The Machine Crusade, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

machinecrusadeAh, the profits must flow.
-Aurelius Venport

Twenty-five years ago, the death of Manion Butler incited humanity against the machines that ruled them; the conflict quickly ramped up into a religious frenzy-an attitude that Omnius is ill equipped to understand.  Regardless, though, the war between the Synchronized Worlds and the League of Nobles has largely remained a stalemate.  And after twenty-five years of war, things start getting interesting. The Machine Crusade covers a period of seventeen years-a span which sees the birth of objects and ideas that are destined to live on for hundreds of years.  Let me add, though, before I get into the meat of this review, that if you really want to see what went on in those missing twenty five years, there’s a handy appendix that hits the highlights.  I’d recommend reading the main book first, though.

And with that-on with the show!

The book opens with the Army of the Jihad getting ready to repel an assault by the thinking machines on IV Anbus.  The Army is ready on two fronts-ground forces held by Xavier Harkonnen, and the forces in space led by Vorian Atreides.  Their task is complicated, though, by the fact that the native population doesn’t really want them there-no matter how hard Xavier tries to convince them that really bad things are on their way; an example of the dangers of pacifism taken too far.  In the meantime, Iblis Ginjo has become the Grand Patriarch of the Jihad, mostly by manipulation-as Serena Butler spends much of her time in seclusion, as an occasional target of assassination attempts (not all of which originate from Omnius).  Iblis is quite happy with the power he has, and has worked very hard to keep it.

On other fronts:  Agamemnon and his band of Titans haven’t really advanced their goals of taking control back from Omnius…but they haven’t given up, either.  They are, however, in for some surprises in this book.  On the world of Poritrin, Savant Tio Holtzman is still cranking away at developing new inventions-or at least, trying to; the real power behind him, Norma Cenva, is consumed with the idea of an even faster method of space travel-one that would actually fold space in order to reach a destination.  This suggests some very interesting possibilities to Aurelius Venport, the head of a merchant company.  Erasmus is also still around, still in the good graces of Omnius (possibly because the Earth-update version of Omnius never made it back to the Synchronized Worlds…yet….), and ready to analyze yet another aspect of human behavior-an aspect that is highly relevant to the present conflict.  And the saga of Selim Wormrider continues…!

If one thinks of the Jihad proper as the main storyline of this series, then one could also point at lots of little subplots (and not so little) that flesh it out further.  Mercenaries of the world of Ginaz are a potent force in this war, and Jool Noret is very likely the first who could be called a Swordmaster-even though he crowds out everything else in his life to bring destruction to the machines (and he’s undergone a very interesting method of training, all things considered).  Zufa Cevna, a Sorceress of Ruvak, decides to bear a child from someone new, and her choice is an…interesting one.  Savant Holtzman and his benefactor’s treatment of the Zenshiite and Zensunni slaves leads to a predictable outcome, one which leads some of them to an uncertain destiny.  Vorian Atreides discovers the personal cost of fighting in a war in which-barring accident-he will outlive almost everyone he knows; he also has the wit to put a very clever plan into action against Omnius.  Norma finds that there’s a bit more to her than an extremely keen intellect.  Even the Cogitors take a hand-but not as anyone expects.

It’s fun to see how some things start to shape what will one day become the institutions seen in the original Dune book:  we still see the development of what may become the Bene Gesserit, but we also get a chance to see the very beginnings of the Guild, the technologists of Ix, the Tleilaxu (I think; I’m still not 100% certain), and the effects of that most rare of substances-melange.  And for the first time, somebody gets a hint of the far future-a future that resounds with a single name on the lips of his followers.  To be honest, there’s so much going on that has links with other goings-on in this book that it would spoil a whole lot if I went into any kind of detail at all; but the authors continue to impress me with how everything hangs together.

The book concludes with a number of turning points-some for the better, and some for the worse.  The Machine Crusade is an excellent continuation to the Legends of Dune, and has me looking forward to the next and final book in this trilogy; even now, I can’t begin to guess how things are going to fall out here.  Expect to spend some time reading this book, though, because it’s at least a heavy a read as the last one!

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The Butlerian Jihad, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

butlerianNothing is impossible.
-Cogitor Eklo

It was obvious from the original Dune book that a whole lot of stuff happened long before Paul Atreides came upon the scene.  A whole lot of time passed between what we refer to as the present and the days of the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and CHOAM.  One of the most fascinating aspects of Frank Herbert’s universe was the aversion to computers.  If memory serves, one of the primary commandments of the Orange-Catholic Bible was “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind”.  It hinted at a Great Revolt against computers, conscious robots, and other thinking machines.  It quite literally shaped the universe that would be chronicled in all the Dune books.  Now, we get to have a look at just how it happened.

Thus, The Butlerian Jihad.  Taking place so long ago (yet definitely far ahead of where we’re at now), all of the institutions we are familiar with in previous Dune books do not exist yet.  In the days of the Old Empire, a group of human beings decided to overthrow their rulers, and take their place.  They upgraded a number of machines and their AI brains, and conquered most of the known galaxy.  As time went on, resistance formed; these humans had their brains removed and put into machine bodies, effectively giving them immortality; they took the name of Titans.  Then one of them screwed up; and just like that, the computers took over, spreading like a virus, and eventually the intelligence called itself Omnius, and the worlds it controlled were known as the Synchronized Worlds.

Humanity wasn’t dead yet, though.  And that’s where this story begins.

In spite of the title, we are not reading about the Jihad itself; what we actually get is the spark that lights the fuse, and it reaches the end near the book’s finish.  Since this is the beginning of a trilogy, that shouldn’t be surprising.  So, just what do we get?

Well, first, we get to see the heroism of Xavier Harkonnen.  Yeah, that’s right; the ancestor of the most contemptible characters in the series is about as good a guy as you could ask for.  We meet Serena Butler, a young politician in the League of Nobles who passionately believes that something must be done before the forces of Omnius overwhelms humanity.  We meet Tio Holtzman, the man who would become known for some amazing inventions that exist even in Dune’s time (and incidentally, we find that his reputation is overrated, and certain attitudes of his are somewhat reprehensible).  We meet Vorian Atreides, a trustee and genetic son of the Titan Agamemnon, who serves Omnius by transporting “updates” of Omnius throughout the Synchronized Worlds.

But there’s a lot more to it than just these characters.  We get an organization of women who may or may not be the precursors to the Bene Gesserit-the Sorceresses of Rossak, led by Zufa Cenva; these woman have managed to develop significant telepathic powers.  The Zensunni are prominent in this book as well, both as slaves and as the precursors to the Fremen of Arrakis; one of them, Selim, discovers how to perform one of the stunts that all Fremen will one day do.  Most importantly (a fellow who will be a major character in these books, I expect), is Erasmus, a robot who is more-or-less independent of Omnius, and who believes that there is something yet to learn about humanity.  Don’t think he’s a good fellow, though; his methods are something less than humane, and his schemes don’t always end as he expects.

There are a whole lot of other characters rolling around in this book, some of whom have greater importance than others.  Herbert and Anderson seem to be making sure they hit all the background to fit in with the original novels.  Part of the fun in this book is seeing places in their “original” incarnations; Salusa Secundus, famed for being a hell-planet in Dune, is a paradise here.  Giedi Prime hasn’t become a bleak planet yet.  Arrakis…well, it’s still Arrakis.  And, for the first time in the Dune Chronicles…the planet Earth, as seen under Omnius’s rule.

From attacks on Salusa Secundus and Giedi Prime, to machines experimenting on humans, to the spark that starts off a jihad that will reverberate throughout the known galaxy, The Butlerian Jihad has done an excellent job in setting the stage for the next books; it is a very different kind of book than the original Dune books, where politics and intrigues were the rule of the day; this is about the survival of the human race, and Herbert & Anderson do an excellent job on demonstrating that.  I don’t just recommend this to Dune fans; I’d recommend it to folks who have no familiarity with Dune (while some things won’t obviously tie in to the series, I expect, I feel that the majority of the book will be dealt with in-series).

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House Corrino, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

corrinoWhat can I say about Jessica?  Given the opportunity, she would attempt Voice on God.
-Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

One of the first observations of the last book was that it didn’t quite feel like a book about House Harkonnen.  I can say without any hesitation that I don’t have that same feeling about the finale of this trilogy, Dune:  House Corrino.  While the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen are most definitely present, it’s the activities of Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe-and equally importantly, his plots-that drive this book.

Shaddam is a little uneasy on the throne, of late; firstly, he’s still very eager for a plot on the world of Xuttuh, formerly known as Ix, where production on an artificial substitute for the miracle spice melange is finally beginning to reach fruition.  Secondly, he learns that his father managed to father another son, who could conceivably be a threat to his throne.  And of course, he still wants sons from his wife (not realizing that his wife, a Bene Gesserit, will never give him one).

His plans may be thwarted in an unexpected manner, however.  Grief-stricken from the events of House Harkonnen, Leto Atreides decides to make a point that he hasn’t become weak by his losses-and one of his plans involves aiding his longtime friend, Rhombur Vernius, in his goals of freeing his world of Ix from the Tleilaxu; an expedition consisting of Gurney Halleck and the mentat Thufir Hawat is sent to speak with the rebel C’tair Pilru, who has made a pest of himself there for the last couple of books.

To make matters even more interesting, Baron Harkonnen has no clue that the Emperor is planning to make his fiefdom of the planet Arrakis obsolete; he is aware, however, that the Emperor is beginning to act against Houses stockpiling the spice, and that makes him just a bit nervous; in addition, he is becoming aware that his last strike against the Atreides hasn’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped for the long-term, and is looking for a way to recoup his own influence.  I’ll say right now that if any reader doesn’t shudder at the thought of the Baron and the Beast taking lessons from an etiquette advisor, they really don’t know the characters!

The Fremen of Arrakis are also moving forward with the vision of Liet-Kynes; Kynes himself attempts to convince Shaddam that Arrakis could be made a relative paradise, with the Imperium’s help-not to mention putting a leash on the Baron.  This doesn’t really fit in with Shaddam’s plans, though, so Kynes returns with a clear message for his people.

Finally, Jessica, Leto’s concubine, is with child, and is sent to the Kaitain, the Corrino world, by the demand of her Bene Gesserit masters; of course, they don’t realize she’s not carrying the daughter they demanded; the Bene Gesserit also have to figure out how best to get rid of the no-ship technology used so effectively in the previous books.

If you get the impression that there’s a lot of plots rotating within each other here…well, that is the hallmark of the Dune novels.  It amazes me how well it holds together, especially given my long-standing prejudice against Kevin Anderson.  Incidentally, I’ll take a moment to admit that I have been impressed with his writing for this entire trilogy.  He’s blended together the bits that were known about this period, and managed to pull off a story well worthy of Frank Herbert.  Also, I don’t want to neglect Brian Herbert; I really don’t know how the division of labor went in this book, but the pair have managed to recapture the magic I enjoyed years ago when I first read Dune.

Dune fans should find this novel to be very satisfying, and there’s enough “easter eggs” that old readers will enjoy spotting.  They really can’t go wrong with this series; and new readers would do well to read this series, and then hit the original books.  As I recall, the original plan was to write the final book of the Dune series, a sequel to Chapterhouse:  Dune.  I’ve also heard rumors of a new trilogy of prequels.  I’m not sure what will come next, but with this pair of writers, I’m eager to find out.

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House Harkonnen, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Treachery and quick thinking will defeat hard-and-fast rules any day.  Why should we be afraid to seize the opportunities we see?
-Viscount Hundro Moritani, Response to Landsraad Court Summons

In some ways, it’s a little strange that this book is called Dune:  House Harkonnen.

It covers the eight years following the last book of this trilogy, Dune:  House Atreides.  There’s a lot of subplots going on here.  Duke Leto of Caladan is dealing with affairs of state and the heart.  Duncan Idaho, the one character who has been in every Dune book so far, is sent to the planet of Ginaz to study with the legendary Swordmasters.  Gurney Halleck is introduced, a man desperate to find what has come of his sister on the Harkonnen world of Giedi Prime.  The young Liet-Kynes, future planetologist of the Imperium grows up on Arrakis with his fellow Fremen.  And C’tair Pilru, a rebel on the Tleilaxu-occupied planet of Ix, tries to find a way to drive them off his world.

But while there are many threads going through this book, there is an excellent reason why the Harkonnens get top billing in this book.  The mostly-despicable Harkonnens are the driving force behind this book.  Baron Harkonnen, for example, finally finds out why his once-healthy body is bloating up-and takes typical action to try to repay his tormentors.  The Harkonnen homeworld is a source of grief for Gurney Halleck, as their actions take his sister away from him.  Glossu Rabban earns his title of “The Beast” in this book…and we see more of probably the only example of a Harkonnen that could be considered a moral person, Abulurd Harkonnen.

As with the previous book, intrigue and treachery-a staple of Dune novels-are present, in every one of the Great Houses.  House Harkonnen deals with internal strife even as it makes strikes both covert and overt against its enemies.  Houses Atreides deals with not only the turmoil of sheltering the heirs of House Vernius, but with matters of the heart-complicated by the introduction of the young Bene Gesserit named Jessica.  In House Corrino-which doesn’t get too many pages on this one-Emperor Shaddam IV discovers the difficulties in having a Bene Gesserit wife who is secretly insuring that she bears him only daughters instead of the male heir he desires.

In addition to this, we see the first appearances of both Feyd-Rautha, future gladiator extraordinaire, and Dr. Wellington Yueh, who turns out to be far more interesting than when I’d first read about him in the original novel Dune.  There are also-once again!-tantalizing hints of the future as chronicled in the later novels:  the Tleilaxu are working on experiments in Ix that aren’t destined to see fulfillment until Heretics of Dune; the Harkonnen no-ship, and the reason why it hasn’t been seen long after, is resolved.  There are prophecies:  one of the Fremen foresee that “the mouse and the hawk are the same!”, which longtime readers will have no trouble figuring out.  And Piter deVries, the Harkonnen mentat, foresees the loss of the House’s melange monopoly…but not enough to tell him how or why (but fans of the series already know the answer to that).

The greatest appeal of this book-and the previous one, as well as the next one (Dune:  House Corrino, if I recall correctly)-is showing just who were the characters who were introduced in Dune that we never go the chance to know.  As I’ve said before, I’m not Kevin Anderson’s biggest fan, but I’m still one the roller coaster for this collaboration.  If you enjoyed the Dune books by Frank Herbert-or even if you just read Dune:  House Atreides-go buy this book and read it!

(As an aside, there is a mini-series premiering in December on the Sci-Fi Channel-in theory, they’re going to show Dune as it should have been done in the theaters way back.  It’s all new, and if you get the Sci-Fi channel, it’ll probably be worth seeing.  I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it, as this is a book review site, but it might encourage me to review the original novel!)

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House Atreides, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

We all live in the shadows of our predecessors for a time.  But we who determine the fate of planets eventually reach the point at which we become not the shadows, but the light itself.
-Prince Raphael Corino, Discourses on Leadership

Before I get into the details of this review, I have to confess to a pair of biases concerning this book.

First, I loved the book Dune. I’m pretty sure that it was the first Sci-fi book I read that wasn’t a Star Trek or Star Wars novel (back when both were only up to single digits). I loved the intrigue and treachery, the action, the “feints within feints within feints”. I immediately got a hold of the sequels Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune. When Heretics of Dune and Chapter House Dune came out, I went to the nearest library every day to hunt them down and read them (back when I couldn’t afford hardbacks). Obviously, that ended with the death of Frank Herbert, the author of those books. When I heard earlier this year that there was a new Dune book coming out, it wasn’t surprising that I wanted to know everything, most especially “who’s writing it?” and “when’s it coming out?” The resulting search for info ran smack head-first into my second bias.

I do not like Kevin Anderson’s writing. The first books of his that I read was his Champions of the Force trilogy for Star Wars, and I loathed those books. It had gotten me to the point that when he wrote Darksaber, I chose to read it in the library rather than spend the money on a hardcover book that he wrote. (Eventually, I did buy the book in a $5 bargain books section at the local Barnes & Noble…more to complete my collection of Star Wars hardcovers than anything else) When I discovered that he was co-writing this book, I hesitated. I decided, though, to take a chance, as he was co-writing with Frank Herbert’s son, and working from notes that the famed author had taken when writing his other books.

So: was it worth it?

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the Internet on this book. It seems that it gets strong reactions either way-people loved the new book, or they hated it. Not too much middle ground, there. I’m going to have to side with the people who loved it.

I’ll leave it for other reviewers who will undoubtedly point out some minor continuity glitches. I’ll admit there were portions of the book that didn’t strike true with me, such as the somewhat more overt nature of the Bene Tleilax. On the other hand, just because it wasn’t seen in the original novels doesn’t mean it couldn’t have developed as it did in this one; in fact, events in this book and the future sequels that lead up to the original Dune novel might explain the much “lower key” nature of the Tleilaxu.

For readers of the original books, this is a glimpse at characters that we hardly had any time to know. While the title implies heavily that this is Leto Atreides’s book, he’s really more a member of the ensemble until the final acts. We get to see the athletic and handsome Baron Harkonnen (that’s right…not fat and ugly; that’s explained too). We get the full story behind the birth of Jessica, a look at the younger Gaius Helen Mohiam, the schemes of Shaddam IV before he became emperor and the role that the future Count Fenring would play in it, the beginnings of the relationship between the Fremen and Pardot Kynes, Imperial Planetologist, and a few others. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Dune book without Duncan Idaho, a young boy growing to hate Harkonnens.

We also get to see new faces; Paulus Atreides, the Old Duke and bullfighter, Emperor Elrood, and Reverend Mother Anirul Sadow Tonkin, who is known amongst the Bene Gesserit as the Kwisatz Mother-guardian of the ultimate goal of the Sisterhood. We get to see the machine world of Ix, which is much different than I imagined, at least. And the book also starts the beginnings of some plot points that won’t be fully realized until God Emperor and Heretics of Dune-one of the benefits of working prequels.

Each chapter has the little quotes that appeared in the original books (in fact, some of the quotes are lifted right from the originals!) and preserves the flavor of those books. As for the story and writing itself…well, it isn’t Frank Herbert. But I didn’t expect it to. Fans expecting the same kind of books that he wrote aren’t going to get it. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have written a book in his world, but with their own perspective, only being guided by what has gone before.

To sum up, I found this to be an enjoyable read; if it lacked some of the complexities of the original series, it made up for it with new locations and situations. While there might be some points which seem to contradict earlier continuity, this novel has minimized those situations, and fits pretty well into place. I look forward to the next book, where I’m looking forward to the growth of Leto, Duncan, Jessica, Shaddam, and Baron Harkonnen into the characters they will become years later in Dune.

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