01/01/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: TOR/SciFi Channel. 512 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $29.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1294-5.
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com http://www.tor-forge.com and www.dunenovels.com
Whereas the earlier Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson contributions to the 'Dune' universe are either set before or after Frank Herbert's original novels, 'Paul Of Dune' takes place between two of the original novels, specifically 'Dune' and 'Dune Messiah'.
The reasons for exploring this particular period of time make good sense. By the end of 'Dune', Paul Atreides has developed from a young man into a hero. The narrative itself is famously complex but, at its heart, Paul is a hero, someone the reader can admire and respect. By the time 'Dune Messiah' picks up the story a few years later, Paul is in many ways a broken man, responsible for unleashing the genocidal Fremen jihad across the universe. It's hard to admire Paul at this point in time: his ability to control events is weak, at best, and the cult that has grown up around him is run by a cynical and distinctly unpleasant priesthood.
So what's happened between the two books? Frank Herbert was interested in the connection between religion and politics and in particular how heroes might be beneficial in myths but are invariably destructive in reality. Put another way, he wanted the reader to contrast whatever good intentions Paul the hero had in 'Dune' with the terrible results of his revolution portrayed in 'Dune Messiah'.
What Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have chosen to do is remove some of the mystery by describing in detail some of the events that make up the Fremen jihad. This is mostly seen through the eyes of Fremen leader Stilgar and the old Atreides warmaster Gurney Halleck. Stilgar witnesses not just much of the slaughter, but also the problems his Fremen have adapting to new worlds and new realities. Gurney returns to Giedi Prime, where he has to confront memories of his own past as well as the fallout from the destruction of the Harkonnen ruling family.
Of course, the problem with wedging a new book between two older books is that we readers already know what's going to happen. Character development is firmly boxed in and nothing of any significance happens to the major characters such as Paul or his sister, Alia. What dramatic tension there is surrounds minor characters from the earlier books or characters created exclusively for this new book. Either way, they're so obviously sacrificial redshirts that it's hard for the authors to develop much suspense given the reader knows that one way or another they're going to be killed off or otherwise shunted away into the sidelines.
Almost inevitably, the authors fall back on a trick much used by authors of film and TV tie-ins: the flashback. Because they can't do anything of importance with the current roster of characters, they fill something like half the book with an entertaining if utterly inconsequential dip into history. Be warned, events here are drawn entirely from the Herbert and Anderson prequel novels. This means that besides including characters never mentioned in the original 'Dune' novels such as Duke Leto's wife and the ruling family of Ix. Nitpickers will certainly find a few continuity issues as well. Young Paul Atreides also travels with his father off their homeworld of Caladan to take part in a war of revenge, despite the fact that in 'Dune' it is clearly stated that Paul had never left Caladan prior to his move to Arrakis.
The story surrounding the ambitions of the Fenrings probably sums up the disjoint between the original books and the various Herbert and Anderson books best. In the original 'Dune' novel, Hasimir Fenring is given the opportunity to kill Paul but, sensing a bond between them, he chooses not to. His wife Margot Fenring is a Bene Gesserit who has sex with the teenage Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen with the intention of preserving his bloodline. Nothing is said by Frank Herbert in the original books about what happens to either of the Fenrings or Margot's child. In 'Paul Of Dune', it is revealed that they live in exile on the planet Tleilax, carefully raising Margot's daughter Marie. She is being carefully trained as both Bene Gesserit and skilled assassin and becomes part of a plot to kill Paul and thereby gain the imperial throne.
While adequately written, the Fenring sub-plot is obviously doomed to fail since it isn't mentioned in 'Dune Messiah'. It also requires the involved characters to act differently to how they behaved in Frank Herbert's original books. Hasimir Fenring is never show to be hungry for power himself and his faithfulness to Emperor Shaddam is only tempered by his sense that he and Paul Atreides are, in certain ways, alike. When Shaddam is exiled, Hasimir joins him. Margot has to behave even further out of character. There's no sense at all that she's antagonistic to the Atreides; quite the reverse in fact. In 'Dune', Margot attempts to help the Atreides before their fall on Arrakis by leaving a coded message for Jessica. More critically, no self-respecting Bene Gesserit would squander a precious bloodline of the type that produce Marie as something as trivial as an assassin. The whole point of the Bene Gesserit is that they are infinitely patient and actively avoid seeking power because of the dangers that would come along with it.
The bottom line then is that 'Paul Of Dune' is an entertaining romp through the 'Dune' universe without any real significance or insight. It's easy to criticise the Herbert and Anderson 'Dune' books for lacking the artistic, emotional or intellectual depth of the original books, but what puts 'Paul Of Dune' at an even greater disadvantage is that it doesn't matter in the least. Read it. Don't read it. Either way, it won't change anything.
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