Frank Herbert sadly died in 1986, apparently leaving behind no notes on where he was planning to take the Dune series in the next volume (he'd already signed a contract for a seventh Dune novel). He'd also been speaking to his son Brian, who'd published several SF novels himself, about a possible collaboration on a story about the Butlerian Jihad, the war between humanity and 'thinking machines' that took place ten thousand years before the events of Dune. Herbert had dropped many hints as to the nature of this war, setting it up to be a crusade launched by humans against robots and AIs and their own human allies in a religious fervour, but the full story had not been told.
Herbert's death seemed to shut the door on any further additions to the series, but the Dune name did not entirely die. Although lambasted for being incomprehensible to people who hadn't read the books, David Lynch's 1984 Dune movie became something of a cult classic in following years, and the Dune universe became a popular choice of setting for computer games, with 1992's adventure game Dune being a major success. Its prequel of a year later, Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis, was even more successful, creating an entire genre (the RTS or real-time strategy genre) which went on to great success in following years and introduced the Dune universe to a whole new audience. With the six existing novels continuing to sell quite well, it was clear that this was one SF universe that was not going to die.
The new DUNE book, by the inventor of the Sun Crusher, which even hardcore Star Wars fans think sucked donkey balls.
The notion of creating new Dune fiction had come up several times, with Brian Herbert expected to pick up the legacy of his father's work, but he resisted every offer that was made, feeling that his father's testimonial to his late mother in Chapterhouse: Dune made it a fitting career capstone. In addition, Herbert was unwilling to create new Dune material from scratch, and with no information on where Frank Herbert was taking the story in the seventh novel available, it seemed like the mystery would remain unsolved.
This changed in the late 1990s, when an editor suggsted to Brian Herbert that a tribute anthology could be written about the Dune universe, with many major modern SF authors contributing to a collection of stories about the setting. Herbert was not convinced, but agreed to get in contact with one of the authors most enthusiastic about the project, Kevin J. Anderson.
In which it turns out absolutely every single organisation, ethnic group, race and ethos in the DUNE books was created by a small group of people, many of whom knew one another, in the space of about twenty years and then remained completely stagnant for ten thousand years. Who'd have thought?
Anderson had first emerged in SF circles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a number of okay, mid-level SF novels like Resurrection, Inc. He hit the jackpot with media tie-ins, penning the Jedi Academy trilogy of Star Wars novels in 1994 (the first big series in the new Star Wars book line after Timothy Zahn's legendary opening trilogy) followed by three books based on The X-Files. A big fan of Dune, he was keen to find out what happened next in the series, "even if I had to make it up myself". He contacted Brian Herbert in relation to the anthology, but revealed he was keener to work at novel-length.
Whilst the two authors were discussing the project, some of Frank Herbert's possessions fortuitously showed up in a safety deposit box. Miraculously, among the possessions a number of outlines and notes for 'Dune 7' were discovered. The timing seemed like an omen from the gods or something, and Brian Herbert and Anderson set to work on a series of new Dune books. Frank Herbert's notes showed them where he was planning to go in 'Dune 7', but they felt that the story twists and turns in that volume needed to be better set-up ahead of time by other elements, elements that would take six books (as many Dune novels as those that already existed) to depict.
After some consideration, Steven Spielberg had to reject Kevin J. Anderson's proposed script for a Jaws remake.
Back in the late 1990s, as a Dune fan it was exciting to hear that some new material was on the way and, superbly, it was all 100% canon material created and outlined by Frank Herbert himself. True, other writers would be doing the actual writing, but that was obviously unavoidable under the circumstances, but at least we would know where Herbert was going with the events of the last two Dune novels and we would get a canonical resolution to that cruel cliffhanger that we were left on in 1986.
Still, it seemed a bit strange (understatement) that Herbert and Anderson weren't writing that story first but were instead writing a prequel trilogy set forty-odd years before Dune, and were talking about doing the Butlerian Jihad after that. They claimed that additional material was needed to set up 'Dune 7', but was that really the case? Wasn't Frank Herbert just planning on writing 'Dune 7' (which was written on the lable of those floppy disks) and that was it, with maybe some idle talk of other books a lot further down the road? It was a bit of a head-scratcher, but the writers seemed adamant they needed to tell these stories first, so the fans let them do their thing.
House Atreides was published in late 1999 and it was...meh. Not utter drek, and a vast improvement on Anderson's horrendous Star Wars novels, but still uninspiring. It also felt a bit weird, and definitely not in keeping with the other Dune books. We were told in the main series that the machine world of Ix was treated with suspicion over its skirting of the proclamation against thinking machines, but now it was revealed that the ruling House Vernius of Ix was closely allied with the Atreides and its ruler and Duke Leto were extremely close friends. The Vernius also notably failed to come to Leto's aid against the Harkonnens in Dune, which seemed a bit strange given the lengths the Atreides went to in order to aid their allies in the prequel trilogy. But at the end of House Atreides there is a note from the authors, explaining how the prequel trilogy was necessary for a further understanding of the Dune universe and everything was derived from Frank Herbert's notes, so fair enough.
The Legends of Dune trilogy was published in 2002-04 and depicted the events of the Butlerian Jihad. At this point a lot more suspicion was falling on the prequel project that things weren't right. The hideous writing (Legends' prose quality is astonishingly bad) aside, there were many differences between the depiction of the war in the trilogy and the references to it in the main books. In the main books it seems that the war was a first strike launched by a religious cult against machines allied with another sect of humans. At no point did the original books suggest that the machines themselves were ruling over all of humanity as a slave/vassal species, an idea that seemed to be more in line with The Matrix than with Frank Hebert's vision. In addition, basic logic also seemed lacking: the preponderance of resources on the AI side in Legends of Dune is so insane that it is impossible they simply wouldn't have annihilated humanity with ease. The notion presented in the original novels of the war being launched by the humans on outgunned, unsuspecting machines seems to be far more convincing.
In interviews for the writing of the Legends of Dune series the authors stated that Omnius and Erasmus - the primary antagonists of the series and the two principal AI characters - were their creations. In this interview the two authors reveal their thought-processes in creating Erasmus, for example.
After the completion of Legends, the authors announced that they would be - finally - writing 'Dune 7', based on Frank Herbert's outline and notes. It had somehow become two new books rather than one, entitled Sandworms of Dune and Hunters of Dune, but fans seemed happy. At long last, they were getting the real deal.
"We shall hunt...DUNE."
"It's the most famous planet in the Galaxy, everyone knows where it is."
"Our work here is done! Now we shall hunt...PIE!"
"It's the most famous planet in the Galaxy, everyone knows where it is."
"Our work here is done! Now we shall hunt...PIE!"
The books finally came out, and revealed in exciting detail, and clearly based on Frank Herbert's outline, how the 'great enemy' who had driven the Honoured Matres into the Imperium's space and laid waste to most of the Galaxy were the defeated AIs, led by Erasmus and Omnius, still going strong after 15,000 years! Who'd have thought!
Needless to say, this revelation seemed a little suspect. Something was not smelling right. The reader suspected that the other one, if pulled, would have bells on.
You see, it turns out the primary bad guys or antagonists of Frank Herbert's last two Dune novels would be characters who didn't even exist at that time, and were instead created by two other guys fifteen-odd years after his death. Or to put it another way, Frank Hebert's amazingly-detailed notes, bequeathed to Anderson and Herbert Jnr. on the slopes of Mount Sinai (or something), apparently didn't even mention who the bad guy of the final book was, a factor that I naively assumed would have been a reasonably major plot point.
Some Dune fans (okay, me) felt just slightly pissed off and annoyed. They had spent money on books that weren't very good because they'd been promised it was all based on Herbert's original notes and outlines. Fair enough, the delivery method of the story wasn't great, but the actual, core events were designed by Frank Herbert himself and were legit, or so we were told. And it was now revealed that this was not the case.
The new Dune books were revealed to be what, in fairness, a lot of less-invested SF commentators had been saying for years: a cynical cash-grab designed to exploit a respected intellectual property and turn it into a franchise. Because the authors knew that this would go down like a lead balloon with the fans, the importance of these 'notes' and 'outlines' had been inflated many times until they became some kind of oracular vision, Frank Herbert guiding their writing hands from beyond the grave. The truth of the matter is that if these notes didn't even tell them who the bad guys were, the notes could not have been very comprehensive at all. Oh sure, I think they exist - the stuff with loads of past Dune characters being resurrected as gholas (so they can re-examine their lives and the impact of their decisions five thousand years on) does actually sound like a Frank Herbert idea - but I think we're possibly talking about some very rough, "What if?" brainstorming ideas, certainly nothing to hang a dozen more novels on.
The exciting new chapter in the saga: Hot Air of Dune. Remember to come back next year for the magnificent continuation, Flatulence of Dune.
Since these events, some critical commentary of the new Dune books has sprung up across the Internet. New blog Keeping the Door has charted some of these activities in a recent post, whilst Penny Arcade have a somewhat more robust and succinct view of events. Naturally, none of it matters. The new Dune books keep rolling off the production line, all shiny and new and bereft of anything that can be called tangible writing ability or artistic legitimacy, and keep hitting the bestseller lists. The authors themselves seem to be happy with the situation. Never mind that they once said that:
"You don't do the grand finale and then add a few more books".
Screw that! There's green to be made! So, after the completion of the 'Dune 7' project more books have appeared, filling in the gaps with stories that were so vitally important Frank Herbert completely ignored them. There's also a nice line in Soviet revisionism creeping in, with The Winds of Dune boasting the legend, "The epic sequel to Frank Herbert's Dune", although I have a clear recollection - might be wrong - that such a book already exists under the title Dune Messiah, published in 1969. We're also in line for more books, about the sword masters and the Bene Gesserit and probably a full trilogy on the life-cycle of a Caladanian mollusc before we are done.
What's happened to the Dune universe is nothing less than a shocking fiasco, and I was disappointed to see many of my fellow bloggers happily plugging away this week with giveaways for the new Dune book. C'mon guys, this thing is going to shift bucketloads of copies regardless, you don't need to help them out with this one as well.
The worst part of all of this is that when I went to reread the original Dune itself a couple of years back, I found myself completely unable to get into it. The sound of Frank Herbert spinning in his grave made it impossible to concentrate on the text.