Heretics of Dune
August 4, 2016 2:09 PM - by Frank Herbert - Subscribe

The 5th book of the Dune saga, details the events 1500 years after God Emperor, as the great powers of the universe grapple for control in the shadow of Leto II's legacy.

the long awaited next posting in The Dune Club
posted by grandsham (11 comments total)
I listened to this on audiobook some months ago, and these are my primary memories of it:

In the parlance of our times, I found every single time the Honored Matres were referred to involving someone spitting the word whores! increasingly problematic as things staggered along.

I burst out laughing during one bit where one of the Bene Gesserit smugly corrects a would-be intelligence briefing fellow on how well actually there aren't 93 sexy sexual sexing chakras but 97 and he's all very nearly POWER LEVEL 9000!!! over it.

Also anyone passing by me at ghola vs matre sexfight scene would have clearly heard me mutter aloud "jesus christ, frank." Aging sci-fi authors in the 70s and 80s, man. I don't know.
posted by Drastic at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by poffin boffin at 12:31 AM on August 5, 2016

I'm not often a proponent of strong DRM, but Duncan Idaho really needed some.
posted by mordax at 1:50 AM on August 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Alternately, he was a prescient (so to speak) illustration of the dangers of ever-telescoping copyright abuse. If he'd just been more open source, culture might have been able to do something more interesting with the IP, because the Bene Tleilax were clearly just spinning their wheels with it.
posted by Drastic at 6:30 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

... and now I want a FREE DUNCAN IDAHO button. Hahaha.

Also, I should've been paying more attention to Fanfare Talk and actually reread this. Looking back, I mostly remember also cringing at the Honored Matres stuff and being confused about why the series needed sequels after God Emperor. I liked seeing what became of Leto II, and the acknowledgement that maybe prophecy would cause more problems than it solved, but that felt like a pretty good capstone.

(A quick Googling indicates his son is now continuing to desecrate the franchise with sequels to this for... some reason?)

Looking forward to what the rest of you - hopefully the more diligent rest of you - thought about the events herein.
posted by mordax at 1:35 PM on August 5, 2016

for... some reason?

posted by Chrysostom at 8:29 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I still have trouble wrapping my head around people paying money for those things, but I suppose that's derail territory.
posted by mordax at 10:43 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

i downloaded pdfs and ms reader versions and i feel absolutely no shame about having done so aside from the shame that comes with having read them in the first place and having actually kind of enjoyed them in a weirdfic sort of way.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:42 PM on August 8, 2016

but tbh there are a lot of parts in heretics and chapterhouse that are already verging into weirdfic territory, such as the bits noted in drastic's comment above.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Did this stall out before anyone finished Chapterhouse? I'm reading it for the first time now and would welcome company.
posted by mrcrow at 4:23 PM on September 27, 2017

Man, this book fucked me up as a kid.

Frank Herbert's take on psychosexual gender relations (I stand by this euphemism) is all kinds of convoluted and problematic, but my take on this book was always that the Honored Matres are not intended to be seen as wholly villainous, and that the repeated epithet of "whores" is intended to speak poorly of the people who oppose them, not just of the Matres themselves.

The key epiphany in this book, lorewise, is the revelation that axolotl tanks aren't actually a technology the Tleilaxu invented—they're literally horrifically abused women. Dune is, on some levels, a series contrasting the sacred masculine with the sacred feminine (I hate those terms but they're a convenient shorthand); while the "over"-narrative is driven entirely by men and is focused on conquest and political scheming, the "under"-narrative is driven by the gentle women trying to undermine that impulse. The Dune sextet as a whole is about a grand project to undo humankind's most violent urges, manifested both as hierarchy and as literal bloodshed; its central series of protagonists is a series of men who are both predestined to become central conquering figures and who live their lives trying to scheme a way towards rejecting this destiny, rejecting their duty to conquer, rejecting phallocentricity as a whole. (That phrase also sucks ass but, again, it's convenient shorthand.)

The Matres, in Heretics, are part of Leto II's grand scheme. They are a spirit of vengeance, unleashed upon the universe as a direct byproduct of the Tleilaxu's reduction of women to literal breeding tanks; their methodology consists of reducing men to their most animal impulses, removing the "human" capacity for willpower and restraint that Herbert literally opens the series with, using their savagery against them. "Whore" is used as an epithet across the series, and is often directed towards protagonists; it is almost always aimed at women who seek to take agency, not even over other men, but over their own worth as perceived by said men. It's a word used to denigrate women who lean into their "value" to men but claim it as theirs by right, theirs to use, theirs to leverage in the name of more human and self-directed goals. The Matres are just the climactic exaggeration of those tendencies. And if they're bloodthirsty and deranged, well, they can't be more of those things than the original Fremen were, can they?

Where the Matres split from the Bene Gesserit is that a major part of the Gesserit political ethos is to convince men that they're still in control. A Bene Gesserit operates as a sleeper agent, using a masterful understanding of other people—but predominantly and overwhelmingly men—to make them react the right way in certain situations without realizing it. The entire Kwisatz Haderach program was to breed a single man, after years of maneuvering other men into breeding properly, who would function as the perfect figurehead. And the Matres response to that is basically...... nah, fuck that. Fuck leaning into that vision of womanhood as powerful because of its ability to steer men around without being detected. Fuck the Helen of Troy archetype altogether. They are here to kick holes in some dudes and make puppets out of others. And their genocidal spree is still less horrific than what the Tleilaxu have done to them for upwards of twenty thousand years.

The master plan includes eventual reconciliation. Which is where the series ends: the Matres incorporated back into the overall sociopolitical model that has been gradually, unintentionally developing. Women realized as whole, permitted to be openly autonomous, able to operate on the "over"-narrative in a way that only men were permitted to do before—and, on the flip side, men permitted to exist on the "under"-narrative, masculinity ceding control to femininity. (And, at the same time, women permitted "masculine" sides and men permitted "feminine" ones, which is a separate dimension altogether.)

IMO it is a very funny and very bleak joke to suggest that it takes humankind 20,000 years to get to that point, but then my overarching take on Dune is that the whole thing is a melodramatic and exaggerated dark take on humanity, often employed to comic effect.

Anyway, the big grand sex scene between Murbella and Duncan Idaho is Herbert's attempt to depict sex as a psychological and political and psychedelic revelation, which is extremely cringe on some level but pretty impressive on another (ymmv). It maybe shouldn't be some grand revelation that it ends with each admitting a dependency on the other, a yin-and-yang in which each has total control over the other but can't abuse it because each is simultaneously in the other's thrall. But in a lot of ways it functions as the lynchpin to the entire series, depicting not only the "duelist" nature of individuals (we are each masculine, feminine, a brain, an athlete, a basket case...) but the way in which, even assuming this binary male/female divide, there is such an interdependency that the only possible stable reconciliation is unequivocal union.

I feel like all this is either what drew David Lynch to work with this material, or working on the material inspired Lynch's future, because a lot of this shows up in his work, under various guises. But you can honestly look at Dr. Jacoby in Twin Peaks as a Frank Herbert stand-in and have it work astonishingly well.

In any event, on one level Heretics feels like a turning point in the series: the moment where it "breaks" towards hopeful, even as apocalypse crowds in on all sides. If Children of Dune is Leto first having his breakthrough vision of "the answer" and God Emperor of Dune is Leto's triumphant deliverance of his plan, Heretics is the first book that takes place in a literally Godless world, after ten thousand years of profound chaos. And it's the moment where the possible future is realized, not by an individual elite, but by a collective group of misfits, not through psychedelic revelation but by a far more mundane series of breakthroughs and coincidence. Everything seems fucked, up until the moment when everything instead feels inevitable. And Chapterhouse goes on to describe the emergence of a new possible stability, kind of like Asimov's Foundation only way more convoluted in every possible way.

(Given that Dune was partly written as an explicit Jungian take on Foundation, that feels utterly intentional, to me. And Hari Seldon, the world's nerdiest nerd, gets replaced with a giant God worm who fucks.)

Again, it's all a hot mess because Herbert was the ultimate 60s pervert, but to me, this is the book that lays out What It All Means in the clearest fashion. Which is such a funny thing to say, because it is also inarguably(?) the most convoluted and bizarre book in the series.

Anyway, I read this at, like, 11 or 12 or so, and it's probably a major reason why I dropped acid a decade later and went "oh, this all makes sense." A++++ would undergo psychosexual revolution again
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 6:52 AM on October 13, 2022 [6 favorites]

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