Of Dune and its Alternate Ending

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 (Evil the robot), and working out an agreement whereby humans and robots would learn to live together. Not only was it a terrible cliche, a ripoff of the Matrix, totally shallow and bereft of any of the original depth and commentary that Herbert wrote into his originals, it made no sense! The evil robots returning did not fit with Herbert’s original books at all, at no point was the Butlerian Jihad anything more than deep background, and no mention made of them at all 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.

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 were 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 defences 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 HM’s, 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 were 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 book 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, and ensuring that they were scattered in many directions so that no fate could claim them all. The development of the HM’s 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 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 HM’s, the BG’s with the various houses, Ixians, Guild and 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 or it too, or are unwilling to share it as originally presented. I HAVE to believe that, because there’s no way I’ll ever believe they based their Hunters and Sandworms of Dune on his original notes! Could be wrong on that too, but I doubt it!

For more on these and other Dune related topics, check out these sites:
Hairy Ticks of Dune
Jacurutu – The Cast Out

Of Dune and its Descendents

I could never create a blog about science fiction without mentioning the man who is by most standards the greatest sci-fi author of all time. Frank Herbert, author of the Dune sextet, was not only a master at creating detailed universes and realistic characters, he was also the man who literally wrote the book on hard sci-fi. In essence, he was the one who taught people how to take science fiction seriously, something rarely seen before his time. Philip K. Dick, another great of hard sci-fi claimed while writing in the 1950’s that whenever he spoke of his work, he would constantly be asked: “have you ever thought about writing something serious?” I myself have fallen into this trap many times, thinking to myself that anything I write that is set in an alternate universe or the distant future is somehow less real, less meaningful than something written about today or true life events.

It took Herbert’s Dune to snap me out of my complacency. It was after reading the first three of his novels (re-reading actually since I’d already cracked them before) that I realized that a bunch of ideas that I had been keeping bottled up in my head could actually be made into a full-length novel, maybe even a series of them. Up until that time I had been looking for something to write about, but had placed any thoughts of a sci-fi nature into a folder marked “idea for a TV series”. Yep, the best I figured I could do with any science fiction material I thought up was maybe pitch an idea for a TV show someday, you know, in case teaching and writing “serious” stuff never panned out. This was a long-shot in its own right, not to mention something I knew nothing about. Writing for TV? Not my thing, but at the time I figured that was all my ideas would be good for. At no time did I think they could be useful in helping to solve my writing dilemma. But then, after reading Dune, I felt inspired and started putting pen to paper (well, fingers to keys if you want to get technical) and the rest has been history.

But this isn’t about my work, its about Frank’s. And as every fan of Dune knows, Frank’s sextet ended on a somewhat uncertain note. His original six novels did not complete the series; for instance, we were still left with many unresolved threads in the last book, the whole “Golden Path” thing that Paul Atreides and Leto II “The Tyrant” had foreseen had yet to be explained or brought to fruition as well. After years of waiting, wondering and speculating, the Dune fan community finally caught a break when his son Brian Herbert picked up the mantle and revealed that his father had kept notes on a seventh and final Dune book in a safety deposit box that would cap off the series and answer all their unanswered questions. I was lucky enough to have finished the sixth book just in time to get in on this and was relatively excited.

And I’m sorry to say that the only thing greater than the build-up was the letdown! I sound like a prick saying this, but I honestly feel that Herbert’s legacy has fallen on hard times in the hands of his son and coauthor, the soft sci-fi writer Kevin J Anderson. After first announcing their collaboration and plans to complete the series, they started out with a pretty sensible and predictable stunt: they wrote prequels. The first was the trilogy known as the “Prelude to Dune” series. I read two of the books in this trilogy, “House Atreides” and “House Harkonnen” (but not the third and final, “House Corrino”) back in the early 2000’s and was generally unimpressed. In fact, it would be an exaggeration to say I read them, Atreides I put down two-thirds of the way through and Harkonnen I didn’t even get one hundred pages into before I got bored and dropped it.

This I blame in part on the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of prequels. For one, they have to be done right! And if the audience is already familiar with the story, the characters, and where everything is going, it’s not going to make for a very good read. It’s just filler, people reading to see how it happened, not what, where, when, and why. Anyone who sat through the Star Wars prequel trilogy ought to be able to relate. Another reason was the fact that the books seemed relatively uninspired. Not only did they suffer from that prequel sense of duty, having to explain how events the readers were already familiar with came to pass, it was almost always in a way that disappointed. When it comes to background, like most things, less in more. And these two authors really didn’t seem to be bringing anything new and original to the table, just recycling old stuff they knew the fans liked. Just seemed… I don’t know, lazy and kinda crass.

However, this did not stop me from perking up when they announced the second prequel trilogy, the “Legends of Dune” series. It seemed a bit consumerish for them to put out another set of prequels keep us fans waiting for Dune 7 like this, but what the hell right? We all wanted to know what the heck this thing called the “Bulterian Jihad” was all about. In the original Dune series, Frank had indicated that 11,000 years in the future – 10,000 years before the events in the first novel – there was a religious war that was waged by humanity against any and all thinking machines. This war altered the shape of the universe and ushered in the socio-political landscape that characterized the original novels. But beyond that, no one knew what happened. So, the son and the coauthor decided to write about it. What could go wrong?

As it turned out, a lot! Purely my opinion, but these books were an example of what never to do in writing. The first book, “The Butlerian Jihad”, I bought with some interest, and I am sad to say it was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen! It was totally one-dimensional, predictable, and the plot was full of starts and stops and just seemed to fumble its way towards the conclusion. The characters were also completely superficial and really just a bunch of bad stereotypes and cookie cutter heroes and villains. But, I finished it, mainly out of curiosity and even managed to talk myself into buying book two, “The Machine Crusade”. Another suck-fest! The same exact weaknesses as the first! The good guys were too good, the bad guys too bad, and the story was ridiculous and thin as the paper it was written on. I couldn’t believe that Brian Herbert and Anderson could even think about putting the name Dune on it! Surely they had to be sick with guilt over it! But apparently not because they just kept on turning them out. To be fair, I never read book three of the series, for obvious reasons. And based on the synopses I’ve read, I think I made the right choice. While some reviewers hailed the literary duo for their ability to connect past with present, others described it using the same words that I did. Namely, contrived, superficial and not up to the originals.

And yet, I still went out and bought the Dune 7 book when it came out! I might have been a sucker for it, but after years of waiting and many dollars wasted on useless prequels that did nothing to satisfy my curiosity, I had to know how the damn thing ended! I was already writing my own novels at this time, so I felt all the more driven to see how my mentors own vision wrapped up. Sure, this latest book was only book one of two, yet another conspicuous act of opportunism by these two authors, but what did I care? I had to know how things ended and as usual, I felt that the writing style and narrative ability of the duo left something to be desired, but I was still intrigued and held on throughout, waiting for the awesome conclusion to book one of two.

Then I read it… I threw down the book in disgust and never touched another publication by them again.

“Seriously?” I said to myself. The conclusion to the whole story was that the machines were coming back? All that build-up, all that talk of humanity’s extinction and the need to alter the future, it was because those lame-ass, tinker toy, evil the cat, cardboard cutout, villainous robots were coming back to settle an old score? Needless to say, I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe that Herbert’s own son and the hackish Anderson would ever stoop to ending Frank’s masterpiece with a tie-in to their own pitiful work! I refused to believe that the book was even the result of looking over the contents of a safety deposit box that Frank Herbert’s had left behind. In my mind, this ending was merely an attempt to conclude the series in a way that paid homage to their own weak interpretations of the Dune universe. Attempting to rewrite history, as it were, to suit the son and his second, not to complete the vision of the father. (Bit of a Dune-esque theme in there I’m thinking!)

Of course, I could be all wrong. It’s entirely possible the Legends of Dune prequels and Dune 7 (titled “Hunters of Dune”) were the direct result of Herbert’s own notes. But I couldn’t see how. They were nothing like his original books, and all throughout the originals, where hints were dropped as to the possible outcome of the “Golden Path”, not once was machines mentioned or any hint given that the threat to humanity came from the return of some old enemy. If anything, Herbert seemed to be suggesting that it would come from within, from humanity itself, or possibly from an alien intelligence, something humanity had yet to encounter. And while I wanted desperately to know what happened in book II of Dune 7 (“Sandworms of Dune”), I just couldn’t bring myself to waste the money. Luckily, I managed to get a hold of some reviews and synopses which told me all I needed to know. The story ends with more Deus Ex Machina plot twists, contrivances and plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. And the final message, the moral of the whole Dune saga? Humans and machines need to live together in peace! …Really? Where did they get that shit from, the Matrix playbook? Had they just watched that whole trilogy and figured ripping off another franchise was a good way to end Herbert’s legacy?

I mean really, THIS was how six books about human evolution, ecology, science, social and economic models, politics, social control, revolution, upheaval, prescience, survival, genetic engineering, eugenics, holy wars, secret societies, resource control, awareness drugs, chivalry and knife fights was to end? All that history and timeless wisdom that Herbert drew on, and the final message was that humans and machines need to learn how to live together? Dear God, I could imagine Frank Herbert turning over in his grave! But what can you say when its own son who’s putting out these things? You figure he must have the best of intentions.

But good intentions or not, the duo weren’t finished there. Shortly thereafter, they began writing stories that fell (ahem!) between the original books. Yes, as if prequels and sequels weren’t enough, now they were writing… I’m not even sure what to call those! “Paul of Dune”, “Winds of Dune”, and coming soon, “The Sisterhood of Dune”, are all stories that take place between the respective novels in the original series. Again, out of curiosity, I picked up these books to give a gander at their dust jacket and see just what the hell they were about. Again, I felt my IQ drop and promptly put them back down! Even after all the crap I had endured at the hands of these two writers! And yet, I somehow found fresh reasons for being offended by their latest attempts to cash in on Frank’s good name. One, the stories obviously do not cover anything new! Events between the first three novels are all covered in the originals themselves, and at length! Nothing more needs to be said! Second, these guys had already put out six books of pure filler, unoriginal stuff that does nothing but flesh out stuff Frank already wrote about. So it would hardly be unfair to say that the “Heroes of Dune” series, as its called, will be any different. Every time these two publish a book with the Dune name on it, it becomes an instant bestseller, purely for reasons of recognition, never for reasons of quality or originality. Profit incentive is the only reason to keep doing it!

To be fair, its hard for anyone to step into the shoes of a great author, let alone someone like Frank Herbert who left a mountainous legacy. And hey, we all gotta eat right? But in the case of Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, I think it’s safe to say that their work and continued attempts to cash in speak for themselves. When it comes to raping the legacy of Frank Herbert and the Dune series, these two just can’t seem to get enough! Where there’s more money to be made and fans to exploit, these two will pen something else thats equally fluffy and superfluous and just sit back and let the royalties roll in. But how much longer can they keep this up? Who knows, these guys are good like that!

So out of respect for the master and original creator, I implore his son, Brian Herbert, to please stop! Its noble and brave that you’ve decided to step into your father’s shoes to finish off his masterpiece, but the direction you’re taking it in threatens to destroy every last trace of authenticity it once had! And to Kevin J Anderson, let me humbly suggest that you take this opportunity to go back to doing what you do best: writing fan fiction for Star Wars, X-Files and other generic sci-fi franchises. Hell, Star Gate has to be hiring, and Halos pretty damn popular right about now, maybe you could pen something for them. But for the love of God, stay away from Dune, it is clearly out of your league and I don’t think the fans can take much more, let alone the memory of Frank Herbert! I know its kind of late in the game to be asking this, but if there’s anything you two have demonstrated, its the ability to find new ways to squeeze blood from Frank’s corpse. So please, in the name of the master and all that is good and literary, I implore you, STOP!