Legends of Dune

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).

Categories: Dune, Legends of Dune | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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