Book Review

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

maybe walking blind into the desert is the bravest thing to do

November 21st

spoilers throughout, nerds! I also haven’t checked any of the spellings of the made-up names and places, so this is not a BIG DOON FAN appropriate piece

cw: suicide ideation

And so I pass on to the third instalment of Frank Herbert’s six-book Dune, the 1976 “romp” Children of Dune.

This is the one where Paul Atreides’ son fuses his body to several larval-ish state pre-giant sandworms and becomes a knife-proof, heat-proof, near-indestructible non-human.

This is the one where Paul Atreides is missing-presumed-dead until about three quarters of the way through when a mysterious figure who might have been Paul Atreides is revealed to have been Paul Atreides all along and then he, a few chapters – and a very short time in the narrative – later, is killed dead forever.

This is the one where Alia, Paul Atreides’ sister, is possessed by the mind of the dead-since-book-one Baron Harkonnen and tries to kill everyone but ultimately fails and jumps out of a window to her death.

This is the one where basically all of the other minor and major characters end up dead or in comfortable, cushty, positions in the court of Leto Atreides II – half sandworm, half human – which the spice-induced future knowledge reveals will last for four thousand years and will include the complete cessation of melange production followed by the rebuilding and redevelopment of the interconnected space empire he will be leading in the distant future of this book’s present, itself an imagined distant future of our own reality.

Why so many notes on plot in this post?

Because I enjoyed Dune 3 and will read Dune 4 at some point in the future, but my digressive posts on Dune 1 (“Dune”) and Dune 2 (“Dune Messiah”) were so useless at reminding me of what those books contained that I had to go and read the entire – and terrifyingly lengthy – synopses of both on Wikipedia after trying and failing to start reading Dune 3 (“Children of Dune”) last week. is fundamentally for me, rather than for you, and though logging and publicising my misery (and occasional triumphs, like, for example, when I was quoted in the New Yorker and when I was ‘Highly Commended’ in the Forward Prizes for Poetry and other triumphs tbd) is a key part of it, a more key part of it is functioning as an aide-mémoire so that I can pretend to myself that the books I’ve read have made a more significant impact on my mental-health–ravaged memory than they actually have.

And thus, the post you have read was written.


Frank Herbert’s imagined intergalactic – but robot and alien-free – society is densely constructed, and though all but a handful of chapters here take place on the planet Dune (aka Arrakis) itself, the expansive complexity of Herbert’s universe is thoroughly presented: its own mythologies and religions, its histories and cultures and idiosyncrasies are present in the melange-induced memorialising practiced by all of the Atreides family and their spice-addict (spice addled?) peers.

The Dune books mythologise and are about mythologising.

They look at constructions of religion and the repercussions of the ways in which belief and beliefs are built and the ways they are maintained.

In Dune 3, the one-time-messiah Paul Atreides returns to preach against the religion he started, and he does so as an outsider, as a rebel, as an individual aware that his religion has been corrupted by power and that this is an inevitability of all power, however it is constructed and whoever it is constructed by and on whose behalf.

Good intentions make no difference to bad actions. (here comes the anarchism)

We are all hypocrites if we try or profess to be good, because it is impossible to live within the structures and strictures of our capitalistic society (and Dune exists in the complexly evolved fictional future rooted in our complexly corrupt present) and not – by accident or by design – injure, exploit or otherwise weaken another, and this goes for those of us who are nobodies as much as it does elites.

Yes, we do bear (some) responsibility for buying clothes and food produced by workers living in poverty on the other side of the world, even if those clothes and that food is all we can afford to survive.

To not die is a choice, to not fight in armed struggle is a choice, to vote instead of burn down parliament is a choice, to exist within a world that deserves to burn is a choice, and we should not seek to divest ourselves of our own moralistic responsibilities merely because the choices we have are limited.

It is always a choice to accept death, and it is rarely a cowardly one to do.

To not die, to continue living like a ghost – haunting the past sites of your shit, empty, lives, like I am – is a cowardly fucking choice.

Dune 3 is fun, is engaging, is great fiction.

But did it make me forget that my life isn’t really worth living? Maybe, for a handful of minutes, but I need something more potent, spicier, harder, if I’m ever to feel like not walking blind into the desert isn’t the bravest thing for me to do is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

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