Series: Dune Chronicles (#8)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2007
Under the command of Omnius, the thinking machines of old launch a devastating assault on the remaining human worlds. All that opposes them is a loose alliance of former enemies, and the hope that another Kwisatz Haderach might emerge . . .
I’m torn on this book. On the one hand, Sandworms of Dune is a final, and largely satisfying, conclusion to the Dune saga. On the other, it’s a book in which a space witch rapes a teenage clone until he remembers his past life as a traitor. So yes, a book of two halves.
Unquestionably my least favourite aspect of the later Dune novels is the Honored Matres. In theory, a dark mirror to the already pretty immoral Bene Gesserit is a great idea. In practice, the Honored Matres quickly became an unpleasant mess of sex and violence. When I read Dune, I want sweeping epics of great thematic depth. What Frank Herbert gave me is dominatrix space nuns, and they are absolutely tedious. Hunters of Dune largely left this side of things alone (aside from a brief mention of that hated phrase ‘sexual collision’) but in Sandworms of Dune, it is back with a vengeance. I have no problem with sexual violence in books, but Sandworms of Dune goes overboard for no good reason. It’s the rape of Yueh’s ghola that convinces me Frank Herbert’s plan is being followed by these two books, because it continues so many of the series’ worst vices. It’s the natural escalation of everything that’s been happening since Heretics of Dune, and I hate it.
With so much of this book being taken up by efforts to bring back the gholas’ memories, Sandworms of Dune does risk the run of being obsessed by its own history. bringing back dead characters is something I’m rarely a fan of, and this book is absolutely stuffed with reanimated heroes. But one thing is does get right is centring Duncan Idaho. Not necessarily as the hero of the series, because Dune deconstructs every hero it comes across, but as a focal point for the narrative. For so much of the book he is simply there, but that continued presence is a story in and of itself. Other characters have returned from the dead, but only Duncan Idaho has appeared in every book in the Dune Chronicles. Duncan may not be the shaper of history that Paul and Leto II are, but he has endured. He is a witness to so much change, which places him ideally to make fateful choices. I’m less than convinced by the idea that repeated ghola reincarnation could evolve a human being, but it’s about the level of weirdness I’ve come to expect from Dune.
Wrapping up a series was always going to be difficult. Wrapping up a saga even more so. And wrapping up a decades-long story that was started by someone else? Well that was always going to be asking the impossible. Sandworms of Dune falls short of all that it aspires to, and is riven by contrivances and overly neat conclusions to long-running arcs. But however we get there, the actual ending is satisfying. It won’t be for everyone, and there are bound to be those that disagree, but short of Frank Herbert himself returning as a ghola (and perhaps not even in that insane hypothetical) I think this is the best ending to the Dune saga we were likely to get. It’s a messy end to a messy series, so maybe it stands as the perfect legacy to the work Frank Herbert commenced all those years ago.
And with that, my reread of Dune is complete. Just in time for me to catch Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation. There is going to be a lot more Dune on the way, of course. More books, more films, a TV series, and RPG. Because though Frank Herbert may no longer be around, the work of Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, and too many others to name ensures that his name and his legacy will be around for many years still to come.