It’s possible you’ve never heard of Frank Herbert’s Dune, just as it’s possible that you’ve never seen Star Wars. I’ve dated two girls who meet this criteria, so you can’t tell me that these people don’t exist. So let me break it down for you: in 1965 Frank Herbert got his sci-fi novel Dune (originally a serialized story) published and it rocked the world of sci-fi. His novel was like Hamlet in Space, crossed with Oil Crisis in Space, crossed with Water Shortage in Space, crossed with Lawrence of Space Arabia, and more. He went on to write five more Dune novels. But what’s that? There are approximately 19 Dune novels? Well, that’s because some others continued the series after Frank Herbert died. Don’t even get me started on those, that’s a whole separate article. For now let’s get into 5 Dune Novels that are way better than 14 other Dune Novels.
#5. God Emperor of Dune
God Emperor of Dune is a trip. It’s a seriously weird book. I had to read it around 3 times before I started to get it, and even now I reread it and feel like, oh I’m definitely getting it this time. I don’t know why I kept going back, since I didn’t really like it the first time, but it really grew on me.
There are so many great things in this novel. The premise is that Duncan Idaho, a character from Dune, finds himself resurrected 3,500 years after the events of Dune. Not only that, but he’s one in a long series of Duncan Idaho clones who have been resurrected steadily over time. Who has been purchasing these Duncan Idaho clones over the centuries? Just the son of the protagonist of Dune, Leto II, who has become a giant sandworm-human hybrid.
Leto II spends a lot of time musing to himself and complaining about democracy and bureaucracy. It’s kind of Frank Herbert’s thing, and I do enjoy his thoughts on things like that. As the latest of The Duncans, Duncan Idaho must navigate a strange new world where he doesn’t really belong, and is totally confused about why he’s there. All along the way he’s sort of solving the mystery of what Leto’s plan really is, though to be honest Duncan is kind of dense about the whole thing.
#4. Heretics of Dune
Heretics of Dune is part of what I consider a separate duology of novels in the Dune Saga. What’s Heretics about?
Several thousand years after the events of God Emperor of Dune, the territories of the old empire are invaded by Berserker Women from Outer Space with Sex Powers. With. Sex. Powers. They’re called Honored Matres which is an amazing name.
As is the rule of all (true) Dune novels, a Duncan Idaho clone finds himself in the middle of all of this. He’s being raised by the Bene Gesserit (think of them as sort of Space Psychologist Shaman Moms) who are ostensibly trying to solve the mystery of Leto’s fascination with the Duncans, but one thing you learn about Dune is that Frank Herbert is always always going for complicated wheels within wheels schemes.
Duncan’s sensei in all these shenanigans in Miles Teg, who is perhaps one of my favorite Dune characters and (AND) a clever reinsertion of an old favorite Dune character. You might miss it the first time around, I know I did, but once you’ve read the Dune series a couple times it becomes obvious. Miles Teg… is Paul Atreides. Frank Herbert just writes a character into the series that is secretly a straight reincarnation of his most famous character. He’s sort of an alternate universe Paul, who did not rebel against the Bene Gesserit, and instead became an amazing Mentat Warrior. It’s Paul Atreides but with a happy ending.
Miles Teg is an old man, with an incredible military career in service of the Bene Gesserit, but they call him back for one more mission: to protect the Duncan Idaho clone.
Oh man, it’s good. And that’s only like half of what’s going on in that book.
#3. Chapterhouse: Dune
The last Dune novel written by Frank Herbert, this is probably the one that was my favorite for a long time. It’s about Odrade, the new head of the Bene Gesserit (and daughter of Miles Teg), trying to navigate a dangerous universe where the Honored Matres have gone crazy, and are steadily hunting down the Bene Gesserit, intent on destroying them all.
Odrade is probably my favorite Bene Gesserit of all time. She was hidden away as a child because of her dangerous heritage (and it’s never really explained who her mother is and why it was a big deal), and when she grew up she became a Bene Gessert expert in security, partially because of her spider-sense, which is a kind of derivative ability from her ancestor’s (Paul) prescience.
During all of this she’s assisted by Duncan Idaho. This Duncan Idaho clone is probably the most awesome Duncan. I’m going to call him Ultimate Duncan for reasons I won’t spoil for you. Ultimate Duncan is charged with raising a new clone, the clone of Miles Teg.
Most of the novel takes place on one world and consists of Odrade going around and thinking about things. And it’s amazing. At one point Ultimate Duncan has to have a conversation with a rogue Bene Gesserit and it’s just such a fantastic standoff.
Heretics and Chapterhouse are often dismissed by the harder core of Dune fans, but I honestly love them the most. They’re just so much fun, and yeah they aren’t packed with all the crazy ideas of Dune, but they’re better written. And, as Frank says in the intro of Heretics, he’s ultimately here to entertain.
#2. Frank Herbert by Tim O’Reilly
The Dune-est of Dune novels is a biography written about Frank Herbert by Tim O’Reilly. The O’Reilly of O’Reilly’s series of books on computer programming and other stuff. This book changed everything for me. It’s the reason why Dune catapulted from a series I enjoyed to a series I obsess about.
It’s also online for free. So there’s that.
It’s a great read and many of the things I love about the series are things that O’Reilly writes about, especially what Frank Herbert was trying to say in his series, which was something that in retrospect was obvious but I missed anyway: heroes are bad for humanity.
I wish that the authors who took over after Frank Herbert’s death had read this book…
#1. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
What? Did I just do that? Did I blow your mind, dawg? That’s right. I don’t play by the rules here. I’m hard core, man.
If you read #2 you know what I’m talking about. But since you didn’t- and how do I know you didn’t? I’ve dated like 5 girls who haven’t read #2 so I know those people exist. But since you haven’t read #2 I’ll lay it out for you: Dune is a response to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.
Seriously. That blew my mind when I read that, and I totally see it. I can’t believe I missed that before!
What is Foundation about? Well, that’s really another post altogether, but let me give you the compressed synopsis:
Scientist-shamans learn how to predict the future and try as The Galactic Empire around them crumbles into barbarism.
Sound familiar? Well, it’s basically Dune. Trust me. Only Frank Herbert is on the opposite side of things from where Asimov stood. Asimov was pro-psychohistory (the science of predicting the future) whereas Frank Herbert found it abhorrent. Paul Atreides is basically Asimov’s The Mule. That won’t make sense until you’re two Foundation novels in, so get on it.
In conclusion, Dune is the best, post-Frank Herbert Dune is the worst, and Isaac Asimov is also dope as shit. Also Tim O’Reilly, yo.