Monday, November 5, 2018
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
House Atreides, the next generation
Children of Dune, the third book in Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series, was published in 1976, seven years after the preceding volume, Dune Messiah. At the end of that last book, Paul Atreides, the emperor/messiah known as Muad’Dib, walked off into the desert to die, thus leaving his twin children Leto II and Ghanima to reign as co-emperors over the known universe. Until the children reach an appropriate age to rule, however, the empire is governed by Paul’s sister Alia, who acts as regent. Alia and the twins share an unusual congenital anomaly. Through a combination of eugenics and the effects of the planet Arrakis’s most valuable export, the spice that alters human consciousness, all three were born with ancestral memories going back hundreds of generations, and thus attained full awareness and adult intelligence within the womb. The drawback to such a gift, however, is the danger that one might become what’s called an “abomination,” possessed by the very ancestors whose consciousness they carry within their minds. It is also possible that when the twins grow up they may share their father’s ability to foresee the future. Their own future, however, is in jeopardy, as the ruling members of House Corrino, the former imperial dynasty that was overthrown in the original Dune novel, have developed a plot to assassinate the twins.
Even for a confessed Dune nut like myself, this is a tough book to get into. This is my second or third time reading this, but it’s been a while, and though I had a pretty good idea how this one ended, the getting there was sometimes a challenge. Much of the “action” takes place within the characters’ heads, in the form of visions and ancestral conversations. Characters who can see millions of years into the past and future don’t always explain their motives or actions to those of us who can’t, and Herbert seems to delight in disorienting the reader as much as possible. As the Dune series moves forward, Herbert seems to opt more and more for psychological over physical action, although there’s still plenty of the latter to be found in Children of Dune. At times it can be as frustrating as watching a multi-player chess game undertaken by people who are exponentially smarter than you are, but a big part of what makes the Dune books so admirable is the intelligence with which they are written and the multiple levels of depth in the narrative, which can be enjoyed merely as a space opera or explored further for its philosophical and theoretical riches.
Ultimately, the reader’s patience is rewarded as all the unexpected twists and tangled threads come together into a satisfyingly colossal conclusion. While the story of Dune Messiah feels narrower in scope, Children of Dune equals the epic bombast of the original Dune. Nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake!
At the time it was published, Children of Dune was seen as the climax of a trilogy, but by page 100 one can already see Herbert laying the foundation for a fourth book. The first three books do constitute a trilogy of sorts in that this is the last book to feature many of the characters introduced in the first volume. From here, Herbert takes a leap forward centuries into the future for the fourth book, God Emperor of Dune. To be honest, Children of Dune is probably my least favorite of the first three volumes, but still it is so much better than the vast majority of science fiction that’s out there, and it is an invaluable piece of the monumental masterpiece that is the Dune saga. The six books that Herbert set in this world (I haven’t read any of the posthumous prequels or sequels) make up one of the most ambitious novel cycles in all literature, science fiction or otherwise.
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