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Dune: The Battle of Corrin
Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 623 pages

Dune: The Battle of Corrin
Brian Herbert
Brian Herbert is the eldest son of SF giant, Frank Herbert. An honour student, he graduated from high school at 16 and married while a full-time student at UC Berkeley, where he received a BA in Sociology. His first two books were humour collections, Incredible Insurance Claims and Classic Comebacks. After that he moved on to novels, including Sidney's Comet, The Garbage Chronicles, Sudanna Sudanna, Man Of Two Worlds (with Frank Herbert), and Memorymakers (with Marie Landis).

Dune Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dreamer of Dune
SF Site Review: Dune: House Atreides
Bantam Spectra -- Dune Website

Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson was born in 1962 and was raised in Oregon, Wisconsin. At 10, he had saved up enough money from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs that he could either buy a bicycle or a typewriter -- he chose the typewriter and has been writing ever since. He sold his first novel, Resurrection, Inc., by the time he turned 25. Anderson worked in California for 12 years as a technical writer and editor at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he met his wife Rebecca Moesta and his frequent co-author, Doug Beason.

Kevin J. Anderson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Horizon Storms
SF Site Review: A Forest of Stars
SF Site Review: Dogged Persistence
SF Site Review: Resurrection, Inc.
SF Site Review: Dune: House Atreides
SF Site Review: Lethal Exposure

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kilian Melloy

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If a scaling noise is a sound, as is static, that does not change when a tape recording of it is slowed and speeded up, and if a scaling fractal is a shape, like the so-called Mandelbrot, that keeps on unfolding into identical patterns as you zoom in on it, then Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, in their epic Dune novels, are working from a principle of scaling history.

The Battle of Corrin follows up on The Butlerian Jihad and The Machine Crusade as the third in a trilogy of novels, collectively titled Legends of Dune, that both take their cues from the six Dune books by Frank Herbert, and provide a platform and more detailed back-story for the original novels. Brian Herbert -- son of Frank -- and co-writer Kevin J. Anderson also write toward their own earlier prequel trilogy, Prelude to Dune.

There's a nice parallel in the stories and titles of the first two books in the Legends of Dune triptych. The human "jihad" of the first book is a revolt of human slaves led by Serena Butler, mother of a murdered child named Marion. Humanity on planet Earth is dominated by "thinking machines," whose artificial intelligence is centralized in a main computer program called Omnius. Serena's son is the victim of a robot's unfeeling, casual tossing of the child from a rooftop, and the murdered child becomes a religious figure, much like the crucified Son of God thousands of years before -- and a flash-point around which humanity rallies to free itself from the tyranny of Omnius and his empire of "Symchronized Worlds." In The Machine Crusade, the battle against Omnius continues, as a league of free human worlds chips away at Omnius, outwitting his machine-perfect automated warships and his unending capacity to produce weapons with old-fashioned human inspiration. No one is more adept at exploiting Omnius' machine-mind literalness and lack of tactical innovation than Vorian Atriedes and his fellow jihadi, Xavier Harkonnen.

Now, in the third book, the war against Omnius is all but won -- with a heavy emphasis on that "all but." Humanity has managed to pin Omnius down on Corrin, the last remaining Synchronized World, and has established a heavy military presence to guard over the last copy of Omnius' "evermind." Also on Corrin with Omnius is Erasmus, an independent thinking machine whose studies of humanity include analyses of mortality, disease, pain, and suffering -- but also explorations of art, music, and even family. Erasmus has adopted and trained a human male, named Gilbertus, from childhood, instructing him in mental exercises and self-control until Gilbertus is nearly as mentally well-organized and formidably capable as a thinking machine himself. (When Erasmus starts calling him by the pet name of "my Mentat," a crucial piece of the Dune puzzle snaps into place -- as several large pieces do in this long, complex novel.)

Though Xavier Harkonnen sacrificed himself and his good name, in The Machine Crusade, he is hardly forgotten. Much of The Battle of Corrin takes place nearly a century after The Machine Crusade, but Herbert and Anderson provide narrative continuity in the person of Vorian Streides, whose father (a cyborg tyrant who has taken the name Agamemnon for himself) subjected him to a thinking machine-developed cure for aging long ago. At the age of 112, Vorian still looks about thirty (and his libido, as attested to by the many children he has sired around the galaxy, has stayed as youthful and vital as the rest of him). When the grandson of his old brother in arms Xavier adopts the name Harkonnen for himself as a defense for the political lies of expedience that the Army of the Jihad have accepted as truth, Vorian rewards his loyalty with protection from on high. Thus do the families Atriedes and Harkonnen continue to defend free humanity from the depredations of Omnius, who has not yet given up the war.

While the government for the League of Worlds hang out on planet Salusa Secundus, the League's capital planet, and do their best to ignore the threat posed by the now-contained Omnius, the Evermind's partners in war crimes keep their villainous imaginations in top form. A human collaborator named Yorek Thurr has squirreled himself away on Corrin also, and where Omnius' talent for creative chaos fails him, Thurr -- insane to begin with and even more of a lunatic after receiving anti-aging treatments -- proves himself murderously adept at dreaming up new ways to cripple the League, first with a biological weapon that brings the League to its knees, and then with tiny, self-replicating machines -- "piranha mites" -- that whir around like a cross between killer bees and buzz saws, literally pulping any human being in their path.

Herbert and Anderson take an absolute delight in the vast size of their creative canvas, gleefully folding the causes of the deadly engineered diseases into their fictive galactic civilization with the resultant effects: a virulent, violent, and irrational anti-technology cult that rises from the cooling ashes of the jihad. The obscene self-destructive nature of the cult is matched only by the perversity of the politicians who embrace it as a means to consolidating their power base -- and the resonances the novel's cult coruscates with are a match for our own perilous, real-world flirtation with turning government over to extreme strains of religion. But this is only one surface effect of the authors' clever plotting, because they also set the tone for the Dune novels to follow, thousands of years afterwards. The origins of Mentats is not the only surprise The Battle of Corrin has to offer; we're also given the founding of what will become the Bene Gesserit order, the almost inadvertent creation of the first of the Spacing Guild navigators, the forging and affirmation of the ferocious code of the Free Men ("Fremen," by the time of Paul Atreides) of the Arrakis deserts, and the genesis of the bad blood between houses Atriedes Harkonnen and Atreides.

This artful prequel expands enormously on Frank Herbert's original vision while staying true to its tone. There is something of a departure from the sci-fi eco-novel that was the original Dune, to zippily burnished space opera, but that's nothing that the elder Herbert didn't do himself in the five Dune sequels he penned. It's true that the book has an episodic feel to it, and that the episodes tend to feature the same cast of characters -- Vorian Atreides in particular is forever the hero at the heart of the action, but there are other pivotal figures as well who act as magnets for watershed moments -- and the fast, agile plotting of The Battle of Corrin is sometimes undercut by an infatuation with adjectives (every sentence seems to include something celestially purple and throbbing along the lines of, "the machines' evil plans," or "the cymeks' diabolical, nefarious deeds"... okay, I exaggerate, but only by the barest shade). There's also an inattention to scientific details (just how does an anti-aging regimen manage to counteract, say, the cumulative effects of everyday consequences of metabolism like free radicals and chromosomal damage? -- and how do those non-space-folding ships get around problems like the unforgiving constant which is the unsurpassable speed of light?), but the richness of the many plot strands, and the meticulous way in which they are all wrapped together at the end more than makes up for it. The most potent surprise might just be that aforementioned notion of scaling history, because the Dune books all share a common theme: no matter where in the galaxy humanity might venture, and what novel mental and physical forms mankind might adopt, the dictates of power and family and politics will forever be the same. Now twelve books long and spanning something like ten thousand years, the Dune saga transcends Star Trek-like simplicities of optimism for human evolution or even Star Wars-style certainties of the cycles of good and evil triumphing over one another. The future, according to Dune, is marvelously sloppy and complicated, with every seeming end game serving as a new opening chapter for something both fresh and familiar.

Copyright © 2005 Kilian Melloy

Kilian Melloy is the Editor at Large for wigglefish zine, and a columnist and reviewer for EdgeBoston.com. Hoping to make a living at this some day, for the moment Kilian is thrilled just to be talking to the creative, intriguing people he has the chance to interview for these and other web publications.


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