Sep 30, 2007

[Books] The Butlerian Jihad (Legends of Dune - Book 1)

The Butlerian Jihad is the first of a trilogy of prequel novels written by Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert's son, and Kevin J. Anderson of Star Wars novels fame set far in the past of the Dune Universe. In the Legends of Dune trilogy, the pair decided to try their hand at fleshing out the backstory of the Dune Universe in order to explain how things came to be as they were by the time of the core 6 books of the Dune Chronicles written by Frank Herbert himself.

I'm no big fan of the extended Dune universe that Brian and Kevin have been establishing beyond Frank Herbert's death, but in the interests of perhaps catching even a glimmer of the original notes and plans for such "historical" accounts, I picked the books up. Besides, it was important in order to understand the last two books in the overall series that Brian and Kevin have been releasing, which clearly have very strong ties to this prequel.

The Butlerian Jihad takes place more than 10,000 years before the events documented in the first novel, Dune and thus it's a tad easier to judge Brian and Kevin's writing apart from the main universe since most of the recognizeable elements are gone. It feels almost like an entirely different line of books since this is the time before such core elements like the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and the Spacing Guild and even before the Fremen.

Despite this somewhat greater freedom as compared to working well within Frank's established universe, the book still felt odd to me, perhaps a bit too far off or too foreign as compared to the rest of the series. You don't feel quite the same level on intelligence and careful thought put into the crafting of the story as you felt with Frank Herbert's original books, which at time felt loaded with philosophical and perhaps even theological arguments and complications. This book, like the others written by Brian and Kevin, still felt overly simplistic at points with their short chapters and somewhat stereotypical typecasting and caricaturist characterization.

Still, the book addresses a void in the universe and history of Dune - how the machine war came to be and why did the Known Universe seem almost feudal and primitive despite being so far in the future. It presents us with the war against Omnius, ruler of the Synchronized Worlds and his machine empire. It speaks of the precursors to the tripod of power that we came to appreciate and respect in the latter books and of course before the Atreides-Harkonnen blood feud.

If you're interested in learning more about what could have been the worlds of Dune's past, then feel free to pick up this book. Don't expect it to beat any of the core 6 books of the Chronicles anytime soon, but still it's something to appreciate and enjoy for what it is, with a fair amount of salt on-hand, I suppose.

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