Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Road to Dune


This combination of fiction and nonfiction opens with a long list of acknowledgements, including members of the Herbert family, and opens with a foreword by Bill Ransom that mentions Frank Herbert lived a fun life and was humorous, hailing from the Puyallup Valley in Washington State. The fathers of Herbert and Ransom were in law enforcement, with the latter moving to Port Townsend in the early seventies. William Faulkner is said to be one of the influences of Herbert, with the writer’s wife Beverly Stuart Herbert dying of cancer while Ransom went through a divorce, with the memories of Herbert and his wife living on.

Following the foreword and the preface in which it is said that Frank Herbert kept much documentation on the Duniverse and partially-written manuscripts is a precursor to the original Dune entitled Spice Planet, with Brian Herbert saying that he researched his father’s mythology carefully before formulating his own Dune stories, with Spice Planet having many different names for the characters that would ultimately find their way into the initial Dune. The novel itself opens with a fictitious quote in its first chapter, as do subsequent sections, with protagonist Jesse Linkam suspecting that the news must be important with an Imperial vessel touching down in Catalan’s spaceport.

Jesse is a foremost aristocrat, and wants Counselor Ulla Bauers to accept him as he is. The Counselor wants Jesse to pack for a return to Renaissance, with Grand Emperor Wuda wanting him to give a report on the production of spice on Duneworld. Dorothy Mapes is Jesse’s concubine and business partner, and it is mentioned that Jesse’s father, among others, nearly brought House Linkam to ruin. Bauers’ ship transports Jesse and his entourage to Renaissance, a wealthy planet, where the Emperor sees both Jesse and his chief rival, Valdemar Hoskanner, with a spice production contest proposed between the antagonistic Houses, which Jesse accepts.

As an advance guard for the new Linkam operations, General Esmar Tuek and a hundred Catalan men arrive on Duneworld, with William English as a spice-crew manager, having been a prisoner on the penal planet Eridanus V, although the Emperor and Hoskanners offered him amnesty. It is further said that sand geysers and giant sandworms threaten spice operations. Dorothy Mapes is ultimate introduced, who wants full devotion to Duneworld, and while she and Jesse aren’t officially wed, they have a son named Barri, alongside an entertainer named Gurney Halleck, with the young boy missing Catalan.

Throughout their spice operations, the Linkams suspect Hoskanner sabotage, alongside natural crises such as sandworms attacking, although despite these dangers, Jesse brings along Barri to help survey spice operations. Sure enough, Imperial ambassadors find Linkam spice operations to be below standards, and Jesse thus seeks to rectify working conditions, with propositions for dealing with the sandworms as well. There are some occasional twists in the story towards the end, with the novel ending on a positive note alongside the maxim that true nobility is not a birthright, but rather must be earned by individuals.

The book moves back to nonfiction with the section “They Stopped the Moving Sands,” with Frank Herbert flying to Florence, Oregon in 1957 to write an article for the USDA about sand dune stabilization, potentially useful for Sahara Desert inhabitants, with sand dunes in the State swallowing cities, roads, and so forth. It was proposed that European beach grass could stop the destruction of the dunes, with more than eleven thousand other grass types proposed but ineffective, although Herbert’s report was criticized for more describing the adversity of the sand dunes rather than the battle against them, and the author urged to give the story to a more interested American editor.

Following this is a series of letters between Frank Herbert, prospective editors, and fellow authors, with the original version of Dune said to be rejected due to daunting length, and the final product barely resembling the final product. Herbert’s ambitious novel won several awards, with the writer himself having an interest in climate ecology. Afterward is a series of unpublished scenes and chapters from Dune and its sequel Dune Messiah, such as interactions between protagonist Paul Atreides and various characters, deleted chapters, and so forth.

After that comes a series of short stories beginning with “A Whisper of Caladan Seas,” which when published in 1999 marked the first Dune story written since Frank Herbert’s death thirteen years earlier, occurring concurrently with the Harkonnen attack on Arrakeen in the original Dune. The narrative itself occurs on Arrakis in the year 10,191 of the Imperial Calendar, with soldiers for House Atreides surviving an onslaught in a Shield Wall, with characters such as Elto Vitt and his uncle Sergeant Hoh Vitt. The short story does a nice job describing the conditions of the conflict and reveals backstory for the Vitts, ending on a negative note.

“Hunting Harkonnens” introduces the world of the epic Butlerian Jihad that long predates the original Dune, with ancestors of the Atreides and Harkonnens families battling machines with human minds. The short story opens with a Harkonnen craft leaving family-held industries on Hagal, Salusa Secundus as their destination, with Ulf Harkonnen as the pilot, having an adult son named Piers and a wife named Katarina. Cymeks, hybrid machines with human minds, attack, with Piers punished by being sealed in a lifepod that ejects from his family’s ship, and he lands among Caladan primitives. The narrative is ultimately enjoyable.

“Whipping Mek” occurs between The Butlerian Jihad and The Machine Crusade, opening with a Jihad warship arriving at Giedi Prime with expectant news of victory against the machines, although Vergyl Tantor believes the defense of the Peridot Colony didn’t go well, with Xavier Harkonnen as his adoptive brother, and the Jihad beginning with the infant son of Serena Butler and Xavier, Manion, killed by machines. Vergyl himself has a wife named Sheel, with the defeat at Peridot seen as a moral victory, and Xavier not wanting his friend to involve himself in the war, although he does allow him noncombat roles in repair and recharging, the titular mek making for practice against battle with machines. Another enjoyable prequel story.

“The Faces of a Martyr” occurs between The Machine Crusade and The Battle of Corrin, with the mention that mad scientist Rekur Van fled a lynch mob on his homeworld, with missing soldiers and Zensunni slaves said to be carved up to provide replacement parts for wounded warriors. Meanwhile, the robot Erasmus studies human emotion, finding their inherit goodness and hatching a plan to clone Serena Butler. Vorian Atreides receives an invitation from the widow of the Grand Patriarch, Camie Boro-Ginjo, who blames Xavier Harkonnen for her husband’s death. The story satisfactorily ends with a recall of sacrifice by friends.

“Sea Child” is the final tale in the book, occurring at the terminus of the Dune saga, with initial mention that Bene Gesserit punishments must have inescapable lessons, the Honored Matres conquering the planet Buzzell, and Sister Corysta, a disgraced Reverend Mother, caring for a phibian baby, which she doesn’t want to turn over to Monaya. The surviving members of the order are tortured for the location of the world of Chapterhouse, hidden homeworld of the Bene Gesserits, with further backstory exposed in the Famine Times after the death of Leto II, God Emperor of Dune. A bittersweet ending concludes this enjoyable Dune short story.

The anthology is dedicated to Beverly Herbert, with her husband Frank having completed Chapterhouse: Dune when she was dying in Hawaii, with Jessica Atreides based on her. Overall, this is an enjoyable book that gives some insight into the Duniverse, with the novel Spice Planet being a good precursor to the final version of Herbert’s original Dune. It even warrants rereads when those such as this reviewer choose to read the Dune saga in chronological order, and is definitely a good diving board for the average reader into the beloved science-fiction saga.

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