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Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herber & Kevin J Anderson

01/06/2009. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Dune: The Butlerian Jihad in the USA - or Buy Dune: The Butlerian Jihad in the UK

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pub: Macmillan Audio. 20 CDs 22 hours. Price: $60.00 (US). ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-55927-755-6 read by Scott Brick.

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This is a prequel to 'Dune', the first of many in fact, but it's different in many respects from other prequels in that when it was published it set the scene for the unwritten final volume of the series.

You see, Frank Herbert had written six 'Dune' novels, ending in 'Chapterhouse: Dune', but the story was left untold. The battle between the Honored Matres and Bene Gesserit was not the end! From the far reaches of the galaxy, a powerful force, powerful enough to scare even the Matres, was on its way. Using the comprehensive notes left by Frank, the new storytellers Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson set about to complete the series.

The original 'Dune' mentions only briefly and tantalisingly the war between humans and thinking machines that took place long ago in the mists of time. For thinking machines read artificial intelligence! This conflict is explored in the Butlerian Jihad. Ten thousand years before Paul led the rebellion on Arrakis, a more sinister and deadly war of attrition was on the point of destroying humanity. If we think our present-day battle against vending machines is difficult, just think what will happen when they are given intelligence?

The Butlerian Jihad sets the scene for everything! We are introduced to the families of Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino. We also see the evolution of the Fremen on Arrakis. There's also a lot of troublesome robots to cause mayhem for everyone involved! As such, the story is told from several points of view and scenes change from one setting to another quite quickly. Initially this is rather disconcerting but once the major combatants have been identified the task becomes much easier.

Though this audio edition from Macmillan was released seven years ago it hasn't lost its impact. Scott Brick, a narrator of quality and stamina, narrating much of the 'Dune' series has been a magnificent effort. By now I imagine he will know all the characters outside in. It is anticipated that all the 'Dune' novels written by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson will be turned into audio books.

'Dune' would have no meaning without Arrakis, the Fremen and the sandworms. Selim was an outcast from his tribe. Left to die without any water and at the mercy of the worms, he manages to turn events to his advantage by learning to adapt to his environment. He would become the first to control the sandworms. Ten thousand years later, the movement he created would go on to conquer the galaxy and you can listen to his story in this audio book.

Despite their importance, the events on Arrakis are a sideshow compared to other happenings elsewhere. At the time of the Butlerian Jihad, humanity had been on the decline for centuries. Indolence and lethargy were bi-products of the reliance on robotics. The Titans had taken over: these strange creatures of mechanical bodies and human brains had managed to conquer all but a small part of the galaxy. However, they in turn had been over-taken by an artificial intelligence of their own creation. Called Omnius, it isn't a singular being and is more a network of computer intelligence spanning many worlds. Omnius uses the Titans and their Cymek warriors to combat humans.

Not all of the humans had fallen under the influence of the machines. The League of Nobles centred on the planet Salusa Secundus are fighting back with Xavier Harkonnen as one of the leading generals in command. In this era, Harkonnens were the good guys while Atreides, the son of a Titan, is a bad guy! Of prime importance is Serena Butler, the daughter of the Viceroy of the Nobles. As events transpire, she is captured and ends up prisoner of a particularly unpleasant robot called Erasmus with a penchant for dissecting humans to see how they tick.

When Serena and her baby are ruthlessly killed by Erasmus, the enslaved humans are so outraged that they rebel. This rebellion turns into a movement, a jihad, which begins to sweep everything before it. We also see other developments to the 'Dune' story, including the use of spice for navigation amongst the stars but we also see the destruction of Earth by Omnius, its surface obliterated by nuclear weapons.

Omnius and Erasmus are important characters who re-appear again and again in 'Dune'. They had been created for a specific purpose, a purpose that will not be realised until thousands of years have passed. In summation, the addition of extra material to the series distils everything down to a conflict between humans and machines. Just like 'Star Wars' which became the life and times of Darth Vader, 'Dune' has become man versus machine!

This is interesting and essential listening for all those immersed in the 'Dune' universe! Perhaps a thousand years from now, after the order of the books has been established, Butlerian Jihad will be the first of a series instead of an addition written later to explain subsequent events. However, who will be listening to it? A machine like Omnius?

Rod MacDonald

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