I originally wrote my What I’m Reading reactions for Dune and Dune Messiah in the summer of 2006. They were supposed to be part of a series of reactions covering the entire Dune saga, but I got distracted by other projects and never finished it.
Basically, I think the Dune sequels are almost universally under-rated.
In order to complete proper reactions for the later books at this late juncture, however, I would need to re-read the series. That’s unlikely to happen for awhile, so — in the interim — here’s a quick summary of my thoughts.
CHILDREN OF DUNE
I think that either Dune Messiah or Children of Dune is the weakest book in the series. However, it’s difficult to figure out which book is worse because it depends on how you choose to look at the problem
On the one hand, Children of Dune is almost certainly a better novel than Dune Messiah. On the other hand, it is also very derivative of Dune Messiah. Essentially, Children of Dune retells the same story: In Dune Messiah, Herbert tells the story of how Paul slips out of the shackles his prescience had placed upon the human race. And it culminates in the birth of twins he did not foresee, which (for me) pretty clearly indicates that Paul’s vision has been derailed.
But then Children of Dune comes along and says, “Nah, just kidding. You need to pursue the Golden Path to derail the shackles of prescience.” And then it promptly retells the same story as Dune Messiah, starring Paul’s son instead of Paul.
Given the somewhat half-baked quality of Dune Messiah, I suspect that this is literally a case of Frank Herbert wanting a do-over. But the derivative nature of Children of Dune greatly diminishes it if you’re reading the series in sequential order.
On the other hand, if I had to choose one book or the other, I think it’s a no-brainer to choose Children of Dune.
GOD-EMPEROR OF DUNE
I think it safe to say that God-Emperor of Dune is probably the most-reviled book in the series. But I actually enjoyed it a lot. It’s a very different novel from the earlier books. It’s a contemplative, almost zen-like poem — but one laced with deeply horrific tragedy. Watching Leto slowly strip away his own humanity in order to save all of humanity was a profound experience for me.
I think God-Emperor of Dune also speaks to the problem many people have with the series: Herbert didn’t write sequels in the traditional sense of the word.
If you look at works like Star Wars, Lethal Weapon, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Asimov’s Foundation, for example, you will find that the sequels are all pretty similar in tone, content, and style to the original work.
But that’s really not the case with the Dune novels. Even Dune Messiah is fairly distinct from Dune, and God-Emperor of Dune is a completely radical departure. And I can easily see how someone who enjoyed Dune would find absolutely nothing appealing about the style or structure of God-Emperor.
Fortunately, I like both styles of fiction. And, for me, the contrast between the two only enriches the experience.
HERETICS OF DUNE / CHAPTERHOUSE OF DUNE
But it’s also difficult to know exactly what to make of them. Unlike the earlier books, they were specifically conceived and written as a trilogy… but Herbert died before the trilogy was completed. So it feels a little bit like reading The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers if Return of the King had never been written.
They’re good books… but you’re left dangling with no sense of conclusion or thematic closure.
When I was reading these books, the concluding duology — written by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert — had not yet been published. Although I’ve generally avoided those books like the plague, the next time I read through the Dune saga I’ll probably break down and read the duology. If nothing else, it’s supposedly based on Frank Herbert’s original outline — so it will hopefully give me some sense of where Herbert was planning to go.
GRADE (HERETICS): A
GRADE (CHAPTERHOUSE): A