes that either felt overblown or simply didn't work at all. For instance, take the scene where the Baron Harkonnen ghola confronts the Alia ghola and the Alia voice within his head japes that now she can scold him from within and without. The whole scene was so absurd that I started laughing -- and I was still laughing when Baron Harkonnen stabs poor little Alia to the horror of Jessica, who's standing right there. I should've been shocked and horrified by the murder of an innocent in cold blood, but the writing simply didn't lead my thoughts in the appropriate direction. Even the Alia voice's reaction, that she would now have to serve as the Baron's conscience, seemed funny instead of serious as it should have been (and nothing was ever done with that theme, because the Baron was then killed before the Alia-voice could have begun any program to reform him from within).

And then there is the ending. I thought that the ending of Hunters of Dune was bad, but this one managed to be worse. Oh, the whole Butlerian Jihad and the millennia of human/robot hostility were just a misunderstanding, and as the Ultimate Kwisatz Haderach, Duncan Idaho is able to perfectly mend the breach, once the Oracle of Time removes the mad megalomaniac overmind Omnius to some other dimensions (shades of "their planet shall be rotated" in Robert A. Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel). So humans and robots are now going to work together to make a new society -- perhaps something that looks more like Star Wars than the Dune universe? And then Erasmus asks Duncan to show him the real meaning of death so that he can die and thus become completely human (geez, while we're imitating the Great Masters, lets pull in Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man").

And of course the whole goofy business at the very end with the sandworms of Rakis turning out to have somehow buried themselves deep in the crust to avoid being killed by the Honored Matres' attack, thanks to the prescience afforded them by the "pearl of awareness" that Leto II left in each of them. So now they're going to break up the fused crust and restore Rakis to its original desert state, and Paul and Chani are now leading a crew of Fremen wannabes to recolonize the planet. Talk about trying too hard to bring everything full circle.

Upon finishing it, my reaction is, "OK guys, so you've finally written a conclusion to the Dune series. Thanks. Now go write some original-universe fiction and let the Dune universe stand completed. But given the hints they dropped about the mysterious Maudru super-race who left mysterious symbols on rock faces on worlds all over the galaxy, and who may have been the ones to seed Arrakis with sandworms, it sure looks to me like they're trying to set things up for an endless series of sequels. Is it just me, or does it look an awful lot like they're trying to set up a system by which they can keep milking that particular cash cow in perpetuity?

Review posted March 8, 2009

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