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Why read if if you didn't like "Hunters"? I did!
on 1 December 2013
--------------WARNING - THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS -------------------
If by any chance you've read my review of the first of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's two volume conclusion to the original Dune series, "Hunters of Dune", then you'll already know my theory. "Dune" and the Frank Herbert sequels have earned a cult following over the years, and it's maybe not going too far to say that a proportion of its readership approach it with almost religious fervor. This makes it difficult for them to approach any other additions to the Duniverse with anything approaching impartiality. The tendency is to view anything other than what was written by Frank Herbert as sacrilege, regardless of its own merits. As with "Hunters", I feel that much of the criticisms leveled at "Sandworms of Dune" here and elsewhere as unfair.
Long before the end of "Hunters of Dune" it was revealed that the Great Enemy from beyond the Scattering is in fact the Thinking Machines which were the subject of the Butlerian Jihad - alluded to in each of Frank Herbert's "Dune" series, but actually the whole subject of one of B. Herbert and K. Anderson's prequels.
This has upset a lot of people, judging by the opprobrium in many of the reviews I read. From the end of "Chapterhouse: Dune", the last of Frank Herbert's sequels it is not totally clear who the Enemy is. I know that many people believe that his original intention would be that they would be super Face Dancers returned from the Scattering. Maybe. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have stated clearly that Hunters and Sandworms are both based on Frank Herbert's original notes for his intended end to the series, which he gave the working title of Dune 7. These notes were also shown to their publisher. So unless anyone has the slightest shred of proof that it was otherwise, we should accept that this was what Frank Herbert intended. And I somehow doubt that anyone does have the slightest shred of evidence to that effect.
As regards Sandworms anyway, you read the book already knowing full well that the machines, Omnius and Erasmus, are the great enemy anyway. So if it was such a terrible idea, you wonder why so many people who knew this and didn't like it still went on to read it anyway.
I believe that Hunters and Sandworms were planned and written in one go, and as a result Sandworms continues fairly seamlessly from where Hunters left off. The Harkonnen ghola has been given the care and education of the 2nd Paul ghola, and he ensures that he grows up splendidly twisted. The no-ship Ithaca continues to plough through the void, but all is not well since there is a saboteur face dancer on board. A need to carry out repais and replenish supplies drives the ship to a planet where a Bene Gesserit seedship landed years before, letting out the sandtrout which have begun the planet's desertification. The locals understandably aren't best pleased about this, but the Liet and Stilgar gholas remain behind, along with all the jewish passengers, bar the rabbi. Let's play spot the Face Dancer here, shall we?
Murbella, meanwhile, coordinates Humanity's defence efforts. This involves labyrinthine negotiations with the treacherous dogs of Ix and the Guild. When Chapterhouse itself is attacked by Plague only those able to control their own metabolism to fight the disease can survive. Effectively only Reverend Mothers. Every acolyte is offered the chance to undergo the spice agony to become one, but a huge number die, including one of Murbella and Duncan's daughters.
From the start of Hunters we know that the `evermind' Omnius, and the robot Erasmus have been seeking the no-ship Ithaca. Why? Because on the no-ship is the `ultimate' kwisatz haderach, and Erasmus' mathematical projections ( prophecies) show that the ultimate kwisatz haderach will determine the outcome of Kralizec, the battle at the end of the universe. When the Rabbi is unmasked by Scytale, the last Tleilaxu master on the Ithaca, then his dying act of destruction disables the ship, and even though Miles Teg's selfless act of heroic suicide nearly saves them, they are caught by the machines' tachyon net.
Call it Kralizec, Armageddon, the Last Battle, whatever, it takes place on Synchrony, the machines' home. Paolo, the evil Harkonnen ghola wins the duel with good Paul from the Ithaca, and wins the right to try `ultraspice'. You'll just have to read the book yourself if you want to find out where that comes from. Ultrapsice enables Paolo to see everything, nothing is hidden from his prescience, and voila - he is not the ultimate kwisatz haderach, just and ordinary, garden variety kwisatz haderach. Caught in his own vision, he is now out of the equation. Good Paul, who does survive, did lose the duel, so he is not the ultimate kwi had either. The Leto II ghola has joins in a very different kind of symbiosis with the sandworms from that of his first life. This frees his memories, and he learns that he too is not the ultimate kwi had. Of course he isn't. The lucky winner is Duncan Idaho. Who tells him so? The Oracle of Time.
Yeah, the Oracle of Time. It's my only really serious complaint of the book. The Oracle of Time is not
a Frank Herbert creation. The character who became the Oracle, Norma Cenva is mentioned briefly in one paragraph of "God Emperor of Dune" as the real creator of the first Guild ship. Apparently the character plays a significant part in the Legends of Dune series by the son and his collaborator, which I haven't read. I was hoping that the character would play only a supporting role in the denouement. Unfortunately the Oracle of Time is the Deus Ex Machina - or if you prefer the Deus Anti Machina - who makes the resolution possible. Even the almost divinely empowered Duncan Idaho cannot do anything about the fact that thousands of copies of Omnius throughout the universe exist, and so destroying the one on Synchrony won't do any good. The Oracle joins with Omnius, and removes them both to another universe, this one a complete void.
Which leaves Erasmus. It turns out that the robot is the real brains of the outfit. It is Erasmus who has manipulated Omnius, and now has control of the thinking machines. He and the humans are briefly threatened by hordes of Face Dancers led by the delusional Khrone. It turns out that Erasmus has ensured that each new Face Dancer, including Khrone, has an off switch which he casually flicks. Bye bye Face Dancers. The Ultimate Kwisatz Haderach can now see that elimination of the thinking machines a la the original Butlerian Jihad will serve no purpose. He briefly joins minds with Erasmus, who transfers control of the thinking machines to him. In return he gains what he has always sought, a deeper understanding of humans, and having achieved this, is now happy to switch himself off.
That's basically it bar the shouting. Pretty much the same comments can be made about "Sandworms" as I made about "Hunters". in my opinion it is not as profound or rich as Herbert père's work, but it's not as difficult to get through as some of that either. It kept me reading from first to last page. Am I totally satisified with the ending? Tough question. It does tie up the loosest ends. There is at least a serviceable explanation about why it is Idaho who is the ultimate Kwi Had. Oh, but I do wish that it hadn't been the Oracle of Time that gave the final coup de grace.
To get finally to the point. Don't read this unless you have already read "Hunters of Dune". If you don't/didn't like "Hunters of Dune" then don't read "Sandworms of Dune" because you won't like it either. Personally I think that Hunters was a good attempt at continuing the story begun in "Heretics" and "Chapterhouse", and I thought that Sandworms lived up to Hunters. Note, I don't say that Sandworms is a fitting end to the series that started with `Dune'. By all means feel free to disagree with me, but for me, that series ended with the end of "Children". I see "God Emperor" as a stand alone story set within the Dune Universe, but neither part of the first series, nor the last. I see "Heretics " and "Chapterhouse" as a different series set in an altered Duniverse, and viewed in this light, I think that Sandworms ends the series as well as anyone other than Frank Herbert himself would have done.
"Sandworms" is very readable, despite what you might read in some of these reviews. Honestly, it is not heresy or sacrilege to say that at the very least you didn't mind "Hunters" . If you can say this much, then the very least you should do is to give "Sandworms" a try.