Dec 5, 2005

heretics of dune

I was pretty much prepared for some dune fatigue to set in about now. I haven't seen much praise (or criticism) for HoD. I think a lot of people gave up with the series around this point. What new can be said? How much more mysticism-religious banter can we take? It turns out that this book is damn well near my favorite in the series.

It took me a while to figure out why. When I had the answer it answered a few questions about which books in the series are my favorites and which ones I thought were passable. In particular God Emperor of Dune and Dune Messiah are passable (passable for Frank which means excellent for most other authors). The rest are fantastic. There are two common themes in these passable books - too much God and too little violence.

God Emperor and Messiah focus heavily on God (Paul and Leto respectively). The problem with writing about a god is that there isn't a lot of surprise. God can pretty much do what he wants and everyone else kind of takes it. Imagine watching a debate between God and a mortal. It's not exciting material. And both these books suffer from the fact that you pretty much know what is going to happen. It's little more than filling in the details. The other books don't suffer from a god character. It's not clear who is more powerful than the others and you know surprises can and do happen all the time. Heretics fits into this mold.

God Emperor and Messiah also don't have a lot of violence. This might seem like an odd criticism except that Frank Herbert does violence really well. There are certain violent passages (e.g., Paul fighting Feyd Rautha or Teg Miles fighting Honored Matres trying to probe him) that are a ballet of words. I've never felt more tension-filled literary moments than during these scenes in the Dune books. When God exists violence is either unnecessary or useless. As if to point this out Herbert has one of the ubiquitous Duncan Idahos killed at the beginning of GEoD. He almost seems to say, "Look Leto is a god. If you try and physically screw with him it's going to end badly every single time. Try something else." Without the violence the books seem to be missing one of Herbert's greater talents.

There are actually two other reasons Heretics works. Heretics gives you glimpses into the Bene Gesserit, who always play a major role in the workings of the universe but rarely allow the reader to see how they work. Some of that curtain is pulled back in Heretics. The other difference is that Dune rarely concerns itself with the masses. Events take place in nice appointed rooms (or sietchs) where senior officials from the various groups attack and counterattack verbally. Heretics goes into cities and interacts with the common man. This helps expand our knowledge of the Dune universe.

This book have given me enough energy to push me on to the last book, Chapterhouse. Unfortunately Heretics was enough of a reward that I'll be sad to complete it.

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