Not long ago, I joined a few Dune fansites and became part of the growing trend of Herbertians who are disillusioned with the path his franchise has taken (see the link below for the specific web sites). All of us were in agreement about how poor a job his son Brian and KJA have done since they stepped into his shoes. Amongst us, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t think they had exploited, abused, misled, and even raped the franchise for all it was worth.
Foremost amongst our complaints was the rather cliched and shallow way they would present characters, construct plots, and just generally fail to meet our expectations. To be fair, Frank set them pretty high, but nevertheless…
Another MAJOR gripe we all had in common was how the Dune franchise ended. None among us could accept that Herbert EVER left notes indicating that his story was to conclude with robots returning to the known universe to wreak havoc and get their revenge. Nor could we believe that it was all meant to climax with a meeting between Duncan Idaho (the ghola-turned Kwitatz Haderach) and Erasmus (or as I call him, Evil the Robot), and working out an agreement whereby humans and robots would learn to live together.
It was a terrible cliche, a ripoff of the Matrix, and totally shallow and bereft of any of the original depth and commentary that Herbert wrote in his originals. But most importantly, it made no sense! The evil robots returning did not fit with Herbert’s original books at all. In Chapterhouse: Dune, it is established that Daniel and Marty were a new breed of free Face Dancers that were capable of independent thought and had their own identities. Early on in the book, when Duncan sees them for the first time, we get the following description:
Reassuring faces. That thought aroused Idaho’s suspicions because now he recognized the familiarity. They looked somewhat like Face Dancers, even to the pug noses … And if they were Face Dancers, they were not Scytale’s Face Dancers. Those two people behind the shimmering net belonged to no one but themselves.
In the final chapter, Frank Herbert spells it out for the reader with a conversation between Daniel and Marty:
“They have such a hard time accepting that Face Dancers can be independent of them.”
“I don’t see why. It’s a natural consequence. They gave us the power to absorb the memories and experiences of other people. Gather enough of those and . . .”
“It’s personas we take, Marty.”
“Whatever. The Masters should’ve known we would gather enough of them one day to make our own decisions about our own future.”
What’s more, in the original novels, the Butlerian Jihad was never anything more than a deep background, and no mention was made of the Thinking Machines when talking of humanity’s future of Leto’s “Golden Path”. Nor was there ever any hint that the robots were evil; that was merely the product of Brian and (much more likely) KJA’s juvenile mind! So really, that ending could only have been the result of them wanting to tie the ending to their own terrible contributions. And the less said about Serena Butler and the “Oracle of Time” (Norma Cenva from the prequels), the better. Not once did they come up in Paul or Leto II’s visions, yet they play a vital role in the ending?
But the question remained, what WOULD have been a good ending by actual, Herbertian standards? How would he have ended the whole thing if, in fact, Dune 7 was really meant to be an ending and not just another installment? For example, who were the old man and woman in the garden that Duncan kept having visions of? What was the true nature of the threat that the Honored Matres were running from? Why was it they needed the Bene Gesserit’s famed defenses against poisons and toxins? How would the Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu alliance deal with it? In book six of Dune (Chapterhouse), they had already found a way to neutralize the HM’s sexual imprinting by programming it into Duncan.
Odrate and Lucilla managed to bring down the HM and orchestrate a merger by taking over the leadership of their sisterhood. And the remaining Tleilaxu master was in possession of the ghola genes of many of the Old Empire’s most famous people, something which the old man and woman seemed marginally concerned about. And Duncan had plotted their no-ship to fly to another galaxy in the hopes of getting away from the old man and woman and exploring new space with his crew. So the question remained, where was Frank going with all that?
Naturally, it couldn’t have been that the old man and woman WERE Omnius and Erasmus, the evil hive mind and his sidekick! And the purpose of the gholas couldn’t have been to just bring them back for no reason except so that all the original characters could have another run at life and live happily ever after! But strong hints were given that the threat to the HMs, personified by the old man and woman, were in fact, evolved face dancers who had broken free of their masters and were now a threat to the Old Empire itself.
As for their interest in Duncan, they seemed to think he was a threat to them; otherwise, they wouldn’t have bothered trying to catch him in their tachyon net, which itself seemed to have something to do with fold space technology. All the while, there was the fact that the BG was once again producing natural spice, turning Chapterhouse into a new Dune now that the original had been destroyed. In so doing, they were once again breaking the hold of any one group on the production and distribution of the product and were once again breeding Leto’s sandworm.
By this point in the story, Leto’s hold on humanity was broken with the death of the sandworms and destruction of Arrakis, but it had also been revealed (in the storehouse he left for them to find) that he had foreseen this crisis and was still urging them towards a special purpose.
All of that was established. So what was about to happen? Well, whereas many of my counterparts felt that by this point in the books, Leto’s vision (the “Golden Path” as it was called) was at an end, I felt that it was still going. I believed, based on my own reading of the text, that Leto had been preparing humanity without its knowledge for the threats that would be facing it come books 5 and 6 in the original series. The Famine Times and the Scattering were part of his initial plan, the consequences of his 3500 years of rule, and deliberate control over spice production.
These, in turn, served the purpose of breaking humanity’s addiction to spice and forcing them to develop alternatives, ensuring that they were scattered in many directions and not dependent on any centralized authority, institutions, or messianic figures. The purpose of this was so that no fate could claim all of humanity. The development of the HMs and their return to the Old Empire was also a result; therefore, one could argue that it was something Leto had intended. By this logic, I felt that this threat had to be the thing that threatened humanity’s extinction.
In the original works, nothing was ever said about an external threat to the Old Empire. However, ample page time was dedicated to saying that humanity had become complacent, too static, too dependent, and was not prepared to deal with threats to survival. Teaching about survival was the main theme of Leto’s “Golden Path”, preventing humanity’s extinction the overall purpose. While other fans suggested that those threats came and went (i.e., the Ixians losing control of their next-generation hunter-gatherers), I believed they were just on their way.
And my own feelings were that they had something to do with two things: one, a possible alien race, once hinted at when it was said that one of the main reasons humanity kept its nukes was because of the possibility of encountering another “intelligence”. Two, the ongoing hints that the worm and the spice were not indigenous to Arrakis but had come from somewhere else. Leto’s Scattering placed humanity in different galaxies and universes.
Perhaps one of these was the original source of both? And, now that humanity had reached out, perhaps they had found them and were drawing their attention, bringing them back into the Old Empire. An alliance between the HMs, the BGs with the various houses, Ixians, Guild, and the remaining Tleilaxu, was what was needed to defeat them.
Or not… Chances are, I’m wrong on several or all fronts. But that’s because I’m not Frank Herbert and chances are, only he ever knew what Dune 7 and/or the conclusion to the saga would really look like. His death had deprived us of that vision, and his son and KJA are either unaware of it too or are unwilling to share it as originally presented. I HAVE to believe that since there’s no way they could have based their Hunters and Sandworms of Dune on his original notes!