God Emperor of Dune (Dune #4)
By: Frank Herbert
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
Centuries have passed on Dune, and the planet is green with life. Leto, the son of Dune’s savior, is still alive but far from human, and the fate of all humanity hangs on his awesome sacrifice…
So, fun fact: I read the first three books and then I stopped. I had started reading this fourth book but the massive time jump coupled with the end of the school year, I just never got around to picking up this book again…until now, that is 😛 Spoilers if you don’t know what the story is about or have not read the first three books to date (or seen the SyFy miniseries)!
God Emperor of Dune picks up some three thousand years after the events of Children of Dune (review). This in itself is probably a turnoff for those who have read the first three books and come to care about the characters and the worlds they live in; they’re familiar, we’ve followed their stories thus far, it’s easy to slip into as I mentioned long ago in my review of Dune (review). Three thousand years later and the only characters we really know at this point are Leto II, the God Emperor (and I forget that he at least had grown into adulthood at this point…I also forget that in the books they were only nine-years-old at the events of Children of Dune but were aged up in the miniseries), and Duncan Idaho, the gholas still being produced by to serve Leto, his only connection to his past. The rest of the characters are otherwise new, descendants of Ghanima and otherwise new entities in a distant future.
It was interesting to see how much has changed since the events of the first three novels. It is clear that Leto II rules his galactic empire as a despot: he controls the remaining spice melange, he controls the breeding programmes, he has stripped the powers of the Bene Gesserit, the Tleilaxu, and the Spacing Guild of their former powers, space travel is almost non-existent. The Fremen are but a shell of what they once were, Arrakis is no longer a desert planet with sandworms, and Leto II’s Imperial Army consists of women called Fish Speakers. What is especially interesting is how the events of Dune and the world we knew then are seen centuries in the future, how the characters of Paul and the first Leto are perceived, how Leto II recalls his family and the events from before, who are still revered and who is not (Alia doesn’t get much of a mention, as I recall). The historian in me was most intrigued.
Of course, at this point, Leto II is a flat-out tyrant. He has a plan for humanity, still guiding it for the fulfillment of the Golden Path, but his use of religiosity, his control of the breeding programmes, is disturbing; his vision has no room for independent thought. Duncan Idaho, no matter how many times he is reawakened as a new ghola, chafes under Leto’s supposed benevolence, and of course there are rumblings and plans to overthrow the regime via Siona, Leto II’s descendent. These characters all have their own motives that are very understandable, but I can’t say they’re fairly likeable save for Duncan, if only because he’s the voice of reason trying to make sense of everything that’s happening around him. All the other characters are sort of stuck in their mindset that even when conversing–such as between Leto II and Siona and the animosity there–you can’t help but feel like they’re merely digging their feet, their perspectives being told into space (pun intended?).
Nonetheless God Emperor of Dune is a fascinating continuation to the story of Dune. It raises a lot of questions about humanity and its evolution, about themes of progress, of gender politics, of society and power, but it also had me wondering what Leto II’s ultimate endgame is and what the Golden Path really was to be for humanity. The book also once again highlights, despite of all of its science fiction elements, what it means to be human. Looking forward to reading what the next installment will bring to the story, especially now that we’re down to one familiar character, lol.