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The Road to Dune by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Published by Tor Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This volume is somewhat different than the prequel trilogies in that it includes substantial material taken from the boxes of Frank Herbert's notes that are supposed to have been so important in Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's efforts to write the two prequel trilogies. In particular, there are pieces excised from various early drafts of both Dune and Dune Messiah, as well as an entire novel that can be looked upon as a sort of proto-draft of Dune.

This novel is Spice Planet, which makes for some rather disorienting reading. We have many of the elements of Dune, but in topsy-turvy arrangements that produce a sense of cognitive dissonance. Familiar names belong to completely different characters, and other characters who play roles essentially equivalent to various Dune characters have names that are similar but strangely shifted. Furthermore, the characterization and worldbuilding is far shallower than that of Dune, which leaves me wondering just how much of it is Frank Herbert's actual text and how much was a reconstruction from notes of what Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson think he would have intended to have written.

And quite honestly, that is the greatest weakness of this volume -- the complete lack of any sort of scholarly apparatus to allow us to perceive the process of development of the various drafts. When I try to compare it with The History of Middle Earth, Christopher Tolkien's twelve-volume redaction of his father's papers, there is simply no comparison. One can do sophisticated literary research using the various volumes of The History of Middle Earth, thanks to Christopher Tolkien's careful notes on exactly how changes were made in the manuscripts. In fact, one could probably do most of the research on a doctoral thesis on Tolkien using those volumes, and actually handle original manuscripts only for those few rare items that were not included in these published volumes.

To be fair, Christopher Tolkien is himself a literary scholar, while Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are not. Even they describe themselves as "Dune fans" in the foreword to this volume. Their primary experiences have been in producing popular fiction for a popular audience, rather than editing and annotating archival materials for a scholarly audience. But it would have been so much more useful to the reader who wishes to understand how Frank Herbert's great masterpiece developed if there were some more information about just how each of these manuscripts fit into the development of the book which secured his fame in science fiction history.

While it is better than the prequel trilogy (even the four short stories at the end have an evocative power that we simply do not see in the prequel trilogies), the lack of any sense of how exactly the successive drafts developed raises as many questions as it settles. For instance, I would love to know how exactly the various aspects of the Bene Gesserit developed from Dorothy Mapes' talent for observation in the original Spice Planet. It has long been my theory that Frank Herbert wanted a world in which the old medieval idea that having daughters rather than desired sons was somehow the woman's fault was actually true. Since he was writing a story about human beings and human problems, and the facts of human sexual determination were already generally known to anyone with a high school education, he couldn't simply change his characters to having a ZW sex chromosome system (in which the egg rather than the sperm does carry the chromosome that determines sex, as is the case with birds), so he hit on the idea of women being able to select X-bearing or Y-bearing sperm by controlling their internal chemistry. But where would women gain such an ability? Trying to answer that question might well have led him to imagine an entire organization of super-trained women, and when combined with the idea of human computers, the Mentats, everything would start falling into place. But the bits and snatches of text we see only suggest that possibility, rather than definitively saying so.

Thus I can only recommend this volume with reservations. If you want to see some glimpses into the development of Dune, go ahead and get it. But if you're hoping for a scholarly study on the level of The HIstory of Middle Earth, forget it.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Foreword by Bill Ransom

Preface by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Spice Planet

  • Introduction
  • Spice Planet Part I
  • Spice Planet Part II

The Road to Dune

  • "They Stopped the Moving Sands"
  • The Letters of Dune
  • Unpublished Scenes and Chapters
    • Introduction
    • Deleted Scenes and Chapters from Dune
      • Paul & Reverand Mother Mohaim
      • Paul & Thufir Hawat
      • Paul & Gurney Halleck
      • Paul & Dr. Yueh
      • Paul & Duke Leto Atreides: The Spacing Guild & the Great Convention
      • Baron Harkonnen & Piter de Vries
      • From Caladan to Arrakis
      • Blue-Within-Blue Eyes
      • Jessica & Dr. Yueh: The Spice
      • Paul & Jessica
      • Escape from the Harkonnens With Duncan and Liet-Kynes at the Desert Base
      • The Flight from Kynes' Desert Base
      • Maud'Dib
    • Deleted Scenes and Chapters from Dune Messiah
      • Original Opening Summary for Dune Messiah
      • Alia & the Duncan Idaho Ghola
      • The Human Distrans
      • Conspiracy's End
      • Blind Paul in the Desert

Short Stories

  • Introduction
  • A Whisper of Caladan Seas
  • Hunting Harkonnens
  • Whipping Mek
  • The Faces of a Martyr

Copyright Acknowledgements

Review posted January 15, 2009

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