Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Series: Legends of Dune (#3)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2004
The Butlerian Jihad is almost at an end. With thinking machines driven back to the stronghold of Corrin, the allied human forces find themselves divided over how to vanquish their foe. The sins of the past may yet determine the future . . .
Wrapping up any series is a difficult task. Wrapping up one with as many dangling threads as Legends of Dune borders on the impossible, and that is even without going into the weight of expectation that comes with such a famous name. With that in mind, perhaps its unsurprising that Herbert and Anderson don’t attempt to wrap up everything. The fledgling Empire we see born at the end of this book is only vaguely recognisable as the monolithic power of Shaddam Corrino from the original Dune. It makes sense, as there are still some ten thousand years of history to be covered, and a lot can change in such a long period of time.
That being said, this book (and indeed the trilogy as a whole) sets up the ideas and locations of Frank Herbert’s work wonderfully. One of the things that distinguishes Dune from so many of its contemporaries is the lack of robotics. Indeed, there is a great fear of thinking machines, with the immortal words ‘Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a man.’ What Legends of Dune does is show us exactly why that fear of robots is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Now, a lot of the robots we see here are little more than mindless killing machines. Terrifying indeed, but hardly reason for the Jihad. Omnius, the evermind, is a classic villain. Utterly devoid of emotion, capable of controlling an entire empire, and rather difficult to kill. But to be honest, a lot of these are ideas we’ve seen before, time and time again. The Terminator franchise springs to mind as a similar example.
The robot that makes its kind so terrifying here, is Erasmus. Science fiction is full of robots who want to be more human. Data and the Doctor from Star Trek, Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, the Android from Dark Matter, and arguably Frankenstein’s Monster all fit into this archetype. Most of the time, humanity is the goal because it is perceived as better than being a robot, the idea being that to be a robot is somehow not enough. And Erasmus has this philosophy, but with a more sinister bent. Erasmus does not wish to become human, he merely seeks to understand them so that he may better exploit them. Along the way, however, he finds that perhaps humans and robots are not so different after all. This is what gives the Butlerian Jihad its righteous edge. The belief that robots seek to supplant humanity. Not only to take over the Galaxy, but to replace humanity at every level.
The Legends of Dune trilogy is undeniably flawed, but it is still an important part of the universe. It’s main problem is that its ambition exceeds the reality of its final form. There is simply too much going on here to squeeze into a single trilogy. As the foundation for a longer series, Legends of Dune does good work, but as an individual work its structure leaves a lot to be desired. In summary, this is one for the dedicated reader, rather than a good introduction to either Hebert & Anderson’s writing, or the Dune saga as a whole.