Publisher: New English Library
Series: Legends of Dune (#2)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2003
The Butlerian Jihad has commenced. Humanity fights a desperate battle for survival as the machines, and the evermind Omnius press on. As the interstellar arms race brings new technology to the Galaxy, both sides will find that the greatest enemies may yet come from within . . .
On the one hand, the second volume of the Legends of Dune trilogy offers more of the same. Larger-than-life characters both villainous and heroic, epic battle sequences, philosophical moments and shedloads of references to the original Dune Chronicles. If that is what you came for, then you’ll walk away from this book with a big smile on your face. But on the other hand, The Machine Crusade starts to establish Herbert & Anderson’s own approach to the saga they are expanding, treading new ground even as it fills in the gaps in Frank Herbert’s extensive legacy.
The climax of The Butlerian Jihad saw humanity take the momentous step of using atomic weaponry to eradicate Earth in a first strike against the thinking machines. It’s a moment that shows their conviction, and breaks new ground. The Jihad that Paul Atreides will one day unleash against the Galaxy is far larger in scale, but the destruction of Earth is more significant, especially for those readers who happen to live there. There are any number of ways that Herbert and Anderson could have chosen to destroy the Earth, but in using atomics, they call back to the era in which Frank Herbert wrote the original Dune. Imagine a time when nuclear proliferation was rampant, and the threat of total annihilation loomed over every head. Granted, we’re sort of in that world right now, but the Golden Age of science fiction was forged in this period. How many times has Earth been reduced to an irradiated wasteland? Pebble in the Sky does it. Fury has humans living on Venus to escape the fallout. And those are just the tip of the glowing iceberg. With a single, shocking assault, Herbert and Anderson successfully wed themselves to the thread which has run through SF for more than half a century.
But while it reflects and respects the origins of the field, The Machine Crusade is a thoroughly modern novel. With crystal-clear and razor-sharp prose, Herbert and Anderson take us on a whirlwind tour of a Galaxy ravaged by war. With their reputations set out, characters have a chance to become fully human, allowing us to join them in their more intimate moments. The dynastic struggles of the Atreides and Harkonnen families are still a way off, but here we meet the progenitors of those lines, completely realised with flaws and merits. The supporting cast grows ever larger, and in this book that spans years of warfare, the Dune universe begins to spread out in earnest.
Still, however, this book is far from perfect. As with its predecessor, there’s just a bit too much going on. The prose is such that you’re never left confused by anything that happens, but an awful lot does happen, both on and off the page. This is a series that could easily have been twice the length. As with a lot of prequels, The Machine Crusade is often more concerned with setting up events that are still to come rather than telling its own story. This is a story with hardly any padding, but it still manages to feel bloated.
If you come at it with the right mindset, The Machine Crusade holds a lot of material that will enhance the Dune saga for you, but it’s in no way the best introduction to the series.