God Emperor Of Dune Book Review
The Dune series jumps forward 3,500 years...
I just finished reading God Emperor Of Dune by Frank Herbert. It is the fourth book in the Dune series and I enjoyed it.
The book continues the story of Leto II who in the previous book uses his powers to see the future and lead humanity on The Golden Path - the only path in humanity’s future that doesn’t lead to a total annihilation. Now Leto is no longer human and is in the process of becoming a giant sandworm.
Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds. That is the fun of Dune.
What Makes Dune Awesome
These books manage to hit a sweet spot of drama, action, and intrigue. There are also some big ideas lurking in the midst of all that. So on one level there are the political machinations of running a huge empire. On another level there are human and spiritual issues mixed in.
Like the other books, God Emperor Of Dune is a wild ride.
One thing I’ve noticed about how Frank Herbert writes these books is he sets them during the a pivotal moment in the empire, usually when the emperor is going to die or be dethroned. The books don’t explicitly say that, but that’s the pattern.
What makes that approach to storytelling so interesting is it puts the reader as close to a key event as possible. Along the way Herbert fills in some details and context about the world to help explain what’s going on. But, the details about the history or the culture or the characters isn’t the story. It’s world building.
The Dune series gives you just enough world building to tell the story, but withholds enough to keep you with questions and curiosities.
Leto II Becomes A God
This book in particular makes a wild jump 3,500 years forward in time after Children Of Dune. It talks about some of what happens in-between, but when you think about it, that’s quite a leap.
What makes this book even wilder is that it’s mostly about Leto II - who in the previous book was “a child who is not a child” and now is part man, part sandworm. It’s a very alien thing.
God Emperor Of Dune spends a lot of time with Leto talking, thinking, and revealing small bits of his plan. It explores the idea that he is filled with the multitude of past lives and past memories. He also has lived for thousands of years and has explored those memories. Those perfectly recalled life experiences combined with his foreknowledge of the future and nearly invulnerable sandworm body truly make him a god like creature.
The power Leto wields is used for a good purpose - humanity’s survival. But, not everyone sees it that way. There is an enforced peace. No more war, no more spice to fight over, no more religions, no more adventure, no more suffering, no more politics, etc. Unless you want to worship the God Emperor Leto II, it’s a less vibrant life.
Do The Ends Justify The Means?
And that is where the tension in this book lies. Is survival worth it? What does it mean to survive if what it means to live is less?
By the end of the book you get to see the full scope of Leto’s efforts and sacrifices to save humanity from itself. Leto trades his humanity, his love, his empire, everything for his Golden Path. It’s grotesque, lonely, and a bit sad.
In a way this plays off the previous ideas of Leto’s father Paul playing Messiah to the Fremen. Unlike Paul, who fits the more traditional human concepts of messiah (basically a galaxy conquering, future-seeing, perfect human sacrificial Jesus figure), Leto is an inhuman, grotesque, seemingly cruel figure who none can stand against.
Leto as God Emperor is an uglier take on what a savior could be. It’s a bit like if the world was run by a giant impersonal computer. It might optimize everything for “the good”, but you and your family might be lost along the way. Is that good? I don’t know. You probably wouldn’t think so. I don’t think I would either.
In a way it’s a bit like The Dark Knight movie’s take on Batman. It’s not the hero we want, it’s the hero we deserve. Leto II wasn’t what humanity wanted in a savior, but it was what they needed to survive.
Certainly makes you think.
I enjoyed the book as I’ve enjoyed all of the Dune series so far. If you are into sci-fi, political intrigue, or big thoughts around the nature of mankind, religion, etc. God Emperor Of Dune is something you might enjoy. Obviously read the other books in the Dune series first, otherwise this book will make no sense whatsoever.
P.S. Yes, I will go back and review the previous Dune books at some point too.
Dune itself was already a couple decades old when I purchased a boxed set celebrating the release of Chapterhouse Dune in 1985. Reading them while in high school, there were many deeper themes in politics, religion, sociology, ecology, etc. that I couldn't grasp fully at the time but I truly loved the series anyhow. That is the power of Herbert's masterpiece opus. I've always wanted to revisit the series as an adult in order to pick up that which I missed as a kid and still retain that same love for his world building, action and intrigue. I did re-read Dune before Denis Villaneuv's movie was released. It went much faster than I had anticipated. This story never gets old. Thanks for the review! Looking forward to hearing what you think of the rest.