Series: Dune Chronicles (#4)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 1981
For three thousand years, Leto Atreides II has sat upon his throne on Arrakis. Less human with every passing year, Leto guides humanity along his vision of a Golden Path. Against a man who has become a god, what hope does any rebellion have . . ?
God Emperor of Dune is a book that divides readers. There are those who praise it as the epitome of the series. the pinnacle of Frank Herbert’s achievements. And then are people who think it’s all a bit rubbish. I fall squarely into the latter category. This is the book so many people say rewards rereading, but it’s also the one I wasn’t looking forward to experiencing a second time around. I’m actually not sure how to review this book, because for the overwhelming majority of it I was bored out of my mind.
This is not a novel. This is a philosophy thesis with characters. Remember in my Children of Dune review I commented that the epigraphs felt less like glimpses of a universe and more like Frank Herbert directly speaking to his readers? Welcome to a whole book of that. Full credit to Herbert, this is probably his best-written work, because his style fits the work of an essayist far better than that of a novelist. Unfortunately, I’m here to read a narrative, not be subjected to a lesson in morality. Yes, you can blend the two, and a lot of science fiction does just that. God Emperor of Dune just swings too far one way.
There is a story here, but it’s largely irrelevant. Only two characters are carried over from the previous books. Leto II (now transformed into a monstrous worm-person hybrid and ruling over the universe) and Duncan Idaho (the most recent in a long line of gholas). Everyone else is new, and everyone is utterly uninteresting to me. The characterisation is even thinner than usual, and a lot of them feel like copies of earlier characters. One noted change is that Herbert doesn’t directly tell us how this one end, which is a change of pace that I appreciated. Of course, I would be more appreciative if there was anything in this book that held my attention.
But let’s talk about the philosophy. That is, after all, what Herbert wants us to take away from this book. When I was doing my Master’s, I sat through a lot of philosophy, and I loathe it as much now as I did then. Even the points I agree with tend to be delivered in the most awfully pretentious way. God Emperor of Dune uses this pretentious delivery to bring not valid points, but a load of nonsense. It’s hard to be sure exactly what Herbert is trying to say, because he couches everything in the most convoluted language. Take for example, Leto II’s all-female army.
Why women? I hear you ask. A question echoed by Idaho. The answer of course is simple. Because male armies inevitably turn on their leader because males are driven by violent sexual desire. Still with me, because it gets weirder. An army of homosexuals would never work, because they can’t tell the difference between pleasure and pain. Maybe I’m wrong about what Herbert is saying, because even a reread of this section doesn’t illuminate the point he is trying to make. Homophobia from fictional characters doesn’t bother me, but this feels like Herbert speaking directly. It’s very nineteen-eighties, and in no way has aged well. And this is far from the end of it. In the opening pages, it’s stated that wolves will attack a woman because she’d just too sexy to leave alone. It’s just bizarre.
I’m going to leave this review at that, because negativity is not why I review books. But sometimes a book like this comes along, and negativity is all I have.