Dune Prequel

February 3rd, 2006 by Potato

I finally managed to finish the Dune prequel “The Battle of Corrin”, finally putting that series of 6 books to rest.

My biggest praise for the books is that they were long. 6 books all-together (3 on the lives of the familial patriarchs a generation before the events in the original Dune, and 3 taking place ten thousand years earlier, in the Butlerian Jihad), and each book is hefty in its own right (400-700 pages in paperback form). They’re not a terrible series, but I can’t recommend them very highly.

The writing is overly verbose in a great many places, caused, I think, by the fact that each of them seems to try to tell at least 3 stories at once, flipping between stories every 10 pages or less. To try to keep you from forgetting what’s happening in each subplot, they often repeat details again and again. Unfortunately, the style doesn’t draw you in very much, so whenever the action lags a bit (and that happens often in books that long) you find yourself getting bored and skimming a bit.

I can’t really recommend them to people who aren’t fond of Dune to begin with. On the one hand, they are written in a much different style (Frank Herbert seemed to prefer shorter books with much, much less exposition, so fans would often read a lot into single sentences thrown in; you’ll never have to reach like that in the books by his son). This will make them a little more accessible to the people who didn’t like Dune just because of how it was put on paper; but unfortunately, the stories in these more conventionally-written books aren’t interesting enough in their own rights to read without the original books to beef them up (that is, the prequels don’t really stand on their own).

On the other hand, I can’t really recommend the series to anyone who’s a rabid fan of Dune either, since many details that might be considered holy canon will be… “altered”. This can be upsetting to someone who knows the original books very well. Even if you don’t have every detail of those Dune books etched into your memory to spot the inconsistencies, they’re just not very good sci-fi in the technical details that they throw out. For example, it’s well known that in the Dune universe, a method of folding space for instantaneous travel exists that depends on the ability to forsee the future to dodge collisions (since there is zero time to react as you’re jumping through foldspace). Ships that don’t have foldspace engines travel “conventionally”, but it’s clear from the travel times given that this, too is a form of faster-than-light travel. There just seems to be a great deal of inconsistency with this “conventional” FTL technology.

Another example would require the use of spoilers, so here goes:


*** SPOILERS ***

Many of their strategies have very obvious flaws that supposedly brilliant tacticians shouldn’t be using. For example, at once point in the last book (the Battle of Corrin) the human fleet discovers that the thinking machines have stripped the defenses of all their planets to send a single combined fleet on a war-ending attack against the humans. However, the machines did not know about the humans’ foldspace drives, and so a plan is hatched to jump behind machine lines and nuke every one of thier planets while they lie defenseless. This is, however, before they discovered the use of prescient navigators, so using the foldspace engines ran a fairly high risk of hitting something on the way and simply disappearing. They say that the odds of this happening are approximately one in ten, per jump. The humans then divide their fleet into 6 (IIRC) battle groups, each of which has to make several dozen jumps so that every machine world gets hit.

The way things go, the jump process causes them to lose approximately one ship per jump. It’s obvious by the end, when they’re fighting with something like <30% of their initial strength, that it doesn’t take very many ships to put down a machine planet that has already sent its defenders to join the attack fleet. So I wondered (and I’m sure you are to) why they didn’t divide their fleet up into smaller groups that would require fewer jumps, yet would still obviously be strong enough to tackle a defenseless world on their own. Then they could have finished the machines off faster, and losing fewer ships to random jump malfunctions.

The series also suffers from a problem common to many galactic empire scenarios: the worlds in their universe tend to only have a single city (sometimes 2 or 3, but hardly ever more). This allows factions to control planets (which are generally large bodies capable of supporting billions of people) with a minor number of military forces. I think the worst offender in this regard was probably Battletech, where a single star of mechs (sometimes, when I was upset at my wingmen, just my one giant mech) would control an entire planet.

Also, continuing with the spoilers… the machines used “cymeks” at certain points during the war. These were combat machines with disembodied human brains controlling them. However, at the very end of the war, humanity traps the machines within a shield that scrambled the artificial intelligence neural nets (but not human brains). Trapped in this way, the machine forces were rendered impotent while the humans took 20 years to rebuild their forces to come finish the job. In all that time, the machines never found a way to break through the shielding to get at the humans. I find it odd that it never occured to them to either create some new cymeks (admittedly, they had some problems controlling the original cymeks, but they were in a fairly desperate situation), or to create radio-controlled battleships. They couldn’t be as sophisticated as the ones with AIs loaded into them, and the radio control would introduce some minor lag… but early on the machine forces vastly outnumbered the humans, and the only thing holding them back was the shield. It makes no sense that they wouldn’t have at least considered those two options for getting around that. (They did end up sending simple, mindless automatons out to try to wreak havoc).

One Response to “Dune Prequel”

  1. rez Says:

    “The writing is overly verbose in a great many places, caused, I think, by the fact that each of them seems to try to tell at least 3 stories at once.”

    Sounds a lot like some of your blog posts. :P