Dune: House Atreides
Although I genuinely enjoy Frank Herbert’s original novels, these 2nd generation novels furtive attempts at capturing the essence of his universe lack finesse as well as grace (at least this one does). Having grown up reading Kevin J Anderson, I know him to be a strong writer with a firm grasp on characterization and form. I can only surmise that he deferred too much steering of the authorship to Brian, who I will refer to by his first name rather than his last to denote that he in no ways live up to Frank Herbert’s legacy. While the various plot points do manage to solidly encapsulate the evil vindictiveness of the Harkonnens and the Corrinos, the book is fracturous, with too many points of view in too many places with little connectivity, too few of which are female. In an effort to set the stage for the latter two books in the trilogy, a great many characters are introduced. While some lose their POV after the first couple chapters, other characters are given a great deal of time to develop. The three characters that one would hope would have the most consequence, both from being original Herbertian characters, as well as figuring as protagonists on the buildup toward their birth rite novel, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Duncan Idaho and Leto Atreides are all varieties of static. The Baron is given no valid reason for his early viscous attitudes, although Brian cleverly fashioned the impetus for his eventual bloated suspensor-assisted treachery. I considered labeling the Baron as an antagonists because probably anyone who's seen Dune would say that he is, except in this case everyone is an antagonist--virtually all of the book's characters are hedonistic, self-righteous and seek to sabotage everyone else (except for Pardot Kynes). Duncan Idaho wins the hand-wave grand prize for being a completely unbelievable pre-pubescent lone, cunning, planet-hopping soldier based solely on the death of his paper-pusher parents. To claim this character is “larger than life” would be ironic and ridiculously understated. Unnaturally lucky, 8 year old Duncan manages to thwart seasoned Harkonnen hunters and cross multiple hemispheres of a planet with no resources. Leto Atreides, raised by a doting much-beloved king in a wholesome fishing monarchy not unlike Scandinavia, comes off as sadly both stupid and weak willed. Leto’s naiveté and regurgitation of his mother’s rhetoric paints him as useless during a planetary revolt, forcing his business-minded hakoiri musume playmates to orchestrate their escape. This book does little if anything to set Leto up as the eventual martyred hero, though it should be noted that for this book Jessica hasn’t been born yet—the claim could be made that her influence changes him irrevocably…Yet, these three are still given far more development than any of the female characters. A possible love interest for Leto, Kailea, is given one brief scene to introduce her personality as haughty and profit-driven, seemingly devoid of girlish fantasies and friends. Afterwards she fades into the background, apparently since her goal of joining court in the Imperial planet Kaitain is no longer viable. Although it’s not clear if Leto actually has a crush on her, if so it’s difficult to understand why. But speaking of women connected to Leto, his mother is also quite the puzzle. Helena is possibly the worst choice to marry Paulus. Frigid, aloof and Orange Bible-thumping, Helena barely shows any warmth for her son and is constantly concerned with appearances. Leto doesn’t understand her, and the reader isn’t given the chance to. The one female narrator Brian offers us for more than one chapter is the Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohiam. Helen comes to as something of an unwilling participant in the Landsaard. We understand that she has a great many powers to control her physical being and that she willing follows the edicts of the Bene Gesserit. Beyond that the only part of her personality that the reader really sees is her taking pleasure in seeing Baron Harkonnen undone. Clearly Brian doesn’t understand enough about women characters to write them with any contributing value, a huge a disappointment since he is probably the only one who will ever be able to publish in the Dune universe. Why Kevin J Anderson, a writer who has proven he can work with strong female protagonists didn’t fight harder for their inclusion is mystifying. The one aspect of House Atreides that appeals to the reader is Brian’s land and mindscapes. Doubtless Brian recognizes and tries to duplicate the use of the acid trip in his father’s work, which is definitely an important touch. Additionally, Brian paints beautiful vistas such as the cavernous stalactite city of Vernii, obviously an homage to D’ni (they even rhyme) and some descriptions of Arrakis, Kaitain and Caladan. The setting Brian paints isn’t always complete and it could stand a little improvement, but it does set the scene well. The obvious answer to the question of why House Atreides fails to impress is found in its nature. Being the first part of a trilogy that seeks to setup all the behind the scenes plot devices and innuendos for Dune, House Atreides obviously has a great deal of ground to cover. Yet, some things appear totally superfluous, such as Mohiam’s giving birth to one child that didn’t measure up to the Bene Gesserit expectation from Vladimir Harkonnen. Thus the reader has to revisit the distasteful “sexual” encounter between her and Harkonnen again, supposedly to show how serious the Bene Gesserit are about their breeding program. Beyond which it seems to contribute nothing and wastes the reader’s time. In any film adaptation (which hopefully will never exist), these two scenes would be merged but perhaps Brian found something compelling in that scenario that isn’t at first obvious.Brian also skillfully uses another homage to help the story past its built-in handicap of no faster-than-light communication between worlds. No doubt suggested by Anderson, in one case a character is given an acid trip vision of an incredible invention that he afterwards goes about creating. This device allows him to gestalt his telepathic abilities (the reader is expected to buy into his telepathic abilities since he was a candidate to be a Guild Navigator) across the light years to connect synchronously with his twin brother. The concept is lifted from Anne McCaffrey’s Talent and the Hive series (and perhaps from other places) and in addition to its nostalgic factor, the idea plays on the edict of from the Great Revolt of the Butlerian Jihad to develop the human rather than the machine mind… although its execution in story is another rudimentary hand wave.In conclusion, House Atreides, taken by itself, does little to live up to the precedent of highly sophisticated science fiction novel writing set by Frank Herbert. For the purposes of fairness, House Atreides' numerous stomach-churning bouts of amoral behavior shouldn't be wholly foisted on Brian for inheriting such a series, but too few of his characters are capable of taking the moral high ground and those that are could still benefit from further characterization. With a multitude of shallow characters, the reader is left with a bad taste and the beginnings of a search for science fiction that centers around a few characters with actual development.