Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad

Brian Hebert and Kevin J. Anderson
Bantam Spectra, 2002
Size: Long (my copy has 612 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: several (arguably Serena Butler, Xavier Harkonnen, and Vorian Atreides)
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

I have read this after I was very familiar with the Dune universe. I had already gone through the 6 original Dune novels, and also the “Prelude to Dune” trilogy (which predates the original books). In all those stories, there are innumerous references to the times of the Butlerian Jihad and the fight between humanity and the machine intelligences. The Dune universe is also full of interesting technologies and enhancements that were spawned in those early days. It was with considerable joy that I learned of yet another trilogy that would go back that far in time.

This book follows the events that led to the revolt of humanity against thinking machines and the setup of the basic background on which all the other Dune series take place. The story happens around ten thousand years before the original Dune novel, and thus, (nearly) all characters are new but, simultaneously, also familiar due to the reasons espoused above. As is usual, the story domain space is huge, with many interesting characters and multiple sub-plots. The story is rich with detail and fast paced. It has the same momentum and feel of the “Prelune to Dune”, and follows a similar narrative strategy. Chapters are as short as needed to provide a bit more information about what is happening to certain character(s) or location, and thus, action keeps moving around, which makes it impossible for the reader to feel bored.

In this first book of the “Legends of Dune” trilogy, we learn of the ascension to power by the group of titans (human overlords who realized the dependency of humans on machines, and took advantage of this to rule the entire universe), humans who moved their consciousness to cyborg bodies (termed cymeks) to achieve immortality, and their subsequent downfall as the artificial intelligence Omnius overtakes their rule and bonds them in its service. We witness the development We learn the preliminary work of Tio Holtzman that will lead to foldspace technology, the early inhabitants of Arrakis, the swordmasters of Ginaz, the growth of Vorian Atreides (a spawn of one of the cymeks), and the romance between the honorable and respected Xavier Harkonnen and Serena Butler.

This book is often portrayed as a bad literary piece of work. I might be biased as a Dune fan, but I felt all the relative lack of psychological depth, the somewhat predictable good vs evil of the human vs machine plot, as well as the fact that several additional threads could be explored, become completely irrelevant when compared to the powerful action narrative and extremely interesting perspective of these historical events. Although not superb as the “Prelude to Dune” trilogy, this is still an excellent novel.

Related work:

This trilogy was written after the “Prelude to Dune” trilogy, which came long after the original “Dune” series. The authors later wrote sequels to the original Dune, wrapping up the unfinished plotline of “Chapterhouse: Dune” (the 6th book in the original series). After that they also wrote an interquel that takes place between the original first and second Dune books. Still, I think the books work extremely well if read in publishing chronologic order, meaning the original Dune series first, then the “Prelude to Dune” trilogy, then the “Legends of Dune” trilogy.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
The revolt against the machines picks up serious momentum when Serena Butler’s baby is killed by Erasmus. This is actually the single event that sparkle humanity with the incentive to overthrow the AI rulers. The book ends with Vorian Atreides, who has broken free of the influence from his cymek father, together with Xavier and Serena, planning how they are going to take action against the machine empire.

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