Children of Dune

CODI’d initially called my Dune Messiah post “They Lived Happily Ever After. Until…”

I’ll mention my alternative title for this post later.

Dune Messiah depicts the times and events after the “fairytale ending” of Dune where the protagonist had finally overcome the obstacles he faced.
After that apparent victory, reality starts to intrude and the promise of ongoing stability is shown to be a vain expectation.

Where Dune traced the downfall and restoration of the House of Atriedes, Dune Messiah showed the consequences of taking more power than what was originally lost.

With more power comes more responsibility and increasing dangers. New Emperor Paul Muad’Dibh has to face threats to his unborn heirs as other powers conspire to control the succession to the Imperial throne. Paul finds the only available solution requires great personal sacrifice.

Children of Dune picks up the story several years later after Paul’s sacrifice. His sister Alia has been made Regent until the twin heirs, Leto and Ghanima reach adulthood, but whose interests is she really representing?

Other surviving major characters from the previous two books return in Children of Dune, but all seem to get caught up in parts of different conspiracies; with plans within plans all of which lead to uncertain goals. I don’t think I’m revealing any “spoilers” if I say that no one seems to achieve the outcome they desired.

Above I said I’d reveal my alternative title for this post:

“I Created a World So I’m Going to Use It.”

After building a convincing, complex setting for Dune, including its landscape, ecology, technology, politics, religion, commerce and mythology, I feel that Herbert didn’t want  to cast all of that work aside – but wanted to make as much use as possible of his created universe; even if he didn’t quite have the same strength of story to combine with it.

The Dune series started with a book I loved so much in my teens that I immediately reread it. Going back to the book 40 years later I can understand why. I can also see why I never took to the sequels. Both have enjoyable moments and occasional hints of intrigue,  but as a whole they don’t work for me.

Dune had a definite, structured, compelling narrative that led to a purposeful conclusion. The sequels, perhaps moreso Children of Dune, seem more like part of an ongoing, unending saga with characters I decreasingly care about.

There are three more Frank Herbert penned books in the series. I’ll take a break and read other things before I think of starting on them.

And I think I’ll avoid the many prequels and sequels written by Herbert’s son, Brian.

 

Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been able to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class – whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.

– Politics as Repeat Phenomenon: Bene Gesserit Training Manual.

 

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Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

I can see why, despite my love of the book Dune, my teenage-self wasn’t able to warm to its sequel Dune Messiah.

dune messiah.jpg

The overall achievements of Paul Atriedes (Muad’Dib) in Dune now seem to have questionable merit, being driven into a position where the things most important to him are overwhelmed by consequences of leadership that he can’t control; such as the feared Jihad in his name.

In one section of the book, Paul talks about leaders in the distant past who were responsible for the deaths of millions.  He compares this to the numbers killed under (despite?) his leadership.

“There’s another emperor I want you to note in passing – a Hitler. He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days.”

“Killed…by his legions?” Stilgar asked.

“Yes.”

“Not very impressive statistics, m’Lord.”

“Very good, Stil … Statistics:  at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions…”

It’s a part of the book that made me feel very uneasy. While I assume it intends to lay out the scale of the atrocities committed in Paul’s name,  it also potentially minimises Hitler’s culpibility, as well as the scale of the atrocities for which he was responsible.

Paul’s problems aren’t resticted to the lack of control he has over his legions of followers and their jihad.

A secretive group of influential people meet to conspire against Paul, but the actual aim of the conspiracy (apart from Paul’s downfall) isn’t clear. Each of the group seems to have their own agenda, all of which appear to be at odds with the aims of the  others. The plan that unfolds potentially benefits only one of those conspirators.

Paul has a vision pointing to his own demise; and being forewarned gives the potential of being forearmed. Can he avert that fate?

One of the more direct personal costs he faces is the threat his position causes towards those he loves. Can he guarantee a secure future for his family and ensure there’s an Atreides heir to his Imperial throne?

Dune TrilogyCompared to the other parts of Herbert’s Dune series, Dune Messiah is a very short book, and seems more like a bridge to link the first and third parts than a novel in its own right. This time I’ve been reading the books in one volume collection, and in that context I think Dune Messiah makes more sense, and is more satisfying than when I first attempted it as a stand alone novel 40 years ago.

If there is a redeeming theme within this book itself, as a separate part of the overall story, it’s the depiction of the dangers arising when religion gains, and becomes, a primarily political power.

The horrific results of that can be seen throughout human history.

Dune by Frank Herbert

A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.

– from the “Manual of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan.

How do I begin with my thoughts on Dune?

dune

A Science Fiction novel mixing a kind of medieval feudalism with advanced technologies, written in the 1960s, and yet seemingly cogniscent of current 21st century issues.

Politics. Religion. Ecological sciences. Religious wars. Conservation. Environmentalism. Exploitative economics…

“The historical systems of mutual pillage and extortion stops here… You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after.”

Some of the main protagonists/antagonists within the novel are:

The House of Atreides is headed by Duke Leto who has been commissioned by the Emperor to govern the planet Arrakis, source of the empire’s most valuable commodity, the spice melange.
Leto knows the appointment is a trap, meant to cause his downfall, but it is a commission he can’t refuse. His son and heir, Paul becomes the central figure in the course events of to come.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen has ambitions for the increased prominence of his own family that will require the destruction of the House Atreides He has particular ambitions for his nephew and heir Feyd-Rautha, a nasty piece of work who loves the thrill of gladiatorial combat – as long as the odds are nefariously manipulated to his favour.

The Bene Gesseret sisterhood are a  nun-like order who for centuries have surreptitiously controlled family lines by selective breeding, and have introduced religious teachings and myths into the lore of chosen ethnic groups, with the aim of producing and making way for the Kwisatz Haderach, a male messianic figure through whom they plan to increase their order’s power.

The Fremen are an underestimated, mysterious, fierce and resilient desert race on the planet Arrakis who know the secret of the spice and its production, and have adapted their ways to survive with minimal water.

I first read Dune in 1977. It is perfectly paced and structured, well plotted with strong relatable characters.
I picked it up whenever I could, always eager to get back to the story, not wasting a moment of my spare time on anything else.
When I reached the end, I immediately started it again. The only time I’ve ever done that.

42 years later I read it for a third time, and can see why I enjoyed the book to that degree in my teens.

Unlike so much science fiction, this story hasn’t dated. At times in the intervening years, events in the news stirred my memories of the book.
For example, it was in Dune that I first came across the term jihad, a word that has gained wide familiarity during the 21st century. Herbert’s use of it leans more on historical accounts of  real desert peoples, who were a clear inspiration for some elements of the desert people who play a pivotal role in this book, but when the word was used in the context of recent politics (the “war on terror”), I recalled its relevance in Dune.

Paul Atreides, later Paul Muad’Dib, has prescient dreams of armies conducting jihad in his name. As other dreams prove to be accurate premonitions, can he prevent the violence he foresees being done by his future followers?

I recall my teenage self longing to play Paul Artreides in a film version of the story: despite the fact I was no actor and had no chance of getting close to any film makers able to bring the book to the screen. And despite having no physical similarity to Paul .
The character seemed so real to me. I could identify with him to an extent that perhaps only a boy in his late teens, desiring adventure and meaning, could.
That is clearly an aspect of the book that doesn’t have the same effect when I read as a 60-ish year old, but my enjoyment of the book hasn’t diminished because of that.

My Top Ten Books (novels)

I knew I’d written about my “top ten books” many years ago, but I couldn’t find the article on my earlier book blog where I thought it would be.

I’ve now found it on an almost forgotten site that I had several years ago before I migrated to WordPress.

A link to the original article is provided below, and an explanation of my list can be read there.

Back then my “top ten” had only three books listed.

Dune.jpgeyedracula

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Dune by Frank Herbert
2) That Eye the Sky by Tim Winton
3) Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

They were all books that had a significant effect on me at the time of reading, and that is why they made my list. If I’d started the list today, its possible none of them would have been included – which clearly would make for a pitiful top ten.

Since I wrote that article, only one other novel has appealed enough to be added to my list – leaving only six more slots to fill.

That addition is:

 

book theif

 

4) The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

It’s a book I read in 2011 (when I called it my ‘book of the year’) and therefore has not been hurriedly added to the list.

I wanted to revisit my top ten because not long ago I discovered a podcast related to Frank Herbert’s Dune series. The opening few minutes of the first episode were an excerpt from the beginning of David Lynch’s film version of the story.

The spoken monologue and the introductory music from the soundtrack gave me goose bumps (particularly the music), and made me want to dig Dune out of my book cupboard as soon as I can. I’m not sure I can even think of starting the book I’d originally planned to start reading today, until I’ve dealt with Dune again.

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http://onefile2.blogspot.com/2005/12/top-ten-books.html

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

Changing My Mind was structured like a sandwich. It began and ended with academic essays related to books and authors I haven’t read. So through the first 90 or so pages I wondered whether it was worth persevering. Fortunately I stayed with the book and came across the more appealing sandwich filling.

The “filling” that made the book worthwhile includes essays on:

zadie0001The craft of writing.

Politics.

Human nature and identity.

Film reviews.

 and lastly

Personal memories of childhood, family and in particular of Smith’s late father, to whom the book is dedicated.

Then came another academic essay to enclose the sandwich

In the academic essays, the idea of “rereading” comes up several times, and those references seem to  show an aspect of Smith’s reading practice, and her literary interests, that differ greatly from my own.

I am not a rereader.  I rarely read novels twice, and when I have it has been many years later when I’d forgotten enough of the story for it to be like reading the book for the first time. The only time I recall finishing a novel and then immediately restarting it was almost 40 years ago with Frank Herbert’s Dune.

When I re-read Dune, it wasn’t because I needed to dig deeper into its wordplay or its philosophy of life or to admire the author’s skill, it was because I loved the story and the characters.

When rereading is mentioned in Smith’s essays I think it relates to more “literary” or “writerly” issues, and while those things don’t really motivate my reading of fiction I can understand the idea behind them. After recently finishing The Satanic Verses I thought I’d probably get more out of the book if I read it again; a second reading would build upon the first and maybe some of the puzzling aspects (of which there were many) would become clearer. 

If there wasn’t so much else to read it might have been something to consider. But there are far too many other books around that I find much more appealing. And the need to understand The Satanic Verses doesn’t come high enough in my life’s priorities to want to spend another couple of weeks reading through it again.

When I read fiction I am more interested in plot and character than in philosophy or gaining insight into the meaning of life – for that I’ll stick with the Bible: a book where continued rereading is more than justified.