Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Frank Herbert Gazes into the Deep Future
Frank Herbert’s Dune series is without question one of the most important bodies of work in science-fiction, influencing the writings of innumerable authors ever since the publication of its the first book, the one most people are familiar with. The later chapters tend to take somewhat different and interesting turns, a characteristic perhaps most prominent in the fifth novel, Heretics of Dune.
While I would certainly recommend reading the series from the beginning before diving into the later novels, I think in this particular case it’s something you could very much survive. The events are quite far-removed in this one in relation to the previous book, God Emperor of Dune, so if for some reason you really want to start your journey here, you probably can.
To proceed with the story at hand, the plot takes us 1500 years into the future after the events of the last book, presenting a world rather different from the one we’ve come to know previously. The Empire is essentially in ruins, humanity has scattered about the cosmos, and Arrakis is now a near-total wasteland known as Rakis.
To make matters worse for what little remains of humanity, the Lost Ones have begun to make their return, putting everyone on edge and ready for war. From the looks of it, what little remains of the human civilization is about to either be wiped out, or destroy itself through petty conflicts for power and resources.
However, everything is not lost, as an old prophecy told over 1500 years ago seems like it has finally kicked into the gear. On the wasteland of Rakis lives Sheena, a young girl who seems to have been born with the abilities of the Fremen sandriders, capable of controlling the ancient sandworm Shai-hulud. Though the end is nigh, it isn’t yet guaranteed.
Rebuilding the World in Heretics of Dune
The very first thing I would like to talk about in my review is how Heretics of Dune differs not only from the previous novel, but from all of its predecessors as well… and I don’t just mean the sudden jump in time by 1500 years, though it certainly plays a part in it.
In the previous novels, there was a certain emphasis placed on the forward movement of the story, advancing at a constant and enjoyable pace while sometimes giving way to world-building and character development. This time around, I felt like the pace had slowed down a fair deal, with the development of the setting often taking the centre stage.
In a certain sense, it almost felt like Herbert wanted to start a new chapter in the Dune series, and for this reason he decided to tear down the universe we’ve known up until now, for the express purpose of rebuilding it into something new. Though the shadow of the past and previously-established lore might hang over it, make no mistake, it is now an unfamiliar place.
I won’t lie, I was caught off-guard by this approach and didn’t really know what to make of it for a certain time. After a while though, I started coming around to the idea of spending so much effort on building the world, and I think the main reason for my opinion was Frank Herbert’s immense talent in this aspect of the craft, rivalled by only the greatest titans of literature.
It feels like we learn more than we ever did about the universe of Dune and its inhabitants, most notably peering much deeper into the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood which had retained its air of impenetrable mystery for a little too long. If the story of this world fascinates you as much as the tales of its people, then I think Herbert’s approach here is something you can definitely get used to.
The Complexity of the Power Struggle
While the author did dedicate much of his effort to creating and describing his new version of the universe, I certainly don’t want anyone to walk away thinking it’s all the book has to offer. The plot does move slower then before and the action is less prevalent, but both are very much there and have quite a bit to offer.
For starters, the plot of Heretics of Dune is full of complicated threads weaving across each other, in true Frank Herbert fashion. There are many players on the board, and it’s quite captivating to see them all walking their individual paths, ultimately meant to collide with each other. The power struggle between them is written in such a believable way it’s difficult not to take it seriously.
We seldom stop to think about it, but writing a cohesive plot with a large number of characters is a much greater challenge than it appears at first sight. The more cogs you have in a mechanism, the more complicated it inherently becomes, but Herbert handles this complexity like the professional he is. Every person has his or her distinct voice and purpose in a carefully-formulated larger scheme.
Though I wouldn’t have complained about it if it did happen, there was never a moment when I felt lost or failed to understand where the plot was heading. In part, I think this is due to the breaks we take with the afore-mentioned descriptive passages, giving us some time to process and digest everything we’ve learned.
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On top of this, Herbert also mixes in Eastern mysticism, philosophy and metaphysics into it, as he often does in this series. As always, none of it feels blunt or forced, nor does he try to shove his beliefs down our throats. Rather, they’re a natural extension of the world he created and feel as solid as the most basic facts of life.
The Final Verdict
Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert takes a somewhat different direction from the previous novels in the series, and in a certain sense hits a partial reset button on the whole thing. Nevertheless, it remains an astonishing work of science-fiction, one which does require a bit more patience and open-mindedness on the reader’s part.
If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, or are looking for a profound epic science-fiction novel which focuses heavily on world-building, then I do recommend you give this book a read.
(October 8th, 1920 – February 11th, 1986)
Frank Herbert was an American author who primarily wrote in the science-fiction genre, with the 1965 novel Dune and its five sequels being considered as his magnum opus.
He also worked as a newspaper journalist, a photographer, book reviewer, lecturer and ecological consultant.
In addition to being made into two movies, Dune also won the 1965 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1966 Hugo Award.