God Emperor of Dune, The fourth installment in Frank Herbert’s epic saga, is one of the most bizarre mainstream Sci-Fi titles ever published. This book is so off the wall that it doesn’t really matter if I include spoilers or not.
Leto II Atreides is now over 3,000 years old. His long life has been facilitated by his becoming a colony organism, having absorbed the last surviving sandworms of Arrakis into himself. Now he waits for the final stage of his transformation into Shai-Hulud, the sandworm deity of the desert planet’s original inhabitants:
As Leto looked at Hwi standing in front of him, it helped not one whit to know he had no skull and that what once had been his brain was now a massive web of ganglia spread through his pre-worm flesh.
It’s completely loopy. When Leto gets angry, which happens more often than you would expect from someone who is 3,000 years old, he waddles across the floor and squishes his counsellors underneath his tubular body. There is little suspense as they disappear beneath his rolls of fat.
The rest of the time, Leto shuffles about underground spouting cod theories about history, sociology, and economics at his long-suffering servants (and readers). The thoughts of a giant worm are not particularly enthralling and my eyes glazed over repeatedly as he went off on another of his abstract rants about the origins of human society. Plato’s dialogues with Sophocles this is not.
There are moments of action in this instalment of the story, which still reveal flashes of Herbert’s storytelling expertise, but they are few and far between:
The D-wolves ran close behind Ulot, giant grey figures almost man-height at the shoulders. They leaped and whined in their eagerness, head lifted, eyes focused on the moon-betrayed figure of their quarry…
The D-wolves did not change pace. They were silver shadows which went flick-flick through the loud green smells of their forest. They knew they had won.
Herbert also continues to use his brave technique of foreshadowing, by beginning each chapter with a section from a later history or account of events. Usually this serves to build up the tension as we wait for these dramatic events to unfold, but here they can do little to save the narrative from its own self-absorbed excesses.
Poor old Leto squats, a giant worm and God Emperor of the universe, looking for a navel to gaze at, but alas that too has been subsumed into his vast inhuman mass.
Crazy. I can’t believe I finished it.