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Hot air of Dune
on 5 August 2009
Apparently Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson aren't finished milking Frank Herbert's cash cow. First prequels, then sequels, and now a midquel.
In this case, "The Winds of Dune" explores the months after the blinded, grief-stricken Paul Atreides aka Muad'Dib wandered off into the desert. While Anderson and Herbert conjure some touching moments as the people in Paul's life deal with his loss, they don't manage to make the story come alive -- the prose and beloved characters are flat.
On Caladan, Jessica is shocked by the news of her son's apparent death, Chani's tragic loss, and the birth of her twin grandchildren. She rushes to Arrakis to assist Alia, now appointed Regent, and discovers that Dune has changed in many ways -- Paul's loss has only increased fanatical devotion (and equally fanatical division), and the ruthless Alia is determined to cement Paul's legacy.
Cue a novella-sized flashback about Paul's childhood, and how he and his friend Bronso of Ix ran away to join the circus... er, the Facedancer Jongleurs. No, seriously.
Unfortunately, Bronso of Ix has since become a sort of idealistic terrorist, disrupting Paul's "funeral" and spreading heretical pamphlets which seek to reveal Paul's flaws and atrocities. Jessica attempts to soften Alia's increasingly ruthless reign as her daughter prepares to marry Duncan Idaho -- but Bronso's determination to kill the legend of Muad'Dib leads to some very big new problems. But is all this Muad'Dib's will?
"The Winds of Dune" is one of those novels that might have been a decent sci-fi read if it had been based on its own universe. But as a Dune story, it seems like glorified fanfiction with a cool cover -- an attempt to fill in various plot points between "Dune Messiah" and "Children of Dune," such as Alia's marriage to the ghola Duncan Idaho and the water ceremonies.
There isn't actually much plot in "Winds of Dune" except for Alia's increasingly tyrannical actions, and Jessica's attempts to moderate her loopy attempts to deify Paul. There's a spattering of assassination plots, ceremonies (both official and Fremen), Bene Gesserit evilness, and lots of political wheeling and dealing. But without a pair of hefty flashbacks -- about a Bene Gesserit rebellion and running away to the circus -- it would be a very skinny book.
And sadly Herbert and Anderson don't bring much life to the narrative. There are some touching moments -- such as Stilgar's mystical moment with a sandworm -- but mostly it's an unexciting, flatly-written stretch, filled with weird plot twists that rarely work (guess what: Paul was adored because he used Jongleur hypnosis on EVERYBODY!). Seriously, how did they make explosive assassination attempts and hardcore spice hallucinations into half-page-long, emotionless borefests?
The characters are similarly undeveloped -- while the flashbacks temporarily resurrect beloved characters like Chani, Yueh and Duke Leto, none of them have much personality. Alia is suddenly a two-dimensional, crazy, fanatical brat, and gets engaged to Duncan with little evidence of actual romance. It's like, "Hey Mommy, I'm marrying Duncan! Surprise!"
Jessica is the one major exception, as we see her struggle with her losses, and try to keep the truth about Paul's virtues and flaws alive. Same with some minor supporting characters like the torn Stilgar and grieving Gurney Halleck (whose attraction to Jessica begins to flower).
"The Winds of Dune" is basically an official fanfiction, attempting to add plot in between Frank Herbert's original works -- babies, weddings, and collectible Muad'Dib souvenirs. It simply doesn't work.