It had been awhile since I visited Frank Herbert’s world of Dune, which I read several times as a teenager, then Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune a little later. But I had not picked up God Emporer of Dune, Heretics of Dune, or Dune Chapterhouse. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to having heard some not so good things about these later books in this series. But one day not too long ago I came across a copy of Heretics, and I couldn’t resist.
In some way I think I was hoping to recreate the magic I experienced many years ago when I first read Dune. Back in those days there was all this vocabulary I couldn’t understand, and concepts, religious, philosophical, and political. There were all these characters. More than enough to fill a Russian novel. There was this galaxy and this desert world at the center of this galaxy where melange, the most important commodity in the universe, came from. There were sandworms and Fremen and Sardauker and Atriedes and Harkonnen. It made my head spin. I was hoping for a little of that.
But first, even though the story takes place some 5000 years after the events in Dune, I was struck by the familiarity I found. The Tleilaxu were still around. They can create gholas in their tanks, copies of people that have already died. The talented, but devious Bene Gesserit were still around trying to steer mankind in this direction or that with their breeding programs. But most familiar of all was the dead seriousness with which various power factions struggled to gain power.As with Dune, powerful characters were quickly killed off and others took their place in the mad dash for victory.
But it was never quite clear to me what the various characters were hoping to win. And for awhile I was never quite sure who I should be cheering for. I mean with Dune it was easy to choose sides. The noble Atriedes or the vile Harkonnen. And once the Atriedes were all but wiped out, it became the mysterious, underdog Fremen against the all-powerful Emporer. But with Heretics of Dune I was not sure who should win in the end? For awhile it was not clear. Then I was surprised to find myself more and more cheering for the Bene Gesserit, who I would have considered as the enemy in previous Dune books. Several times I questioned if I was reading this story right.
Turns out I was. Well, at least in some ways. That was part of the fun of Heretics. Trying to figure out all the different characters and what they stood for. It didn’t help that the author jumped around a lot and skipped over scenes that might have provided better understanding for the reader. But Heretics is close to 500 pages long. Adding more into the story would have just made it drag on and on. So it is probably better that the story jumps here and there when it can get away with it.
In the end I give Heretics of Dune four out of five stars. I would read it again. I think I have to in order to get some parts of the story right. But I do not consider it one of my classics. Heretics of Dune is simply a great book.