God Emperor of Dune
March 2, 2016 7:30 PM - by Frank Herbert - Subscribe

Set several millennia after the events of the previous three books, God Emperor follows the latter days of the galactic reign of a transformed Leto II Atreides, son of Paul Muad'dib, and the society, and dissidence, that long rule has brought about.
posted by cortex (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Hey, this one's a lot less late, though I managed nonetheless to forget when I had said it was going to go up.)

So, this book! People often don't finish this book, this books is the series-killer, the lengthy read that brings total not-finish-eration, etc. I sure didn't the first time I tried to read it years and years ago. And yet, it's really good! There's a lot of nice Herbertian stuff going on here, and the huge break in continuity allows him to explore some new territory well and truly out from under the shadow of Paul et al.

And it feels to me like it's partly specifically that break in continuity, that move from a story about Paul and Alia and all the other Atreides and their surrounding characters and the drama and action they're caught up in to a foreign time and place and a central character so old and alone and ruminative that not-being-excited is his primary mode of being, that probably makes it so hard to jump in to God Emperor after the foregoing stories.

But, dang. It's the book that makes the series more than a twenty-year blip. In a universe built by Herbert around the idea of the Long Now and the capacity of human will and society to exceed by far the lifespan of any given human, opening the world up to thousands of years of actual change manages to legitimize that in a way that is far more concrete than just having characters talk about it, and makes it possible for the following books to take that further.
posted by cortex at 7:40 PM on March 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm reading through this now! This is the second time I've read it; the first time was years ago and I pounded through it without really understanding what was going on.

This time I kind of understand what's going on. It helps that I haven't read the other Dune books in quite a while, so I'm not necessarily stuck on finding out what happened immediately after Children of Dune.
posted by zompus at 8:01 PM on March 2, 2016


Okay, you've totally convinced me to give this another try.
posted by Specklet at 9:14 PM on March 2, 2016


This was my favourite after the original! In his history of science fiction "Trillion Year Spree" Brian Aldiss points out that it has a strong narrative focus: it tells a story based on a single character in Leto II. For me, that made it more enjoyable than the rambly previous two.

Dune was originally a long serial ("Dune World") in Analog magazine which I think consisted of Dune and Dune Messiah, I'm not sure if Children of Dune was part of it. I think that if read as a novel, "God Emperor" benefits from being written as a novel: it has a real structure.

I'm also haunted by the end: "pearls..."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:34 PM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


This was my favourite after the original!

Mine too. I haven't read it in years, but I went through it repeatedly when I was younger.

I think my favorite part was that Leto II knew he had to free people from his own rule, and the rule of people like him. (Dune was probably the most formative science fiction series I read when I was a teenager - everything from the play with Beast Rabban and Feyd to Leto II's need for someone like Siona was *fascinating*.)
posted by mordax at 9:42 PM on March 2, 2016


Oh cripes, you're going to make me read it again.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:20 PM on March 2, 2016


My favourite relationship is between Siona and Moneo; the latter sees the former as just treading in his footsteps, without ever realising that she'll do more than he ever could in fulfilling Leto's plan. It's a great metaphor against world-weariness and cynicism. Even more expounded when it becomes clear that it's all the Bene Gesserit's fault: their pursuit for prescience almost locked humanity into oblivion, before Leto found a way out of it.

I had forgotten the distinction against Moneo introduces between Leto and the Worm; that maybe Leto wasn't as in control as he thought (although the Golden Path did end up going exactly as planned).

Overall, a good book.
posted by kithrater at 1:19 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm also haunted by the end: "pearls..."

So this came up a bit in the Children thread but we didn't dig into it in real detail because it's kinda spoilery, but: one of the nice things about God Emperor is how it gives some actual concreteness and clear meaning to the idea of sacrifice and terrible purpose that's a big theme for Leto II in the previous book and beyond that goes all the way back to the original novel.

Like, rereading Children recently it was clear enough to me (and interesting to find it so!) the scope of the things Leto II was facing the prospect of willingly doing to himself, and so his doomy/dreamy visions of the future and his clash with Paul over competing paths into the future made a lot more sense instead of feeling like just kind of confusing unelaborated Bad Things Might Happen and/or A Pleasant Life Will Escape Me foreshadowing. Knowing that Paul was unwilling to do this strange, terrible thing to himself—become the hybrid worm, become the universal tyrant, and worst of all in the end become a shattered, mute, multi-headed consciousness trapped forever in the returned sandworm population—makes his own internal struggles in the first couple books make a little more concrete, personal sense beyond just not e.g. wanting blood on his hands from a jihad.

The body horror of Leto II's life-long transformation feels very Cronenberg, but the existential horror of his afterlife is on a whole different plane.
posted by cortex at 7:59 AM on March 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


And so there's an argument that could be made here, that Children should be read after God Emperor to really work, and that God Emperor works best after reading Children after reading God Emperor. Which is a nasty literary ouroboros, and doesn't come off as much of an endorsement of the two novels if viewed ungenerously, but given the themes of prescience and the murkiness thereof in the series it also feels awfully appropriate. A prophetic vision may not make sense except in hindsight, when it's no longer useful, etc.

But also, I can't get through one of these threads without mentioning The Encyclopedia of Dune because it is, for me, more than anything a really great companion to God Emperor in particular, having been written around/after this particular novel and folding in a lot of wonderful characterological and historical detail about that thirty five hundred year lacuna between books three and four. There's some great stuff on the various Duncan gholas, for example, and details about Leto's rule, about the artifacts he left behind, about the evolution of Arrakis and the way in which the galaxy responds over time to Leto II's passing and so on. It's a neat book and we should probably just have a dang thread about it at some point, though it being out of print and basically shunned by what remains of The Herbert Estate makes that a bit trickier.
posted by cortex at 8:06 AM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


it feels to me like it's partly specifically that break in continuity, […] that probably makes it so hard to jump in to God Emperor after the foregoing stories

I don't know, my own impression at least was pretty much the opposite — that the big historical flash-forward felt like the most interesting thing in the book, like Herbert really exercising his science-fictional imagination, while what made the book a bit of a slog (and, as it turned out, a harbinger of far worse slogs to come) was the inability to let go of the old continuity and characters, represented most obviously but not exclusively by the gholas. The version of this and the later Dune books that I hoped for but didn't get is the one that'd actually be able to let go of Duncan Idaho and do something else instead of using endless warmed-over repetition in clone form as an excuse for an increasing paucity of new ideas, like the repetition of the demand for another sequel made literal within the world of the book. I guess it works in God Emperor more than the later sequels to the extent that in this book it feels more psychologically motivated, like the gholas are the consequence of Leto himself having some weird fixation or repetition-compulsion, and goodness knows there isn't a lot of other dramatic tension or narrative drive in the book besides the mystery of what's going on in Leto's head, but it still felt to me like there was noticeably less sheer distance and science-fictional newness and strangeness/unfamiliarity here than you should get from a book premised on a millennia-long historical leap forward.
posted by RogerB at 11:47 AM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


RogerB: I thought that was the point of the Golden Path. Leto II was holding humanity back, making things deliberately static, and making everything revolve around him. The idea was that once you remove the one lynch pin holding the system together, everything flies off in every direction. Humanity is scattered in the same way Leto is scattered, and for mostly the same reason, to prevent any single part from being able to control the destiny of or threaten the survival of the whole.

Thinking on it, I have to wonder if Herbert ever read "Notes from Underground". One of the narrator's lines of argument in the first half of the book is that if you could rationally predict human behaviour: "man would purposely go mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point! I believe in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key! It may be at the cost of his skin, it may be by cannibalism!". It's sort of what Leto's counting on, and it's what the novels (the original ones) intimated caused the Butlerian Jihad. A violent reaction against inhuman control.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:09 PM on March 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the feeling of stagnation is easily attributed to the Golden Path scheme - although it doesn't explain why future books keep reusing the same characters! (Although having a familiar reference point as things go crazy is not to be underestimated)

Jumping the gun a little, but it is remarkable how detailed the society and world of the books up to this point are described, compared to the very sparse and anarchic presentation in the following books.

The other half of the Golden Path is also breaking prescience. In the Duneverse, seeing the future can lock that future into place. So if you try and see the end of humanity, then good job breaking it hero - you just caused it. The Golden Path breaks this by breeding fecund prescience-resistant humans (there were some who were already prescience-resistant like Fenring and Guild Navigators, but none that could breed).
posted by kithrater at 9:59 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re: Leto vs Paul in becoming the tyrant.

I also saw it as a function of how Paul became the KW as a teenager, and never really got absorbed by his ancestral memories, unlike Leto who danced very close to abomination from the get-go. Paul didn't trust himself to be able to navigate the frozen-future problem due to his experiences of being an ordinary mortal; Leto could overcome that fear by having never truly been an individual.
posted by kithrater at 10:03 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


God Emperor of Dune
By Frank Herbert

Leto II
Infinity.
Reader
Ouch, my head just exploded.
THE END
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:13 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing this in the school library and thinking, oh Dune, cool. Like the film which I like.
Then on reading it I was very confused!

I really like this one though.
It would be easy to carry on in the same time frame in the same way, but it's a bold (and I think necessary) move to jump the action thousands of years forward, completely change the landscape (political and otherwise) and really sell the horror of the Golden Path.
It shows Paul to be basically a failure, but an understandable one.
I like that Leto is pretty much universally hated because no one can know what he is doing, or understand why.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:25 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Better late than never?

I tried and died failed to enjoy this book as a kid, but got through it this time. I think on a very basic level body horror works on me in writing in a way it doesn't in film. I'm an special effects nerd so I know I'm looking at latex and silicone in movies... but in books it really gets to me.

I think the trout business was just like too much and I reflexively hated the rest of the of the book. The revulsion painted with a broad brush.

...that Children should be read after God Emperor to really work, and that God Emperor works best after reading Children after reading God Emperor. Which is a nasty literary ouroboros...

This sort of sums up my feeling about the entire series. Dune tells a story, the rest of the novels tell stories and build a universe. I'm definitely enjoying the content more this time around, but I don't know if that's because I have a better attention span or wiki's. Because I am going to wiki's a lot as I read, looking up and explaining "what Duncan is this? why is this one significant?" and that makes reading each individual piece a lot easier.

I know by a lot of literary "best practices" the idea that a reader needs a wiki to work their way through a book is probably 'bad' but I'm really enjoying the exercise. It's not unlike the non-core Tolkien (which I also love) in that it's almost more like history than typical fiction.
posted by French Fry at 8:27 AM on June 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


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