Dune’ was a great Science Fiction novel by Frank Herbert that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. It was followed by some interesting sequels also written by Frank and then by some longer and less interesting ones. A vast interstellar empire with assorted groups competing for power offers plenty of scope for stories so his son decided to continue the franchise.
Mentats Of Dune’ is the middle part of ‘The Schools Of Dune’ series, coming between ‘Sisterhood Of Dune’ and ‘Navigators Of Dune’. I think it’s also the longest. It felt like the longest. At times, it felt like the longest book I’ve ever read.
The clear, efficient prose does its job which is to tell the story in short chapters with the point of view switching every time, the classic mode of thriller writing now. We see the thoughts of every character. Actually, ‘character’ is too rich a word because they are nearly all fanatical motivations made flesh. None of them is seeking to settle down and be happy or improve their souls. All they want is to conquer everybody else. Josef Venport wants to take humanity to every world in existence with his Navigators and put all rivals out of business.
He’s a sort of interstellar Jeff Bezos. Valya Harkonnen wants revenge on Vorian Atreides for shaming Grandad back in the Butlerian war. Legless Manford Torondo hates computers and his crazy supporters will attack any planet that might have them. Emperor Salvador wants a peaceful life and a bit of fun and his brother, Roderick, tries to hold the Imperium together. Mother Superior Raquella and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood is forever planning to breed a better person or at least a more efficient person. Gilbertus Albans wants to make men Mentats, computers in fleshy form. There’s a streak of Nazism in all of this obsession with power and efficiency. The only good guys in the book are Gilbertus Albans, Roderick Corrino and Vorian Atreides.
The title would lead you to believe that the focus is on the Mentat school but it isn’t really, any more than ‘Sisterhood Of Dune’ was mostly about the Bene Gesserit. Everyone gets equal coverage. At the end, I realised that the deciding factor in the title school is the location of Anna Corrino, the Emperor’s daughter. She was with the Bene Gesserit for ‘Sisterhood Of Dune’ and with the Mentats for this one. To say more would be a spoiler.
The main flaw with the book is that it goes on for too long. The point of view switches around the different protagonists and the reader is constantly reminded of what they want, who they hate, what just happened and so forth. The repetition is unnecessary and tedious. Most of the middle of the book goes on and on like this. To be fair, it does start to move faster after page 400 and speeds, if you can call 254 more pages speeding to a conclusion as the people who have been stating their desires for first two-thirds of the book finally decide to take action. Mind you, I prefer short stories, so readers who like long books (most, apparently) may be used to this.
‘The Schools Of Dune’ trilogy is part of an on-going series that makes money for Brian, son of Frank, Kevin J. Anderson and the publishers. Brian Herbert has three daughters so if one of them takes up the series and passes it to the next generation it might go on forever or until Manford Torondo slaughters the Herberts for using word processors.
That said, the books aren’t bad. Comparing them to the rich originals by father Frank is a pointless exercise and, to be fair, even they were getting tedious at the end. These are ripping yarns, space opera in the mode of ‘Star Wars’ which Kevin J. Anderson churns out in reams along with many other film and TV spin-offs. So he’s a hack. There are many hacks now churning out twenty-volume sagas to fill the virtual bookshelves.
Writing half-way decent pulp fiction is an occupation that takes talent and a lot of hard work. You have to produce stories that will keep readers turning the pages and pay at least some attention to character, though not a lot. I’d be a hack if I had the energy. Alan Dean Foster was a proud hack, as was Robert Silverberg in his early days. The ‘Dune’ series is easy reading but will take up a not inconsiderable portion of your life that might be better spent or worse, to be fair, it’s a good story and that counts for a lot.
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/