01/12/2008. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
pub: Macmillan Audio. Price: $49.95 (US). 16 hours unabridged 13 CDs. ISBN: 978-1-4272-0315-1. Read by Simon Vance, Scott Brick, and Katherine Kellgren.
check out website: http://us.macmillan.com/godemperorofdune
The complexity of the Dune universe never ceases to amaze me. Anyone who says he or she understands it completely is probably mistaken and I'm sure Frank Herbert in his initial conception of the novel and the series had no certain idea of its final outcome. This is contrary to his creation, Leto Atreides II, the son of Paul Muad'Dib, who with his gift of prescience seems to know everything that is going to happen.
The God Emperor, the immortal Leto, was originally a human but excess spice or melange gave him his power. The ability to see into the future isn't always a good thing, especially for the human race, and with others possessing this ability prevalent in the universe, Leto comes to the conclusion that the only way for humans to survive and to spread out over the Cosmos is to go beyond prophesies and prescience. With this in mind, he becomes determined to produce beings unaffected by such things but in order to do that his own downfall and death are assured. In his mind, he has the vision of the Golden Path but does this include the seeds of his own extinction?
In a way, this is the old argument about determinism and free will. If the universe is predictable and everything that will be can be known, it becomes a closed system with no room for improvement and no challenges. On the other hand, free will lets everything be possible. Quantum mechanics points to this latter possibility with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, the end result being that a bullet doesn't necessarily have to have your name on it.
'God Emperor Of Dune' is the fourth in Frank Herbert's series but of course, as we all know, others have been written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson to fill in some of the spaces. If you would like more information about the Dune series of books, the following website may be of help: http://www.dunenovels.com/index.html
'God Emperor' is a curious book somewhat different in character from the rest. Maybe that's because it is based on the reflections of a virtually omnipotent ruler, reflections discovered a long time after his death in a hidden time capsule. With Leto not beng entirely human, one shouldn't expect anything to the contrary and in trying to equate him to an emperor from Earth, Leto is nothing like anyone from Rome whose emperors were all mortal despite their own wishes to be otherwise. Perhaps he is somewhat akin to an Egyptian pharaoh of the Old Kingdom where there was a surmised continuation of life between this existence and thereafter in sufficient depth of belief to divorce them from human reality.
'God Emperor' is certainly a superb audio book. Our favourite narrators are at their best, in particular Simon Vance who many from Britain will remember some years ago from the BBC. He is now in the United States doing excellent work as a narrator, not just of Science Fiction but other genres as well. I like his style and versatility in handling characters.
The 16 hours on CD seem to whizz by. Excitement is ensured right from the start and it becomes addictive listening. Fortunately, I am not a television enthusiast and avoid the multitude of soap opera rubbish like the plague. Likewise, reality television! In fact, there is so little to watch of merit these days that audio books become very welcome entertainment.
Returning to the story, Leto has been transformed in the proceedings of the previous book by a form of genetic engineering involving the giant sandworms of Arrakis or more accurately, the sand trout which are basically the young of this species. I don't want to go into the ecology and life cycle of the sandworm to a great extent but such information is of paramount importance not just to this book but to the entire 'Dune' series. Basically, Arrakis used to be a green and pleasant land but the sand trout absorbed water and turned it into a desert. Spice or melange, crudely put, is sand trout shit.
God Emperor picks up some 3500 years after Leto's voluntary transformation. He has become a grotesque creature, half-man and half-worm with apparent invulnerability and has ruled over his empire for all this time enforcing peace by means of his vast armies. Having prescience, Leto is able to anticipate situations to defuse them before they become dangerous. However, in doing all this, the Empire has become stagnant, analogous to the empire of Rome in the third century AD.
Readers of the original 'Dune' novel will remember the character Duncan Idaho who was Paul's right-hand man, his sword master and friend. Well, Duncan is still here even after all this time but it's not the original Duncan, it's a clone or rather something called a ghola which is similar but possesses all of the original characteristics and memories. Many Duncan Idahos existed over the last 3500 years. Some couldn't handle their transposed situation while others went mad. They all had the same characteristic in that eventually, despite being intensely loyal to Leto, they wished to bring about his downfall because of what he was doing to the Empire.
Curiously, Leto would have them killed and went on to create another. Why, you may ask? Duncan Idaho was loved by Leto and wished him as a friend despite the shortcomings of the relationship. Nevertheless, at the point of the latest incarnation, the situation has changed and Leto himself wants to die in order to preserve the human race for the future.
It must be added that the Duncan Idaho gholas created previously did not have their memories continued. This only happens from the original Duncan to each of the individual gholas.
Leto's Golden Path dictates that he wishes to engineer beings impervious to prescience and in doing so he commences a breeding programme, quite complex in nature, which involves Siona Atreides, a distant relative of Paul, who is also the leader of a group of rebels determined to overthrow the Empire. The situation is complicated by the arrival of the Ixian ambassador, Hwi Noree, involved in a secret plot to assassinate Leto. Of course, Leto knows all this but nevertheless allows events to run their course.
Much of the book is written from Leto's perspective. It's actually a very interesting perspective, giving an insight into the mind of the God Emperor which indeed he has become. While his treatment of Duncan Idaho may seem strange to us, in the context of his philosophy it isn't strange at all. We are not in his situation and it would be wrong for us to make judgements based on our own ethics. What is remarkable is that Frank Herbert managed to get his head around the complexities of these characters and present them in a style which we can enjoy reading.
It must also be remembered that this book was written in 1981. On my own recollections of the state of scientific advancement then existing, much of what he writes about in terms of genetic engineering was still a long way off. Perhaps indeed he did have a prophetic inclination as to the shape of things to come.
As an audio book, 'God Emperor Of Dune' literally speaks for itself. It is different and it is intriguing, certainly one to recommend. If you are into reading the successive volumes of the Dune universe then this is one not to miss.
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