Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Readers embrace revived Dune

By Jeff Suess
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dune fans should forgive Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson for having the audacity to write more Dune novels.

Despite initial backlash against adding to the late Frank Herbert's epic series, their new novels have won over readers and brought fans back to Dune.

"The most important thing Brian and I have done is we've given an energy jolt to the Dune series," says Anderson.

He and Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert's son, will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers tonight to discuss and sign their fifth Dune novel, The Machine Crusade, part two of the Legends of Dune prequels chronicling the series' prehistory.

All roads lead to Dune

Eleven years after Frank Herbert's death in 1986, Anderson, a popular SF writer and Herbert fan, approached Brian Herbert about writing a Dune novel together. Herbert had been working on a biography of his father, which led to continuing the series.

"All roads lead to Dune," says Herbert.

Anderson wanted to write a direct sequel of Frank Herbert's last Dune novel. Brian Herbert had discussed writing a book about Dune's history with his father before he died in 1986. "I wanted to go back to the Butlerian Jihad, thinking it was a great place to start," says Herbert. But that meant going back 10,000 years to unfamiliar territory.

Instead, he and Anderson wrote a trilogy about the rivalry between the Atreides and Harkonnen houses to reintroduce the characters to Dune readers.

Initial fan reaction was nasty, even before the books had been read. Many fans apologized later. "One after another they thanked us for resurrecting the series," says Herbert. Sales of the original books went up after the release of the prequels.


Legends of Dune takes the SF epic back 10,000 years to the Butlerian Jihad, the great revolt against thinking machines mentioned briefly in the appendix to the original novel.

Frank Herbert left behind thousands of pages of notes, which hint at the series' direction. "We became convinced Frank Herbert had a grand plan," says Anderson. Using the notes, Herbert and Anderson have pieced together the prehistory, which will form the mythology of the Dune universe.

Balancing act

The Machine Crusade opens 25 years later. The Jihad has gained ground against Omnius but the humans are weary.

Earth has been nuked and every victory comes at great cost.

The war is not enough to unite humanity. Backstabbing is common, and symbols hold more power than truth.

While there is social commentary, this Jihad is not a statement about America's war on terrorism. Frank Herbert laid out the road map for the war nearly 40 years ago.

"The good guys are the people in the desert and the bad guys are in the cities," says Herbert. "It's a different world from the current reality. People can suspend reality."

"There were some eerie parallels," adds Anderson. "We would write something in the manuscript, then something in the news would happen just like it."

Herbert notes that Dune has always used Arabic terms like jihad, which once seemed exotic but now is frighteningly familiar. "When you have a small group of people fighting a long battle, what do you do? Pump them up with religion. It's a careful balancing act."

Plots merge

The prequels are more accessible than Frank Herbert's original work but don't have the same density. Maybe that's because they try to explain the universe that forms the layers of the series.

The plots start to merge in this second book. All the pieces start to fit together in a satisfying tapestry pointing straight to Dune.

The Machine Crusade will satisfy fans but newcomers should begin with The Butlerian Jihad or the original Dune. The last book in the trilogy, The Battle of Corrin, is due next year. Then they plan to finish Frank Herbert's seventh Dune.

"We'll continue only if we have a genuinely significant story to tell," Anderson says.


Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson will discuss and sign Dune: The Machine Crusade, 7 tonight Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Rookwood Pavilion, Edwards and Madison roads, Norwood, (513) 396-8960.

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