Dune. From God Emperor to Chapter House.
I said I’d read the 3 Dune books while on holiday – and I didn’t, but now – now I finally am on the other side. All done. I feel a little like I’ve finished my homework, although they weren’t exactly taxing. At the end of the day, I have to say my favorite remains the first – Paul’s rise to power and the introduction of Dune – but I found these 3 to be quite interesting and, at times, very engaging.
One aspect that sort of disturbed me all throughout were the constant allusions to the pre-space age – our own times. Many characters revert to notions from these times, to Latin or Roman gods and, while it’s somewhat understandable for the Bene Gesserit and their other memory, it still seems to lack relevance for the described situations or characters. After all, supposedly, thousands of years have passed and there should have been other call backs and other parables used. I feel that these references are done for the benefit of the reader, to prevent him from being lost in too much fictional history, but, at the end of the day, they don’t to justice to how complex the Dune mythology is. That being said…I’ll start with the beginning:
The God Emperor of Dune is all about Leto II (son of Paul Muad’Dib) whom we last left following his golden path and attempting to live in symbiosis with the sand worm vectors. Three thousand years have passed and he has transformed into an actual gigantic worm, his only human features remaining his face and intellect. We’re not regaled with stories of his reign – seems to have been a rather peaceful time…and stagnant, for that matter. Of course, technological advances made by the Ixians are described, but, as a society, Dune hasn’t progressed much. Leto is deified (as any seemingly immortal emperor would be) and his most devoted servants (and almost priestesses) are the Fish Speakers (a bit like amazons, warrior women). His long and powerful reign has reduced the power of all other political entities, starting with the Landsraad, CHOAM, the Spacing Guild and even the Bene Gesserit. This is where we start, and we go through about 400 pages of meditations on the necessity of his golden path, of clever manipulation of various aides or enemies (most prominently among them – the many gholas of Duncan Idaho and Moneo Atreides, his faithful majordomo), of pseudo-philosophical discussions and a seemingly absurd decision to marry Hwi, the Ixian ambassador. Consulting with other memory Leto muses on the cyclical nature of societies and events and, ultimately works towards his own downfall, all for the purpose of perpetuating humankind. While Leto, Duncan and Moneo make for pretty interesting characters, all others (even Siona) feel like one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, present in the narration for the single purpose of advancing the plot. It’s gotta pretty obvious by now that this was probably my least favorite book of the series, isn’t it? 😀
Heretics of Dune – this is where things get interesting again. We skip in time once more, now 1500 years after Leto’s reign has ended. His much discussed path and wish for humanity seems to have worked – afraid of the recurrence of such powerful domination, humanity has scattered all throughout the universe and is no longer confined solely to the old Empire. The Bene Gesserit – easily the most fascinating organization envisioned by Mr. Herbert – are now front and center, and Dune (Arrakis and finally Rakis) still plays a pivotal role. The ecological transformation that destroyed the sandworm in Leto’s time, turning the planet from desert to lush green has reverted and the old ways of the Fremen are returning. The game is played on 2 fronts: on Dune, where Sheeana, a child of the desert, possesses the power to control the worm, Shai-hulud (or Shaitan, as she calls him) and Reverend Mother Superior Taraza takes interest in her, deciding to transform her into a BG and on Gammu (the former Giedi Prime, Harkonnen home planet) where the Bene Gesserit Mentat Miles Teg is planning to train and then restore the memories of yet another Duncan Idaho ghola. All this is done with the pressure of a threat coming from the Scattering: Honoured Matres, an organization seemingly similar to the BG is destroying all in its quest for power. This is merely the setup, the novel is quite alert, the characters are gripping and interesting (I particularly had a fondness for Mothers Superior Dar and Tar) and I definitely enjoyed the delving in the Tleilaxu culture (heavily influenced by a Muslim/Arabic medium). By the end, the scales of power change, Odrade is precariously set as the leader of the Bene Gesserits, Dune is destroyed and the Honoured Matres seem to have won the day. But by now, I fully expect that nothing is really what it seems in these power games.
Chapter House Dune takes place, as the name suggests, at the Bene Gesserit headquarters, the Chapter House. Odrade, faced with the destruction of several BG planes (like Lampadas, where millions died) is devising a new plan, keeping all the responsibility solely on her shoulders. Other BG Reverend Mothers are front & center and it’s great to get a glimpse into their society and rules of governing. Duncan Idaho – the ghola Duncan – continues to play a big part in this scheme as does Murbella, the only Honoured Matre to be captured by the BG, then join them voluntarily, until ultimately becoming Mother Superior. Of course, with twists at every step, the road is never clear, the plan is never fully revealed and the ending can very well be a new beginning. But that’s how the story goes – like Battlestar Galactica so deftly put it, all this has happened before and all this will happen again.
I’m really happy to have finished this book; what I’m not so happy about is that I just can’t do it justice. I can only say in terms of excuse that the plot is dense and the philosophy of it all can sometimes be a little too …cumbersome.