The final novel in Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy is eloquent testimony to the inadequacy of the critical pejorative “science fiction.” “Speculative fiction” (or “SF”) is a better term to describe the stylistic seriousness and thematic range that places Herbert squarely in the ranks of the century’s most important thinkers and writers. A list of the novel’s plot elements is itself indicative: the controlled genetic evolution of the human species through selected breeding by the Bene Gesserit; imperial control of the universe through millenial manipulation of religion and the addictive drug, melange (produced only on the economically crucial planet Arrakis or “Dune”); regulation of an entire planet’s ecosystem by attention to its most minute components; the horrifying ramifications of cumulative genetic memory, resulting in mass possession of an individual, as parallel to mass worship of a messiah. These elements are subtly woven into a strong narrative fiber that compels our intellectual engagement in a complex tapestry of speculation, exploring connections among essential psychic phenomena: memory, dreams, visions, prophecy, and the “prevailing mystique” guiding every culture.
In the first two novels of the trilogy, Dune and Dune Messiah, Herbert described the achievement, by the Bene Gesserit, of their long-awaited Kwisatz Haderach: a male strong enough to bear the pressure of cumulative human memory and simultaneously to use it as an anvil on which the future might be preshaped into ideal action. Paul (or Maud’Dib, as he was called by the Fremen natives of Dune) had assumed control of the universe through his extraordinary psychic powers but, because of “a minor miscalculation” (he had been born “one lifetime too early”), he was unable to see clearly or control firmly either the inherited past or the genetically probable future. In the person of his younger sister Alia, the Bene Gesserit now “had another problem: the Abomination, who carried the precious genes they’d sought for so many generations.” As Children of Dune opens, Alia has become guardian of Paul’s identical twin offspring, Leto II and Ghanima, and, in that capacity, now rules as regent over the imperium. Because she has allowed the spice-addiction to lower her resistance against the mnemonic presences threatening to overrule her individual consciousness, Alia’s grip on her empire is weakening. The old forces of evil, represented by the Harkonnen prince Farad’n, plan to wrest power away from her by destroying the children, Paul’s heirs, who contain in their genetic structure the power to accomplish psychically the genetic transformation of the human race Paul could only envision.
Leto, despite his youth, understands through his genetic omniscience the balance he must strike between power and impotency, past and future, as he explains to his sister:We cannot succumb to the spice; that’s paramount. And we must not suppress the past entirely. We must use it, make an amalgam of it. We will no longer be our original selves—but we will not be possessed.
Leto has recognized that the maintenance of the human species depends upon retaining the autonomous identity of the individual, and that genetic memory by itself creates an inhuman monster. By novel’s end, he has succeeded in the physical transformation of his own body that will become the template for a universe in which “humans may create their futures from instant to instant.” Muad’Dib’s prophecy has been realized in his son:The evolutionary thrust of each part would melt into the other and a single transformation would emerge. When metamorphosis came, if it came, a thinking creature of awesome dimensions would emerge upon the universe—and that universe would worship him.
Unlike Paul, however, Leto receives the worship of humanity as an integral, though dictating, cell in the entire human organism. He will live as long as necessary for the organism to imitate his physical and psychical capabilities; then, having achieved the evolution of the race into a new dimension of awareness and control,...
(The entire section is 1703 words.)