Published: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006
The original Dune is one of my favourite books, as it is for many science fiction readers. (The blurb for this novel claims that it is the bestselling science fiction novel of all time.) Frank Herbert's own sequels, while good, were not in the same class as this classic and, particularly later on, began to introduce elements which diluted the force of Dune itself. So when Brian Herbert (Frank's son) and Kevin J Anderson began producing novels in the Dune universe, expanding on the detailed background to the story, I never bothered to read them, especially after I read some lukewarm reviews. This novel is a bit different: it is a sequel to Chapterhouse Dune, based on a rediscovered outline by Frank Herbert himself; it will be followed by (at least) two more. This sequel has been something that fans of the series have long wanted to see; Frank Herbert's death made it seem that the loose ends in Chapterhouse Dune would never be cleared up authoritatively.
The novel follows three major points of view, following on from the ending of Chapterhouse Dune. One is that of the community centred round Duncan Idaho, fleeing mysterious hunters in a stolen ship; the second is that of the Bene Gesserits left behind on Chapterhouse led by Duncan's wife, attempting to bring about a union with the Honoured Matres to combat an unknown threat from beyond the worlds of the Old Empire. These two are relatively familiar, involving many already established characters. The third is different, being that of a Tleilaxu geneticist, who has to face the twin blows of the defeat of his people by the Honoured Matres (though he himself was part of a group allied with them) and the discovery that the long time Tleilaxu servants, the Face Dances, have developed into creatures far beyond their original design, with their own purposes at odds with their erstwhile masters. While always present, particularly in the last couple of books, the Tleilaxu have never been as close to centre stage in Frank Herbert's work. They become more important thanks to the discovery of a secret held by the Tleilaxu Masters, which the reader of Chapterhouse Dune knows but the other characters only find out halfway through Hunters of Dune. This is that they have cells preserved from famous people of the distant past which can be used to reincarnate them; these people include the principal characters of Dune itself.
There is not actually very much plot in Hunters of Dune, particularly compared to the labyrinthine twists and turns of Dune (or even, to a lesser extent, most of Frank Herbert's other novels). It is like the middle novel in many fantasy trilogies, there to keep the traditional number of volumes but just describing relatively uneventful activity between the scene setting of the first and the climax of the third. It covers a longer period of time than the other novels, but I feel that everything in this novel could have more effectively treated as backstory for the later resolution of the saga. For example, it doesn't seem to be important to document the details of the attempts to unite the Honoured Matres and the Bene Gesserit, and anything from this story needed for the future plot of the series could be mentioned in passing.
There are problems in this novel which derive from the particular loose ends left in Chapterhouse Dune. It is hard to see just why the characters think that cells from thousands of years in the past are so valuable. I suppose that if someone said they were able to create a clone of Jesus or Mohammed, people would be interested today, and the clones themselves might be made to serve some political purpose. Here, though, the timescales are such that this would be more like resurrecting an Egyptian pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar for their insight into the problems of the Middle East. The Dune universe may be peculiarly static (in the thousands of years that pass during the saga, there are few important technological innovations), but new factions such as the Honoured Matres, and the impossibility of applying the prescience that several of the ancient cloned individuals possess to the majority of the humans alive at this point of the saga make it hard to feel that the contributions the clones could make will be significant. (Obviously the further novels in this conclusion will make a great deal of use of the clones, but it will take a really impressive coup de theatre to convince me that it makes sense.) There are other details which jar as Herbert and Anderson expand on them, which would give things away if I expanded on them.
In the end, the central problem in Hunters of Dune is that the lack of an exciting plot proves a difficulty beyond the abilities of the authors. Since the only interest here turns out to be the way that Frank Herbert tied up the loose ends, I would have preferred just to read his outline as he left it and saved myself the time required to read three or more full length novels. Further novels continuing this story will be ones I skim through, say in the local public library, rather than books I buy for re-reading in the future.