Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

HERETICS OF DUNE

A novel by Frank Herbert (1987Ace Science Fiction [original copyright 1984])
Book 5 in the Dune Chronicles

The Bene Gesserit attempt to shape the course of humanity through trapping their enemies and breeding a new Duncan Idaho with a young woman who can command worms.

 

 

Read November 11th to present, 2007 for the second time  
    A beautiful character novel, right up to the last hundred pages, where it became too long, and too short at the same time.

This is the first of the Dune novels to use the Bene Gesserit as the main viewpoint. Always before, they were taken to be people to be avoided, especially in Children of Dune. Now they are the most sympathetic people. However, it would be wrong to feel sympathy for them, because they have a plan for everything. Instead of breeding for their ultimate male counterpart, which nearly brought them to ruin in the form of Paul Atreides and Leto the God Emperor (or Tyrant), they now breed to perfect themselves.

One and a half millennia have passed since the end of God Emperor of Dune. Since then, the power base that Leto set up has completely eroded, as was his intent. Arrakis, now Rakis, used to be the center of the universe; now it is nothing but the basis for a minor religion around Leto. The Tleilaxu have discovered a way to reproduce melange, and they do it in enormous quantities, such that the output from Rakis is almost negligible. The Bene Tleilax are almost as powerful as the Bene Gesserit, but they don't have the experience, and are easily caught in the Sisters' traps. These two are the only ones of any importance in the Dune universe at this time, except for the Honored Matres who have returned from the Scattering.

Leto's Golden Path sent people out by the billions into the far reaches of space, scattering the DNA of humankind well beyond the worlds of his empire or any empire before that. Now, they have returned, most innocuously, but a large group of sexual women called Honored Matres want to take control by sexual means. Everything is threatened by them.

The culture is given to us through a plot by the Mother Superior of the Bene Gesserit to ... do what? We don't know until the end, but the idea is so subtle that it is very difficult to go back and put the pieces together again. They have resurrected Duncan Idaho many times, but the Tleilaxu keep murdering the ghola. This last one they must think they have perfected, because he reaches into his teens.

We meet Mother Superior Taraza, and Reverend Mothers Lucilla and Odrade, who have been training the ghola. Most of what we learn about the Sisterhood, the Tleilaxu and Dune come from these people, whose main goal is control. But unlike the Honored Matres, they have the patience and the controlled breeding records to guide them. Not to mention their Other Memories, passed down from woman to woman through the ages. The plot takes Odrade to Rakis when a young girl is found who can not only ride the worms, for the first time since Leto II, but can also command them. We learn a lot about the Rakian priesthood from those encounters. Odrade takes Sheeana into her custody and starts to teach her how to become a Reverend Mother. Odrade confronts a leader of the Tleilaxu, Waff, and follows his leads, learning a lot about him as well, including how the Tleilaxu are descended from fundamentalist Islamic extremists, who plan to take over the galaxy by any means necessary in order to bring the word of God. She learns that the axtotl tanks they use to create their gholas are really living wombs. She also learns how the Honored Matres seduced the Tleilaxu through sexual means, and all they could do.

Lucilla is one of Duncan's teachers, and a sexual imprinter who was supposed to make Duncan irresistible to all women. She doesn't get to do her job because of Duncan's only male teacher, Miles Teg. Teg is a Mentat descended from Leto's sister, Ghanima. There are a lot of Atreides genes floating around. There is really little to describe, except to say that Teg is a masterful tactician, known to every one of his soldiers and former enemies, most of whom joined him after he defeated them. His charisma, like Paul's before him, caused everybody to show him loyalty, and him to show loyalty to everybody under his command.

When the Honored Matres attack the compound on Gammu (formerly the Harkonnen Geidi Prime), Teg takes Lucilla and Duncan to safety in an old Harkonnen no-globe, something that cannot be tracked by the spice-induced prescience (something Leto tried to reduce dependence upon after he had found Sionna -who could not be tracked). When they emerged, they had to be delayed enough for Odrade to find the hidden message from the God Emperor, long gone, asking what was to become of the Bene Gesserit, and to lure the Honored Matres to attack Rakis.

On Teg's side of the story, we learn in far too many pages how he is still respected by just about all the natives of Gammu. The hunt scenes are way too long, and don't really tell us anything new. Instead, I would have appreciated the author showing us how Teg managed to steal one of the no-ships from the Scattering, without using his newfound powers of semi-prescience and blinding speed, which were activated when he was tortured (and which I liked a lot, like Paul's inner awareness after he was blinded in Dune Messiah). When he lands the no-ship on Rakis, I would have like to see at least part of the battle that "destroyed Rakis". Is the planet physically destroyed, or merely its ability to sustain life?

For that was Taraza's complicated plan, with schemes within schemes. The scheme seemed to revolve around a plan to mate Duncan with Sheeana. But underneath that plan, Taraza has schemed to bring down the Tleilaxu and especially the Honored Matres, whose ways will more likely than not bring down human civilization into barbarism. The Honored Matres would presumably have used the spice and the ceremonial location of Rakis to cement their hold on human civilization. Taraza believed Leto's prescient-fixed future still held humanity because of Rakis, and his tiny awareness deep within each worm that he spawned when he died as a great worm at the end of the last book. By destroying Rakis, and making sure it is the Honored Matres who did it, she makes sure they lose everything they had. Of course, before he begins the destruction of Rakis, Teg makes sure the Bene Gesserit have a worm in their possession, guided by Sheeana.

As for Duncan Idaho, he gains power over the Honored Matres, thanks to the modifications the Tleilaxu made to his ghola. When one tries to take over his spirit by sexual means, he instead takes over hers.

The Dune universe is a ruthless one. The people in every government have no problem getting rid of opposition by killing people. It is a very interesting universe, but it is the people who make it interesting. Instead of having automation all over the place, we have people to fulfill those properties. Mentats make better computers, human wombs are better than cloning tanks. It looks like automation from Ix is making some sort of comeback, and I wonder how that will affect the future.

This book appears to start a new trilogy, one that was never finished (except in the new sequel trilogy by Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson). I look forward to seeing where the next book of intrigue leads (the last one written by Frank Herbert).

 

 

4 stars

Also read March 5th to 17th, 1990  
   

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