Reader…(said in a worm voice)
Would it surprise you to know that I am a giant, bored, deified worm? Tis true! The weight of my prescience doth bode ill forsooth and ill anon and yet without the–oh, I doth ache for a surprise and as the chasms of time yawn out into the raging infinities of–
That’s kind of what reading this book is like for most people who don’t like it. It takes about one paragraph before they’re saying Oh good grief get over yourself.
I’ve talked to a lot of readers who loved the original Dune and the next two books in the series. Then they got to part 4, God Emperor of Dune and they bail the hell out. Can I blame them? Oh, not exactly. Many books and movies get praised for veering off in unexpected directions. It can be quite nice to realize that even though the stories have all been told, a skilled author can still catch us off guard, even in territory that seemed familiar.
The most frequent complaint I hear about God Emperor is that it veers off into such bizarre directions that it doesn’t feel like a continuation of the series, but a literary non sequitur.
The second most frequent complaint is that it is really boring. That criticism gets aimed at every Frank Herbert book, so that’s nothing new.
Who is right? Let’s ask The Worm.
God Emperor of Dune summary
By the time this book opens, Leto II, descendant of Paul Atreides who became Muad’Dib and…good grief, even writing these words makes me feel like a nerd. Okay, let’s start again–by the time this book starts Leto deux is well on his way to becoming a sandworm.
Yes. A sandworm.
Remember them? They were enormous and lived in the desert. Now there’s one with Leto’s face poking out a worm’s body and he’s quite a fussy chap. He’s God, after all, and he has to mind the entire universe. And horror of horrors, he is very bored. He loves surprises more than anything, which is difficult because he is omniscient. Almost.
He is also 3500 years old at this point, which…now I’m getting bored.
I know I’m supposed to be summarizing the plot, but the plot isn’t really the point. The Dune books always served as Herbert’s treatise on Big Ideas. Ecology. Hydraulic despotism. Religion. The flaws in systems. The nature of power and how overthrows occur. Linguistic fallibility. The importance of testing. Religions and dogma killing ideas and curiosity.
For a book about a big fat worm God with a face this novel takes itself preeeeeety seriously. I did like it that Duncan Idaho (version 19) is still around. He was my favorite character from the original Dune novel. Hmm…what else to say?
There is an army of female hotties called Fish Speakers. Doesn’t that sound nice? And I have to tell you that I’m listening to it on audio this time around and Leto’s imperious, staccato declarations make me laugh every time he speaks. Picture some snooty academic sneering down his nose at you over his glasses and saying a line like “We shall be wife and WORM!”
Tell me you’re not smiling about that.
So, in summary, I don’t think you’ll like this book if:
- You are a sandworm
- You are omniscient–it will just bore you and you won’t even be able to summon the will to see what comes next, because you already know. Oh! The dreariness of eternity!
- You are devoutly religious
- You find the idea of a big worm with a human face silly
- You are devoted to specific systems of thought
- You don’t like fiction
- You don’t like science fiction
- You don’t like my pal Frankie Faires
- You don’t like philosophy
- You don’t like lengthy discussions about whether a massive worm has retained a lengthy human something within his wormy coils
Me? I found the ideas fascinating so I enjoyed it all.
I have also decided that I’m going to change my nametag at work from Josh Hanagarne, Librarian, to Josh Hanagarne, Sub-Basher. That is an awesome title I would not otherwise have heard of.
And one more time, because the voice is burned into my head:
We shall be wife and worm! That kills me.