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Book Review: God Emperor of Dune

god emperor of dune

Click to kneel before The Worm

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.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Philippe Til February 24, 2011, 9:15 pm

    I didn’t even make it to Children of Dune. Was that #3 in the series? I recall Dune having 2 parts in the French edition.
    I, for one, am a dan of Herbert’s literary ennui and pedantism.
    The cover of the original editions in France were made by an army buddy of my dad’s, Siudmak is the last name. The cover in your blog is quite phallic. It makes sense for him to say the line that cracks you up:)

    • Josh Hanagarne February 24, 2011, 9:32 pm

      Phillippe, what does “I am a dan” mean?

      • Heather February 25, 2011, 9:53 am

        Uh. . . hate to be rude and jump in here, but I think it’s a type-o for “I am a fan”? I’m just sayin’. . .

        • Josh Hanagarne February 25, 2011, 10:09 am

          Heather, quit speaking for master Philippe. I’m trying to get under his skin.

          • Philippe Til February 25, 2011, 10:05 pm

            Heather is right. iPhone butterfingers.
            Under my skin? So sexy, Josh. Love it when you type dirty to me.

          • Josh Hanagarne February 27, 2011, 1:54 pm

            I can’t quit you, Monsieur Til.

  • Mike February 24, 2011, 9:30 pm

    And the fact that the cover doesn’t look like a . . . worm . . . exactly.

  • Brandon February 24, 2011, 11:13 pm

    Does reading the prequels count? I feel like I should give the follow-up series after Dune a shot, but they seemed pretty out there… maybe now’s a good time to try it again.

    But I think my next book is going to be a re-read of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. I like that story!

    Anyways, post Dune books will go back on my to-read list!

    Thanks for the review.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 25, 2011, 11:29 am

      I haven’t read “The Moon.” I’ll give it a try, thanks!

  • Eric | Eden Journal February 25, 2011, 7:14 am

    I’d rethink your new title. Having not read this book, I picture the you as the Sub-Basher smashing sandwiches with your meaty fists. Or maybe that’s equally as impressive as whatever it means in the context of this book. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne February 25, 2011, 11:28 am

      No way. The context wasn’t even important, I just liked the sound of it. And as it happens I love to smash sandwiches.

  • Michelle February 25, 2011, 9:15 am

    I had to smile when you said, “And I have to tell you that I’m listening to it on audio this time around…” Because that was about the point where I was thinking to myself, “You should try listening to the audio book.”

    My husband is obsessed with the Dune series. Like most, I read the first 3 and just couldn’t get into the 4th. My husband also loves audiobooks, particularly of the Dune series. I listened to most of the audiobook of God Emperor. Although when we do listen to the audiobooks of Dune, I always complain about the voice of Leto, it doesn’t even come close to the voices in my head. [insert hearing voices joke here]

    • Josh Hanagarne February 25, 2011, 11:28 am

      Michelle I need you to record your most imperious voice and send it to me. I can’t imagine what it sounds like if it’s that far beyond the guy reading Leto.

      • Michelle February 25, 2011, 11:31 am

        I just imagined much more booming and a lot less snivelly. He was pompous in the wrong way.

  • Heather February 25, 2011, 9:52 am

    Wife amd worm. . . OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH, THE DIRTY JOKE POTENTIAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve never been able to read the Dune series. Sting ruined it for me. He tried to mess up Frankenstein, but the joke’s on him because I had already read it long before the movie came out with him in it. Sting ruins everything–yoga, jazz, movies about the Sex Pistols. . . . SIGH. . .

    • Josh Hanagarne February 25, 2011, 11:27 am

      Sting ruins everything? Wow, Heather. I’ll make sure he never writes a post here.

      • Heather February 25, 2011, 1:50 pm

        THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀

  • Ellis February 25, 2011, 11:24 am

    I only liked The first 2/3: Dune, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. I don’t do to well with series that span millennia.

  • chad February 25, 2011, 8:33 pm

    I could not help but imagine the wormified emperor sounding exactly like Truman Capote.

  • Chris aka "Happy Cat" June 16, 2011, 6:43 pm

    GEoD was the first Dune novel I read and I loved the philosophy espoused. Yes, the talk-to-action ratio is pretty high, but I found it interesting. And I was 15 at the time! Just a note on Leto’s appearance as described in the book:
    In the novel Leto II’s face is described as human height above the ground and surrounded by a “cowl” (like a monks robe) formed by pulling back the encroaching worm flesh. The face is human sized and flesh colored. Herbert makes a point of saying how the pink flesh is almost lost in the mass of worm armor.
    Beneath the face are his arms, still quite human. The diameter of his body is about the same diameter as his height. So he is like a six-foot-wide ribbed worm with a face in front and near the top with arms beneath, not a giant head sticking out the end like in many book illustrations (see above).
    Also, his rear legs are now mismatched, withered flippers and his brain has migrated down the length of the worm body. The entire body is (if I remember correctly) about 20 or 25 feet long.

    The proportions in this pic are about as described:

    In this pic his diameter is smaller (as it is in most art) and the “head” of the worm uses the tired “3 petaled flower” design that was made popular by the Lynch film, but it’s a beautiful illustration:


    p.s.: I hate the flower petal mouth design. The book is vague about how they open, but from what I remember it was similar to a giant sphincter that gaped and then contracted. So I guess the worms in Herbert’s mind looked something like an enormous uncut penis when they closed their mouths.

  • Jamie November 13, 2011, 11:08 pm

    I just finished Children of Dune. While I didn’t find myself totally enraptured like I was with the first two, I liked it. However, I seriously started questioning whether the series had jumped the sandworm toward the end; I wondered if it was time to call it quits. But, after reading your review, I’ve decided to forge ahead. Let’s hope I don’t feel the urge to poke myself with a gom jabbar after reading a few pages…