Thirty five hundred years has passed since the end of the previous book. Leto II (I will just call him Leto for the sake of brevity) has been the God Emperor of the known Universe practically all this time. He is not shy about using pure despotic methods of governing when he feels like it. Unfortunately with all his infinite wisdom he forgot the most important one: a smart despot knows when to leave; the stupid one remains in power until his subjects remove his head – against his wishes obviously. As a result practically everybody and their brother want Leto gone. Heck, I wanted him gone. I can only think of two exceptions: his fanatical and specially cultivated Fish Speakers and his majordomo Monteo scared into submission by constant mood changes of his not entirely human and sometimes homicidal boss.
Unfortunately Leto is very slow when it comes to taking a hint, so he stays. He continues making endless philosophical speeches about everything in a true prophet fashion: in the most runaround possible way. Ask the guy (being) about the color of the sky and you will receive a speech worth a couple of pages. I assure you, you will not find word “blue” anywhere in the answer. Thus Leto committed the ultimate sin: you can be a despot and sometimes your people can tolerate and even forgive you, but absolutely nobody wants an Emperor who baubles non-stop. This leads to total rebellion.
The book has an excellent beginning which made me really excited. Thirty five hundred years has passed and it means all the annoying people of the first trilogy are long dead. The story starts with a great action scene (the only one in the book, it turned out later) featuring Dune rebels. The philosophical speeches of Leto were quite refreshing in the beginning. I loved what I was reading more than the last two books and thought everybody who gave the novel low rating had no clue.
About 150 pages later the rebels mysteriously disappeared never to be heard again. Leto’s word diarrhea started to get on my nerves. Blah blah blah Golden Path blah blah blah I am not a despot blah blah. A normal human being can only read so much of it before it gets really old. I need to add that Leto never bothers to explain what the Golden Path is about except that humanity is doomed without it.
Both Leto and the author himself try to convince the readers – real and imaginary – that the God Emperor is not a despot, using exactly the same argument every single despot in recorded history justified his behavior, including the classic one:
My answer to Leto would be slightly paraphrased well-known saying: if you walk like a despot and quack like a despot – you are a despot. What else do you call a monarch with unlimited power who kills his subjects when he is in the right mood? No Golden Path can change it.
In the last part of the book – where I get to on sheer willpower – Leto finally shut up to my surprise. The moment he did everybody started to behave like teens on serious hormone overdose. My apologies to teens in real life; this is a cliché and rarely happens. I mean to this extent. Let me just mentioned that all the people in question were grown-up adults; I am not even sure this term applies to Leto. I suddenly realized I became a faithful of God Emperor as I promptly went down on my knees and prayed, “Oh, God Emperor! Hear your faithful. Please enlighten your undeserving worm with one of your heavenly speeches and make these kids stop”. Needless to say my prayer was not answered. So much for God Emperor.
One of the first disappointment of the book was continuous recycling of poor Duncan Idaho. Leto seems to be fond of resurrecting him and killing the guy the moment he showed an independent thought. How many times do you want to stumble upon the same stone? As many times as can fit into thirty five hundred years that is how many. His personality changed dramatically: in the three books he was a selfish hero completely loyal to his masters (the way dogs are loyal). In this book he is a lovesick teen – well in mature age by years count. Then again if Leto being 3509 years old acts the same, there is no shame for Duncan to behave so.
One of the biggest plot holes is related to this guy as well. To explain it I assume everybody knows Dune – from the book, or movies. The original guy died a heroic death giving Paul and Jessica time to escape. His countless clones keep his memory. Yet during the first meeting of a brand new Duncan Idaho – fresh from a cloning factory – and Leto II the latter asks, “Do you remember me?” Duncan answer with yes. Leto II was born way after the original Duncan died. How the hell his clone was supposed to remember him? Especially considering the fact that the current incarnation spent the majority of his time wondering what happened to previous ones? There is no way the memories are shared between incarnations.
One more fact I found hard to believe: nothing much changed during 3500 years between the books. Even considering that Leto suppressed all changes, that many years is a lot of time. May I remind you the whole recorded history of humanity took less than that and look at where we are now. We do not have any wars anymore. Sorry, scrap that. We go to work by flying cars. Sorry, scrap that too. We conquered terminal diseases like cancer and AIDS. Sorry, I keep coming up with bad examples. I guess we are still not that different from our distant ancestors who just discovered the wonders of controlled fire.
The whole book is way below the level of the first trilogy. This is not just my opinion. The original illustrator thought so too and decided a phallic symbol is needed to salvage the novel. And thus the following cover was born:
This cover promptly ends up among the top three positions of all worst science fiction covers lists by the way. This shows people have no appreciation for true art. Herbert himself used similar symbolism in the novel when Leto commanded a woman dying of thirst to caress the inside folds of his worm body until water mixed with spice comes out to satisfy the woman’s thirst. I am not even commenting on this one.
So the book started on strong 4 star rating level which became 2 stars fairly fast and remained this way until the end when it ended up in 1 star territory. It is not completely hopeless and Leto’s ramblings are interesting until they overstay their welcome, so 3 stars is the final rating.