Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dune: The Machine Crusade

Brian Hebert and Kevin J. Anderson
Bantam Spectra, 2003
Size: Long (my copy has 695 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

This is book 2 of the “Legends of Dune” trilogy, which narrates the story of the old struggle between humanity and thinking machines, one of the fundamental aspects of the original Dune universe. More than that, it provides details on many of Dune’s more interesting and compelling aspects, such as the Guild, Arrakis, the Bene Gesserit, the Fremen tribes, the mentats, the swordmasters, the different Houses, and also the rivalries between them.

It should definitely be read after “Dune: The Butlerian Jihad”, since the story picks up events approximately two decades after its predecessor. After 20 years of war, and gains and losses on both sides, humanity is tired of the war and there is the need to find some creative way to push the human campaign forward. We witness the major scientific discoveries from Norma Cenva that will enable interstellar travel by folding space and the subsequent need for prescience to enable such travel. The cymeks continue to weave plans that should enable them to regain the control they lost to Omnius. But the main plot continues to be around Serena Butler, Xavier Harkonnen, and Vorian Atreides.

As expected, this book maintains multiple intertwined sub-plots, and very short and incisive chapters that shift the action continuously among the many characters. Unlike many comments I have seen on the book, it seems to me that character are adequately developed, and also that the lessened mystique compared to Frank Herbert’s stories is matched by the adventure thrills of this novel. I found the plot to be as enticing as the previous book, and it was difficult to put the book down. The short chapters enable picking it up even when there was only a short time for reading. There are space battles, assassination plots, power struggles and military campaign strategies. This is definitely an appropriate sequel to the previous book of the trilogy and an excellent sci-fi 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):
Erasmus has executed Serena in a very cruel fashion, which only fueled human rage against the machines, rather than stop the Jihad. Primero Vorian Atreides goes back to Caladan where he met a girl called Leronica to ask her to go with him to the League of Nobles. He learns that Xavier Harkonnen had found out that Iblis Ginzo had been plotting for his own purposes and actually damaging the human campaign, and decided to sacrifice himself in order to free the Jihad Council from his influence. Vorian decides he will have to keep this information under wraps, even knowing that the Harkonnen name may forever be associated with treachery.

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