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Prelude To Dune: House Corrino
Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
NEL paperback £6.99
review by Duncan Hunter
The steersmen of the Navigators' Guild use it to alter their minds and bodies so they can bend space, piloting huge ships between planets. The nobility of the great houses consume it because it confers long life, health and mental insight. The sisters of the Bene Gesserit depend upon it as the giver of prescience - the special gift of being able to see into the universe's future. The spice melange is the most precious substance in the universe and it has only one source - the desert planet Arrakis, known also as Dune.
But Tleilaxu scientists have discovered a synthetic spice substitute, amal, just as potent as melange. Hearing of the discovery, Emperor Shaddam secretly lends the Tleilaxu the assistance of his elite Sardaukar Legions to seize control of the advanced industrial facilities of the world of Ix. Once installed, the loathsome scientists impose a rule of terror utilising the facilities they have conquered to begin large-scale production of amal. The emperor's plan is to gain a personal monopoly of the synthetic spice, freeing himself from his dependence on the spice-governed politics of the Imperium, with its competing factions of great houses, orders and guilds.
But all is not as it seems. Deposed Prince Rhombur of Ix is still alive, an exile living under the benevolent protection of Duke Leto Atreides on planet Caladan. Together Leto and Rhombur plot to restore the prince to his rightful position as ruler of Ix, putting an end to the hideous reign of the Tleilaxu and unwittingly uncovering Shaddam's master plan. Meanwhile Jessica, Leto's concubine who has become pregnant with his son, has been summoned to the Imperial court, under the watchful eye of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. She is as yet unaware that the child she bears has been awaited for generations by the order as the mother of the Kwisatz Haderach, the first and only male Bene Gesserit, a messianic superman who will bring in a new era of enlightenment and authority. How will they react when they learn that Jessica has, out of love for her dear Leto, willfully conceived a boy, throwing the millennia-old programme into confusion?
House Corrino is the third book of the Prelude To Dune trilogy, in which we learn of the events that took place before the birth of Paul Atreides, the hero of Dune, Frank Herbert's 1960s masterpiece. Interestingly, this book has been co-written by Brian Herbert (of 'House Herbert', the late Frank's son and heir to the lucrative Dune fief) and Kevin Anderson, an experienced SF genre writer. The first of the new trilogy I have read so far, I was initially disappointed. At times the style is laboured and clumsy, particularly the early descriptive passages in which the authors attempt to convey the drama of the unfolding action. There are whole paragraphs in which almost every noun is accompanied by an impressive adjective (slithering leviathans tend to rush across trackless sands) and the authors depend overmuch on depictions of casual but shocking brutality. The novel is packed with incidents of murder, torture, disembowelment and strangulation. The Machiavellian complexity and sinister subtlety of the original books has, like many a still-living Harkonnen soldier, been cast into the Fremen death stills.
However, although I had decided after the first 50 pages or so that the book was an unsuccessful and probably cynical attempt to emulate the formula of the masterly originals, I found that I began to enjoy myself more and more as the story unfolded. Perhaps the authors did settle down and write more sparing prose after the first few chapters, or possibly I was enticed by the intriguing complexity of the plot to suspend critical judgement. I even came across one passage (in which a scientist is able to apply the principles of his early mental training to discover he has been brainwashed by sisters of the Bene Gesserit) that I thought was very well written indeed. (Who wrote that - young Herbert (triumph of genes?) or Anderson (genre hack who can pull the stops out on occasion)?
The story is complex and at times quite exciting. Each character of every House and faction has been skilfully depicted with a laudable attention to detail and consistency. In spite of myself I found myself rooting for the Atreides and waiting in anticipation for the appearance, at the end of it all, of the long-awaited Atreides heir, not only the Kwisatz Haderach but also a fine excuse to get out the original novels and see just how well the Prelude series has tied the whole Dune milieu together.
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