God Emperor of Dune is a surprising book for several reasons. The fourth book of the saga, it starts with the traditional time jump, but here instead of being a handful of years, some centuries have passed from the ending of the third book, Children of Dune. Centuries! This allows Herbert to focus on a lot of new characters and to introduce a different society than the one of Dune and which, apart from the change of emperor, hadn’t completely changed with Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.
However, there are a couple of familiar faces. First of all, Emperor Leto II, who’s 3500 years old and has little human characteristics left, he’s turning into an actual sandworm. And then here’s the inevitable Duncan Idaho, or rather, an almost infinite series of Duncan Idaho gholas from which Leto II seems to be unable to stay away.
The rest of the main characters are the following: Moneo, faithful servant of Leto; his daughter Siona, leader of the rebels; Nayla, the Fish Speaker of Leto’s female army, whom he himself has ordered to obey Siona at all times (even if she wants to do get rid of him); and the Ix ambassador called Hwi Noree with whom Leto (or, as he’s called by the rebels, the Worm) falls madly in love.
This book is therefore surprising because it focuses on a love story, indeed, more than one: Leto, Duncan, Hwi and Siona are linked together by intertwined love and hate relationships that are resolved in the sparkling ending, as always artfully built by the good Frank Herbert. There’s much more besides love stories, but honestly the book continues to deal with the themes already examined in the first books, above all power and religion.
And let me tell you: many parts of this book seemed redundant to me. For a good 70% of the time I had to read dialogues or monologues of Leto II who inevitably repeats himself a lot (and the book is almost 600 pages long). After a while, his parables, his vague answers, his reasoning about existence… get a little boring.
There’s no shortage of sharp moments: two examples on the military and on police are the following: “If there is no enemy, one must be invented. The military force which is denied an external target always turns against its own people.“, and “prisons and police and legalities (are) the perfect illusions behind which a prosperous power structure can operate while observing (…) that it is above its own laws.“
And let’s not forget the usual commentary on politicians: “The undeserving maintain power by promoting hysteria“. Leto II is also decidedly anti-religious when he says “Why should I want to loose a religion upon my people? Religions wreck from within – Empires and individuals alike!“
But I have the feeling that I had already read all this stuff in the first books, there’s nothing new. And there are also a couple of unacceptable passages, probably mainly due to the time in which the book was written. I think especially of how homosexuality is portrayed in armies, for example: “The homosexual, latent or otherwise, who maintains that condition for reasons which could be called purely psychological, tends to indulge in pain-causing behavior“. Ouch… Homosexuality is not a condition that emerges like this, by chance, and it certainly doesn’t make you a sadist! Unfortunately, here Herbert appears as a vulgar intolerant. It’s not surprising to find out that he removed one of his sons from his life because he was homosexual, actually.
In short, I’m not convinced by God Emperor of Dune. Perhaps it was the author’s intention, but at about two thirds of the book I was sick of the Worm, and therefore I felt close to humanity that for 3500 years had to put up with him as an omniscient Emperor!
Then I didn’t particularly like Duncan’s love for Hwi (as soon as he sees her it’s eternal love…?), nor Siona’s passion for Duncan (she has an orgasm watching him climb a wall…? WTF?). The story between Leto and Hwi is better, but it is not enough to compensate for the fact that Duncan’s character comes out as a temperamental teenager, very different from the warrior we knew in Dune and Dune Messiah!
In short, there’s an excellent first part, and a great finale, but I fear that the substantial central part with the rebels who are soon forgotten and the Bene Tleilaxu who make useless appearances here and there, has left me unsatisfied. But that won’t stop me from jumping into Heretics of Dune right away! Ciao!
PS: I discovered from Brian Herbert’s preface that God Emperor of Dune is a book of passage towards a new trilogy that his father Frank left unfinished, writing only the first two books (which I already own and will read soon).