“A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.”
—Frank Herbert, The First Law of Mentat
Mentats of Dune was one of PopMythology’s pics of “things we’re looking forward to in 2014” and it’s finally arrived. Before we delve into this book in particular, a little review of this history of the Dune series itself is in order. The series was started by the father, Frank Hebert and is widely acknowledged to be the best science fiction series ever written. Indeed, the sheer imagination of the series and the worlds containing within are staggering. Even more than that, however, are the primal parallels drawn between the book and contemporary global politics and society, which elevate the series beyond science fiction to more classic literature.
After Frank Herbert’s death in 1986, his son Brian Herbert and fellow sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson took over the task of continuing the series and had done an admirable job of filling in many of the back stories. While the sheer literary genius of Frank Hebert may not be completely present in Brian and Anderson’s work, the flavor and imagination are there in full swing and he has provided the Dune series fans with many enjoyable tales including this latest one.
My expectation on hearing the title of this work, given son Herbert’s previous installations, is that it would fill in the back stories of Pietre de Vries and Thufir Hawat. Instead, what arose was a horrific tale about the Butlerian Jihad. For those of your not familiar with the series, the Butlerian Jihad is a war against “thinking machines”, which had obtained a despotic control in Dune: The Butlerian Jihad and were overthrown in Dune: The Battle of Corrin. In Mentats of Dune, the anti-technology movement is still in primary control of the universal government, but the Venport family is putting up resistance through economic control of interstellar navigation and the most important commodity – spice.
I do not use the term “horrific” to describe this tale lightly. The picture Brian Herbert has painted is all too familiar. On one side, we have blind faith fundamentalists – the Butlerians, vehemently eschewing all technology and violently enforcing their beliefs. On the other are the slaves of science and logic who seek, without compassion or empathy, to wield their technology like a cudgel to pummel the “ignorant” masses into submission. The hatred is palpable and oozes from every encounter like a toxic sludge from an illegal chemical waste dump.
This is the importance of the Dune series. It is indeed a great read describing fantastically inventive futuristic visions and enthralling stories, but it also quite a bit more than that. The Dune myths are exploration of the entanglements of science, religion and politics and the morality and immorality uniquely endemic to each. Mentats of Dune has continued this vein of introspection and is a quality addition to the series.