God Emperor of Dune

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Frank Herbert’s fourth episode in his Dune epic, God Emperor of Dune, is the first science-fiction novel to have been a runaway hardback best-seller. It sold more than 160,000 copies in 1981 and was on national best-seller lists for months. God Emperor of Dune is a worthy successor to the first three novels in the series, Dune (1965), Dune Messiah (1969), and Children of Dune (1976). Familiar characters reappear in familiar guise, and the same questions that obsessed Herbert and his main characters in the previous books are still present, albeit in somewhat unfamiliar terms or circumstances.

The novel opens brilliantly. Dozens of centuries after the death of Leto II, who reigned for more than 3,500 years, explorers have found a hoard of “ridulian crystals” whose contents cover all of the god emperor’s activities for centuries. What will they reveal? Immediately the action switches to the final year of Leto’s reign. His human form has been completely transmogrified into a quasihuman version of the giant sandworm for which Arrakis was famous. He has ruled the empire both benevolently and despotically at one and the same time; he is in many ways the predator of his universe, as well as its spiritual head. He is also its sustaining force, and the source of its life-giving essence, for he is the sole producer of melange, that mysterious substance, a by-product of the sandworm, which can give its addicts untold decades or even centuries of health-filled life.

For thirty-five centuries Leto has ruled Arrakis and its far-flung galactic-wide empire with Machiavellian efficiency. He will kill even his closest friends or subjects with scarcely a thought. He manages to control both the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit, his traditional enemies, by alternately doling out melange to them or withholding it completely. The Fish Speakers, his all-female army, are the most feared and deadly force in the universe, far surpassing in both efficiency and cruelty the famed Fremen soldiery or the infamous Sardaukar of the previous novels.

In one sense, the empire is quiescent, indeed almost stultified under Leto’s control. He brooks no opposition, and those who even question his ultimate authority usually disappear. He speaks of the “Golden Path” on which he has set humanity, seeming not to realize that without opposition and without some counterforce, humanity will sink into a lethargic stupor. Into this potentially dangerous situation come several new characters. The Ixians, masters of technology, have sent the beautiful, innocent Hwi Noree to Leto as an ambassador. It is presumably their intention that this gift will so enchant Leto that some weak spot may open in his otherwise impregnable armor. At the same time, one more embodiment of the famous imperial swordmaster, Duncan Idaho, has been sent to Leto. Another product of the abhorred Tleilaxu axolotl tanks, the successive Duncan Idaho’s have an almost genetically ingrained loyalty to the Atreides family, yet when Siona Atreides, daughter of the god emperor’s majordomo, plots to overthrow Leto, she enlists the aid of the new Duncan. As Duncan slowly comes to understand the evil that Leto represents, he joins the cabal, and eventually they succeed.

The novel is a rich panoply of conflicting forces, with some engaging characters and some even more fascinating philosophic discussions. Herbert’s works have consistently combined both aspects. Even his first novel, the unfairly neglected Dragon in the Sea, also known as Under...

(The entire section is 1471 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Analog. CI, August 17, 1981, p. 161.

Booklist. LXXVII, April 1, 1981, p. 1062.

Christian Science Monitor. LXXIII, July 8, 1981, p. 17.

Library Journal. CVI, May 15, 1981, p. 1102.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. LXI, November, 1981, p. 46.

New Age. VII, October, 1981, p. 70.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, May 17, 1981, p. 15.

School Library Journal. XXVII, August, 1981, p. 81.

Science Fiction Review. X, August, 1981, p. 11.

Time. CXVII, May 11, 1981, p. 89.