David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Plunderers of Dune

Frank Herbert wrote six Dune novels that ranged in quality from “brain-explodingly amazing” (the original) to “flawed yet fascinating” (God Emperor of Dune) to “uh, really, you’re going with that?” (Chapterhouse: Dune).

Then Frank Herbert died.

\'Paul of Dune\' Book CoverAnd now, via Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, I see that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have sold another quartet of Dune novels to Simon & Schuster. (Update 6/4/08 10:38 PM: Duh. I’m slipping in my old age. The new Dune books are actually Tor books. S&S only has the UK rights.) I must be behind the times, because the first of the quartet (Paul of Dune) is already finished and headed for bookstore shelves in September.

Counting these latest four novels, that makes twelve Herbert/Anderson books in the Dune universe. Their Prelude to Dune trilogy took place about a generation before the original novel. Their Legends of Dune trilogy mined the deep history of the Dune universe thousands of years back. Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune picked up the story where Herbert left it. And now this latest quartet (titled Paul of Dune, Jessica of Dune, Irulan of Dune, and Leto of Dune) will be filling in the gaps of the original series that most of us silly people assumed were just meant to be, you know, gaps.

So: twelve Herbert/Anderson Dune books. For those of you who are not Mentats, that’s twice the length of Frank Herbert’s original series. And we’re not even counting the biography Dreamer of Dune and the collection of notes, miscellaneous stories, and ephemera called The Road to Dune. Wikipedia even lists a publication Brian edited called The Songs of Maud’dib, which I’m afraid to Google in case this turns out to not be some kind of perverse joke.

At the outset, Herbert and Anderson were supposedly working off notebooks and drafts that the old man left behind. Hunters and Sandworms were based on additional outlines miraculously discovered in a safety deposit box twenty years after Papa Herbert’s death. (Funny how legendary authors have a penchant for hiding things in safety deposit boxes that only turn up twenty years later.) But I’m not sure Herbert and Anderson are even pretending to be fleshing out old notes anymore with this latest series. Surely anything worthwhile that Frank Herbert had to say about the Dune universe has already found its way onto the shelves.

You’ve got to admit: Dune was an incredible dog, but this is one really, really, really long tail.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of hate out there for Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson because of these books. Says the top review on Amazon for Dune: House Atreides: “One read through on this book and you will probably need to brush your teeth just to get the bad taste out of your mouth.” Sixteen people have given their “helpful” stamp of approval to an Amazon review of The Battle of Corrin in which the critic says: “These books are horrible. If you loved Dune or good writing or have any kind of intelligence, you will avoid them. Don’t help Brian Herbert cash in on his father’s legacy with such garbage. Brian, please stop doing this to your father’s legacy. Grow up, be a man, and make money off your own ideas rather than doing this.” David Itzkoff of the New York Times more politely summed up the criticism in his review of Hunters of Dune by saying, “For ‘Dune,’ it’s probably time to let the fields lay fallow for a while.”

\'Dune: House Atreides\' Book CoverWhat do I think of the prequels? I read the first prequel trilogy — Dune: House Atreides, Dune: House Harkonnen, and Dune: House Corrino — and I found them pretty gawdawful. Here’s what I had to say in my review, elsewhere on this blog:

Frank Herbert… was not above the occasional scene of shocking brutality. But too often Herbert fils and hired gun Kevin Anderson settle for such graphic sensationalism in lieu of subtlety or insight. There’s no need to chastise the authors for not slavishly imitating the beloved originals — but couldn’t they have peeled back the covers on Herbert pere’s grand mythic and ecologic themes, just a little bit?

Instead we get gore, buckets of it. Alongside the gore the authors meticulously develop plots and counter-plots over hundreds of pages. Much of the royal intrigue is quite clever, but like the bloodshed, excessive.

So I haven’t taken the time to tackle any of the remaining books in the series. But just because I don’t care for what Brian and Kevin have done with the series doesn’t mean that I resent them for continuing the series. All snarking aside, I say to you, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson: go, write more!

Why?

Well, every time one of these second-rate novels pops up on the new releases shelf of your local Barnes & Noble, new eyeballs are drawn into the series. People who haven’t read the originals in a while dust them off and start in on them again. The series sales figures inflate even further — “40 kajazillion Dune books in print!” — and publishers keep cranking out new dustjackets and new commemorative editions of the original. Hollywood comes calling every dozen years or so, and the cycle of attention continues.

There’s a reason people call long-running series like Dune “franchises.” I find it very interesting that Webster’s gives one definition of “franchise” as “Magnanimity; generosity; liberality; frankness; nobility.” Frank Herbert had a fantastic thoroughbred of a novel. Now that he’s gone to the Great Spice Mass in the Sky, he’s handed the reins to that workhorse over to someone else to ride for a while. Perhaps he’ll do great things with that horse, perhaps he’ll just stumble around a little bit. But hopefully, once he’s made what use he can of the horse, he’ll hand on the reins to someone else.

Okay, let me abandon the horse metaphor — it should be painfully obvious by now that I know nothing about horses — and that I tend to mix metaphors when I’m tired. Let me say simply that great works of art grow and change with the times and with the audience. Keeping a piece of art locked up and blocked off restricts its growth. It becomes a museum piece, a snapshot of an earlier time.

\'Sandworms of Dune\' Book CoverI mean, honestly, would the Mona Lisa remain such a revered work of art if it hadn’t been endlessly reproduced, deconstructed, mustachioed and bespectacled by later artists, commentators, and satirists? Closer to home, would The Lord of the Rings be as relevant today without Peter Jackson’s often-brilliant-if-sometimes-over-the-top films? Would you know the names Conan and Cthulu if other authors hadn’t taken up their banners? Would you have any confidence that your kids would know who the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion were if not for the subsequent efforts of Ruth Plumly Thompson, John R. Neill, Philip Jose Farmer, and Gregory Maguire — not to mention the Victor Fleming film and even The Wiz?

Nobody’s going to confuse the post-Herbert Dune books with the originals — and I can’t imagine that Brian Herbert would want them to. The originals will survive the worst elaborations Brian and Kevin throw at them. I certainly plan on re-reading them a few more times before I go join Frank in the Great Spice Mass in the Sky.

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  1. Hairy Ticks of Dune Blog » Reviews online on June 5, 2008 at 3:56 am  Chain link

    […] Plunderers of Dune by David Louis Edelman […]

  2. Laur on June 5, 2008 at 4:57 am  Chain link

    I’ve read Dune for the first time when I was about 14 years of age… and it was a BIG THING (TM) for me. So big in fact, that in the next 4 or so years I would often find myself just randomly open Dune and start reading from here on – only to realise that what I really wanted was to read the whole story again, and rewind to chapter one. It is the book that put SF on my map, and I find myself coming back to it over and over again.

    And then I remember the fateful day when I picked up Hunters of Dune – and the, for lack of a better word, WTF?!? sensation that I had when putting it down later that day. What is this? Where does it go? Why? Gone was the elegance of the plot, the insightful monologue – replaced by a baroque mixture of bits and pieces of my beloved Dune universe, mixed with what? Where did the layered universe came from? Who are these people? And then I looked back on the cover. Oh, BRIAN Herbert. Now I get it.

    I’ve never picked up another BH & KA book since. I can’t quite convince myself to do it. If I miss my Dune fix, I go back to Paul and Leto, and Leto II or even Darwi Odrade, the wonderfully complex Bene Gesserit mother superior of Chapter House. I’m sure though that there are people out there that do pick up every new Dune book, hoping against hope that “maybe this time” they got it right. I can only imagine their dissapointment.

    Brian (and Christopher, for that matter). Your fathers were, you know, really great writers. Please let their work be cherished and remembered as they have created it. The dark shadows left in the painting by the master are not an invitation to the pupil to fill them with bright, cheerful colours. They ‘re only meant to bring a certain theme into sharp focus. So go forth, and create your own world.

  3. [removed per commenter's request] on June 5, 2008 at 8:39 am  Chain link

    [removed per commenter’s request]

  4. David Louis Edelman on June 5, 2008 at 8:46 am  Chain link

    I suppose that’s possible… but aren’t most readers aware that the original novels were written by someone else? If there’s anyone out there who has only read the BH/KJA novels and chose not to read the originals because of it, I’d be curious to see your comments.

  5. David J. Williams on June 5, 2008 at 4:18 pm  Chain link

    I think that’s the key question (re #4). Are the folks who are buying the prequels (which are almost all bestsellers) those who read the originals and can’t get enough, or are they folks who started out “elsewhere” in the Duniverse, either in the prequels themselves or maybe in the video games? I don’t know, and like DLE, would be interested to know.

  6. David Louis Edelman on June 5, 2008 at 4:29 pm  Chain link

    I suppose there are probably a few people out there who decided to give Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back a try because they were smitten with Jar-Jar Binks and Attack of the Clones

  7. David J. Williams on June 5, 2008 at 4:41 pm  Chain link

    Jar-Jar is kinda like musak. SOMEONE likes that dude, even if they never go on the record admitting it.

  8. Secher Nbiw on June 6, 2008 at 7:32 am  Chain link

    I find the new novels to be lacking and actually damaging to the six original novels Frank Herbert wrote. As you pointed out, there are soon to be twelve novels written by Brian and Kevin, while there are only six novels written by the original author. For someone who is new to Dune, that means you will have to worm your way through perhaps six novels that are inferior in every which way to the originals, before you reach the originals.
    The ultra-short chapters, the lack of depth, the fact that they contradict quite blatantly the originals, that they at a certain point superimpose themselves over the originals, the lack of quality overal, makes for a series where the “heart” is quickly becoming burried under mounts of flab and fat. At a certain point, you will give the heart a coronary, and the franchise promptly dies under its own weight.
    That the new authors are pumping out one 500 page novel a year isn’t exactly helping matters, because the impression that it’s quantity over quality is firmly imbedded into the fanbase.

    Write more, but perhaps it’s time to let other authors have a shot at writing self-contained dune stories, perhaps it’s time to let go of the idea that pumping out one pill per year is a good idea, and focus on quality, instead of getting from point a to b in as flashy a fashion as possible.

  9. David Louis Edelman on June 6, 2008 at 9:34 am  Chain link

    Secher: I suppose that’s a good point. For someone who insists on reading things in the series chronological order, you would tend to start with, I suppose, Butlerian Jihad.

  10. Monty Sarvo on July 11, 2008 at 11:49 am  Chain link

    I appreciate the expressions you have made based on your enthusiasm for the brilliance of Frank Herbert. I share that enthusiasm. I remember that the first time I read Dune my experience as I started was less than enthusiastic much because of the “wordiness” and long drawn out plots over many, many pages. I even set it down and did not finish it for years. As I matured in my patience and reading habits and picked it up once again years later I was able to push myself past my preconceptions of the past and once I finished it I was hooked forever. Then, as with many others, I refused to read the later additions past the first 3 books Frank wrote, thinking them to be wavering too far from the greatness of the original and sanctimonious “trilogy”. These reactions I learned were not unique to myself but were widespread reactions of the true believers in Frank Herbert and the “original Dune trilogy”.
    I only went back to read all of the “original” (if extended) remaining Frank Herbert Dune books after starting on the books later produced by his son and Patrick.
    As I have read these I found myself experiencing some of the same feelings I had felt when reading Frank’s first “Dune”, along with others familiar to the experience of first reading works of most decent authors.
    I have separated those reactions and thought them out and find that in spite of the presence of the obvious trend to write a book more like a screen play than a novel, these two writes Anderson and Herbert Jr., have created some really great reading in their continued and yet, separate series of Dune books.

  11. SandChigger on August 20, 2008 at 1:15 am  Chain link

    Patrick?

  12. Kralizec on January 4, 2009 at 1:07 am  Chain link

    To fully appreciate Frank Herbert’s Dune series, it seems to be necessary to study Plato’s dialogues, perhaps especially Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman, but also Republic and Laws. Understand, I’m not trying to burden you and take away the pleasure of reading the series; I’m saying that the better we understand Plato’s writings, the better we’ll understand the Dune series, and the more we’ll enjoy it. Machiavelli, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and probably Heidegger will be helpful, too, but Frank Herbert seems to have written the Dune series with Plato’s dialogues continually in mind.

  13. David Louis Edelman on January 4, 2009 at 1:15 am  Chain link

    Kralizec: Hmm, hadn’t ever really thought about Plato in relation to Herbert. It’s probably been over fifteen years since I’ve read any Plato, so long that I can’t even remember which dialogues I’ve read.

    That Frank Herbert was one smart, well-read dude.

  14. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » Doin’ Dune on March 30, 2010 at 10:34 am  Chain link

    […] collaboration yet.  For now, I refer you to my esteemed colleague David Louis Edelman, who’s said it all better than I could.) Submit […]

  15. Matt on June 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm  Chain link

    While I began reading the Dune novels at the ripe old age of 11, I think you may be missing a point. The newer novels are NOT the first time that what has been considered to be correct information has been knowingly changed/edited/revised/contradicted by a book authorized by Frank Herbert.

    Anyone remember The Dune Encyclopedia?

    The “book” was filled with information that was not exactly in line with the novels, and was written in the idea that as people look back at history, ideas are muddled and changed. It is still valid as a method of storytelling, but the facts are not exactly as you know them to be.

    Perhaps we should give the current authors the benefit of a doubt, since they are telling the history of the original series, which is very often colored by the viewpoint of the person telling said history.

    One last comment about the amount of “gore” in the novels. When the books were first written, society was less used to graphic violence than we are currently. I am not claiming it is the best way for a society to exist, but with all of his thoughts on society as a whole, there might have been some understanding of the changes made in the newer novels. It especially comes to mind his rather graphic sex scene in one of the last novels, which might have been more at home in a romance novel than a science fiction novel.

  16. SandChigger on June 22, 2010 at 12:25 am  Chain link

    Sure, Matt, if the current “authors” would change their position (that they are “extending the Dune canon”) and declare their “works” to be nothing more than fan fiction like The Dune Encyclopedia was, I’d be willing to cut them some slack. But how likely is that?

    David, have you been following the funfest since Paul of Dune? The Winds of Dune (they changed the title from Jessica of Dune just a few months before the release) was even more boring and inconsistency-filled than Paul.

    We’re waiting now for an “important announcement” from KJA or the Herberts regarding the last two books of the “Heroes” series. It appears that they’re going to table them temporarily (if not cancel them outright?) in favor of the first book of the “Great Schools of Dune” series they’ve made noises about doing after the “Heroes”.

    As an author yourself and someone familiar with the industry, what does a decision like that say to you? What would it have taken to convince (or even just prompt) you, for instance, to cancel your recent trilogy after just two books and begin a completely new series?

  17. David Louis Edelman on June 24, 2010 at 10:39 am  Chain link

    Sandchigger: Hadn’t actually heard that about the latest BH/KJA Dune novels. Honestly, I wouldn’t read too much into it. These guys have sold enough novels that I doubt their publishers would have pushed them to table the last two in the series. (Although I suppose there’s always the possibility that they got a ginormous advance that the sales couldn’t live up to.)

  18. Disgusted on July 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm  Chain link

    David, you have written an excellent encapsulation of this issue, and I commend you. I wouldn’t even know how to begin putting my disappointment into words. That disappointment is so achingly deep. I have just finished reading Hunters of Dune, and I came to Google seeking solace an to attempting to comprehend how he could do this to his father’s vision.

    I had read Brian’s and Kevin’s “prequel” trilogies when they came out, years after I had put down the complete Dune series. Their writing was so different from what I had remembered about Frank’s that I had no trouble compartmentalizing the shallowness of the new stuff just to have a taste of the rich back story Frank Herbert repeatedly had alluded to. It wasn’t so bad for me, that part. When I learned that the pair were to publish a conclusion to the palpably unfinished original series, I actually got excited. In retrospect, I can’t say why, other than I suppose I had made an entertainment decision to suspend disbelief. Maybe I thought they would treat it more religiously.

    Well, I wanted to wait until they were done before I read them, and I wanted to re-read the entire original series before I did. And, of course, I didn’t want to read any spoilers, so I avoided reviews. So I just sat in the past couple months and read the original Dune; Dune Messiah; Children of Dune; God Emperor of Dune; Heretics of Dune; and Chapterhouse: Dune. I was entranced as I read them for the second time, decades after my first reading, with unspeakable life lessons and wisdom built up within my philosophical mind. I truly saw Frank Herbert for the first time as much more than just a visionary author, but as a true visionary, from whose perceptions little would be hidden. Layer upon layer of depth, into which even the deepest intellect may find space to dwell.

    The most thrilling part, I thought, of Frank’s original work was that human beings in some regards had learned to overcome their basest parts in order to achieve higher levels of consciousness and potential. Humanity was evolving into superhumanity, moving forward, becoming less animalistic. There were the grandest of ideas at work in his novels.

    So it was jarring to an extreme to find myself reaching page 520 at the end of that book by that other Herbert, Hunters of Dune (by Herbert/Anderson–can’t we just call them Herbertson?), only to have detected not a hint that these characters were anything more evolved than the characters of prime-time dramas and soaps. It felt exactly as if I had been reading college literature and then suddenly found myself trying to find some hint of layers of meaning in See Spot Run. I am not really exaggerating all that much, and that’s what is so unbelievable. And the gore is just… disgusting. My head hurts.

    I have Sandworms of Dune, as I had checked them both out simultaneously along with the last two Dune books of Frank Herbert. I don’t know that I can bear to read it. Do I really have to know? And whence come these doubts in me about the authenticity of the fortuitous cache of unknown notes?

    It’s good to see people talking about this. I used to have a kind of respect for the son that was granted by the aura of the father, but oftentimes a willingness to give unearned trust results in seriously misplaced trust.

    sigh

  19. Jason on August 16, 2010 at 11:47 am  Chain link

    I have read through Frank’s Dune books twice and they are some of the greatest fiction writing to date. When I started the House series I was just annoyed every step of the way because of the retconning and inconsistency and shallow writing. Even the internal monologues that KJA and BH started with in House Atreides had vanished by the end of the book never to be seen again in one of their writings. Most likely because no one ever thinks anything and the narrator has to remind us what was said in the previous paragraph every other paragraph like we were drug addled junkies who fried our brains before reading. Actually reading their work began frying my brain.
    I read the legends series and it was just an exercise in tedium to get through them. I picked up Hunters of Dune and after just 35 pages I was done. I couldn’t take the hatchet job writing anymore. I remember is was a paragraph that was longer and actually reminded me of what was previously said in the beginning of that very paragraph.
    I will give them no more money. The fact that they have some control over the newest talked about movie also makes me want them to just cancel the movie altogether. In my mind the Frank Herbert Dune books are all that exist in that world.
    The best way to stop them from writing more is just stop buying their books. I’ll do my part.

  20. Margo on November 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm  Chain link

    I’m currently re-reading the original series after having read all of the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson books published so far. I’ve mostly enjoyed them all. I do find Frank Herbert’s writing style much deeper and more thoughtful, but I still have very much enjoyed the other novels. I look forward to future releases.

  21. Sam on August 15, 2016 at 8:26 am  Chain link

    The whole Dune universe is the greatest retreat from an often stressful, and severely lacking in superpowers. world. I understand and agree (to a certain extent) with some of these comments. My personal view is that any extra morsels of anything Dune is an enormous treat, while the expanded universe doesn’t have the same feel as something written in the 60’s, all the extra information and background, for me, has been mind blowing. This is entertainment folks, let your hair down a bit. If these were movies i’d be waist deep in popcorn enjoying Die Hard 5 rather than weeping over Schindlers List.

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