It’s no secret on this blog I’m a longtime “Dune” fan. This year I decided to try my hardest to read every “Dune” novel in chronological order, beginning with the first book of the second prequel trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert — “Dune: The Butlerian Jihad.” Taking place thousands of years before the original “Dune” novel by Frank Herbert, this book focuses on the galactic struggle of mankind vs. the evil thinking machines! I finished it back in March — this is my review.

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Off the Shelf: “Dune: The Butlerian Jihad” by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert original article link on ComicAttack.net (3/13/2013)

Back in 1992, the original Dune novel was my personal gateway into adult science fiction. First published in 1965, I was about eight-years-old when I read it cover to cover, and while most of the philosophical stuff went over my head (although it did make me start asking questions), much like a spice trance, Frank Herbert’s Dune opened my eyes to a much bigger literary world. I went on to read through Dune MessiahChildren of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, but only made it about 100 pages into Heretics of Dune (thus missing Chapterhouse: Dune altogether) before I became engulfed in the first wave of prequel novels written by Kevin J. Anderson and Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert.

Some time after the death of Frank Herbert in 1986, his son and other members of the Herbert estate uncovered notes by the author regarding extra Dune stories set outside and within the timeline of the first six novels. These notes were used as the outlines from which Anderson and Brian Herbert would write a dozen Dune spin offs (with a 13th installment teased for 2014), the first called House Atreides was published in 1999. Atreides begins a trilogy immediately preceding the first Dune book, starring the familiar cast of characters. Then the writing duo released a second trilogy, this time taking place thousands of years before Paul Muad’Dib and the Atreides’ rise to power, focusing on the fabled Butlerian Jihad where mankind wrested their freedom from the tyrannical thinking machines. If one were to read the Dune franchise in chronological order, this is where they’d begin.

Now, over ten years after reading any Dune books (save a joint reading of Dune with my fianceé three years ago), I have the urge to revisit the Dune universe from the beginning, and that means reading Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, published in 2002.

For Dune fans, this is a guilty pleasure read. It’s enjoyable and fast paced, but the philosophy is thinly veiled and the meta-messages aren’t nearly as layered as those in the original novels. This also makes it more accessible for the casual Dune fan. For people new to the franchise, Butlerian Jihad is a story of man vs. machine — artificial intelligence is massacring humanity with every opportunity, and only in the novel’s final act does mankind deliver a blow that resonates. It’s a prequel story, so we ultimately know how the events play out, but here we’re given the details…which are mostly grisly and traumatic.

The leading men are Xavier Harkonnen and Vorian Atreides — two notorious surnames found throughout the Dune mythos. In this story the antecedents of Paul Atreides and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen come from polar opposite backgrounds and are two different hearts after the same woman in Serena Butler, whom the Jihad is named after. Vorian’s story is one of redemption, while Xavier’s is that of the tragic hero. While the Atreides banner is the one I’d pledge allegiance to in the later Dune stories, here the Harkonnen name bears more honor and Xavier is certainly a guy you root for. Vorian on the other hand begins as a servant of the machines, who quite frankly comes off as a tool. He becomes more likable as the story progresses, but Xavier is definitely the man who evokes emotion — especially considering the constant stream of tragedy he’s forced to endure throughout the book.

Comparatively, the other male characters are hit or miss. Ishmael and Aliid, the two slave boys on the planet Poritrin, are one dimensional, whereas Selim Wormrider of the planet Arrakis is a guy you eagerly await getting his due vengeance. Aurelius Venport and Tuk Keedair — two businessmen who deal in drugs and slaves, respectively — are there simply as plot devices. Keedair is a slaver who stumbles upon Arrakis and the spice. He then sells it to Venport, who specializes in the drug trade. The two men are obviously there to give reason for the spice Melange making it off of Arrakis and into the hands of the League of Nobles, eventually leading to a larger demand of the product that’s a staple theme in the original stories.

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“Machine Crusade” & “Battle of Corrin” complete the “Jihad” trilogy

Similarly, Norma Cenva and Tio Holtzman, the science minds of Jihad who create weaponry and tech to combat the thinking machines and improve the human way of life, have interesting moments but mostly are another duo plot device. They create glowglobes, suspensor fields, and most notably in the Dune jargon, the Holtzman Shields where fast movement won’t pass through them but slow movement will. Norma Cenva’s blunt appearance and humble love of science makes for an interesting dichotomy with the eccentric, fame seeking Holtzman. Unfortunately, for a scientist, Holtzman’s character makes some strange common sense decisions not fitting a man of his intelligence, most notably purchasing a cadre of slaves from Keedair — these slaves were described in the book as an unruly, aggressive sort, yet Holtzman bought them to work in his laboratories anyway without thinking this may come back to bite him down the line. Which it does. Too often the pair’s scenes read like, “Hey, there’s all this tech that transcends throughout the entire Dune franchise. So who invented it all? These guys!”

To complete the transparent trifecta are Zufa Cenva and the psychic sisters of the planet Rossak, where Venport also resides. These women possess immense telepathic abilities and focus on selective breeding to produce near-perfect humans of maximum potential. What group from the original Dune novels does this sound like? The women of Rossak are not as mysterious and cryptic as the Bene Gesserit, although their combat scenes are intense. Conflictingly, the women of Rossak are described as gorgeous whereas the Bene Gesserit sisters, save Jessica and the less apt Princess Irulan, all reminded me of the nuns who stalked the hallways in my elementary school.

Fortunately, Butlerian Jihad bookends its protagonists Vorian and Xavier with a strong core of villains. Omnius is the computer evermind throughout the Synchronized Worlds who leads the crusade against humanity, and Erasmus is his number one. Erasmus is unique in that he’s the only robot to develop an independent personality. The machine is obsessed with understanding humans, to the chagrin of Omnius, and in doing so performs some sick experiments — the one that resonates most is when he dissects the brains of two twin little girls. This is but a glimpse of the horrors he concocts throughout the book and he creates the inciting incident which sparks the Jihad — a shocking and devastating scene handled extremely well by the book’s authors. In short, Erasmus is a sick, twisted bastard whose intentions are questionable, lacking any moral code or sense of sympathy.

A majority of Erasmus’s scenes are with leading lady Serena Butler. The underlying terror that grips Serena in her conversations with Erasmus, who only wants to better understand mankind, are some of the highlights of the book and the most anticipated scenes; this is where the most compelling dialog is found, complete with a sense of impending tragedy. The way Serena steels herself in the presence of the robot makes you really want her to make it out of her captive situation intact. She’s a strong character — more clever than, say, Princess Leia, but with less combat prowess.

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Frank Herbert’s “Dune” from 1965 & my personal copy of “Jihad”

The best villains of the book, though, are the Cymeks — human brains contained inside machine battle forms. The leading Cymeks are known as the Titans, who are thousands of years old. Long before the events in Jihad, the Titans were a group of ambitious people who led a revolt against lazy humanity — mankind had come to rely on machines to do everything for them, becoming complacent, and the Titans swooped in to conquer humanity. In becoming Cymeks, they preserved their own minds in immortal metal bodies and ruled over mankind until their ambition eventually got the better of them, leading to the robots becoming cognizant and the eventual thinking machine takeover. Omnius allows the Cymeks to live due to a programming clause keeping the machines from turning against them. The Cymeks are truly terrifying — they have the durability and firepower of any thinking machine, but the cunning and deception of a human. They’re ruthless and serve as a wild card in the war in that they hate humans, but they hate Omnius, too.

The leading Cymek, General Agamemnon, is the father of Vorian Atreides, who was grown in a lab from preserved sperm samples of the general before he was converted into a Cymek. One of the creepiest scenes of the book is when Vorian ceremoniously cleans his father’s brain canister. It’s equal parts erotic, reverent and just plain weird. It’s bizarre to think, too, that Paul Atreides and his father Leto come from the same stock as Agamemnon.

Finally, Jihad introduces the Cogitors — human minds who have been detached from their physical bodies, like Cymeks, but who only wish to live in peace and ponder the existence of the universe. Overall, these circular talking brains quickly become annoying to both the characters in the book and the reader with their indecisiveness. A cogitor plays a key role in the development of Iblis Ginjo, a slavemaster on the Omnius controlled ancient Earth, as it fuels the man’s rebellion against the machines. Gingo reminds me a lot of Borsk Fey’lya from the Star Wars expanded universe lore. He’s a politician who believes in good but uses his power and position to serve his own means.

Considering this is the introductory novel in a trilogy, there is a lot of exposition and therefore the experience is mostly sensational as opposed to lasting. The book makes the immense Dune universe feel small — readers familiar with the first three Frank Herbert novels may find many correlations with characters and themes in Jihad that often tiptoe along the line of being too conveniently connected. The reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is tested when contemplating why the machine evermind, Omnius, doesn’t obliterate mankind outright. The reasoning provided is porous. Additionally, there are moments of robotic emotion from both Omnius and Erasmus that seem to contradict the overall “mental mechanics” of the machines.

All this being said, Dune fans can appreciate and enjoy what this book accomplishes in expanding the Dune mythos. I had a lot of fun reading it; the future Earth setting that expands throughout the cosmos is cool, and regardless of where you stand in terms of your Dune knowledge, this is an accessible read for any sci-fi fan. If you like stories with themes of evil robotic characters in a dystopian future haloed by the hope of the human spirit, then Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is for you.

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kemptowarlick1w650The Geek Sheet is a new feature here at MintConditionPublishing.com that features interesting facts and information on geeky subjects; like sports, sci-fi, comic books, etc. The Geek Sheet segment will be popping up on a regular basis, so think of it as an online geek encyclopedia. Some entries may be longer than others, but all are bona fide geektastic!

  • While the statement “the Buffalo Bills have never won a Super Bowl” is true, the statement that they have “never won a championship” is false. Before the NFL merged with the AFL in 1966, the Buffalo Bills were AFL Champions in 1964 and 1965. They destroyed the San Diego Chargers in both games: 20-7, 23-0.
  • The Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team to play in New York State. Both the New York Jets and the New York Giants play their games in East Rutherford, New Jersey right outside of New York City.
  • The Litany Against Fear as published in the sci-fi epic Dune, by Frank Herbert :

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

  • An excerpt from the Dune Encyclopedia: Crysknife: A knife, whose blade consisted of a single tooth of a giant sandworm, considered most sacred by the Fremen. No off-worlder who saw one of the weapons, could be permitted, by Fremen law, to leave Arrakis without the Fremen’s consent. Once the blade was drawn from it’s sheath, it could not be returned unblooded, even if the blood it drew had to be the user’s own; to do otherwise was to insult Shai-Hulud and risk bringing his wrath on all Fremen. The blade is milky white, some twenty centimeters in length, which gave the impression of glowing in dim light– a sandworm’s tooth. The teeth were obtainable only when the Fremen found the remains of a dead sandworm. When such a find was made, as many teeth as could safely be carried were removed and taken back to the group’s sietch for blessing and manufacture into knives.

fremenThere are two types of crysknives: fixed and unfixed. A fixed blade, which could be stored for an indefinite period of time, was treated by exposure to a series of electric currents, which ‘fixed’ the blade’s electric field and kept it static. An unfixed blade remained stable only so long as it remained in contact with a living human body; deprived of exposure to that body’s electric field, it weakened and crumbled within a matter of hours. This type of blade was most commonly used by Fremen, since it was not wished that anyone should be able to obtain a crysknife by looting Fremen bodies; Fremen who could see that they were either going to be captured, or die in battle without sufficient time elapsing for their blades to disintegrate, shattered them on the nearest hard object.

The tip, the hollow once occupied by the tooth’s nerve, customarily held a small amount of the most deadly poison available, most often a mixed derivative of the native desert plants. Fremen usually attempted to avoid killing a respected enemy with the tip of the blade; poison was considered a weapon more suitable for use against animals than humans.

The mounting of the blade into the handle was patterned on the kindjal, a type of long knife popular throughout the empire, with a blade of almost identical length to that of the crysknife. Where they differed was in the shearing-guard: the kindjal generally boasted a stout guard, while the crysknife had only the raised lips of its round handle, where it joined the blade, to protect it’s user’s hand. Most authorities believe that the earliest crysknives were deliberately constructed to mimic the kindjal, a blade the Fremen were already familiar with from their many generations of service in the empire. The later changes, including the elimination of the shearing-guard, came about when the crysknife became a truly unique weapon rather than a native imitation of an off-world knife.

Considerable mythology surrounded the blades. Fremen cherished their crysknives, giving them names that were kept secret even to other troop members, protecting them from harm with their own lives. Even after the owner’s death, the crysknife was treated differently from all other possessions. A crysknife handle was the only thing that was taken to the Funeral Plain for ‘burial’ after it’s owner’s water was returned to the tribe. The one exception to this custom was in the case of a crysknife whose blade shattered during a fight. Fremen superstition held in such cases that the person had somehow offended Shai-Hulud, who had retaliated by withdrawing the strength from the tooth.

593A good deal of history surrounds crysknives as well. The initial acceptance of Paul Muad’Dib Atreides among the Fremen, for example, came about when his mother, the Lady Jessica, was tested by the Shadout Mapes and deemed worthy of possessing a crysknife. The original Duncan Idaho, who had proved himself in Stilgar’s sietch, was also allowed to keep one of the sacred blades.

The blade that has attracted the most historical attention, however, is undoubtedly that mounted in Muad’Dib’s crysknife. When the first Atreides emperor – in the guise of The Preacher – was killed, his son took his crysknife for his own. In the centuries that followed, Leto II made frequent ceremonial use of the blade, culminating in it’s use in Siaynoq. In addition, The God Emperor controlled the tiny supply of the knives which still remained during the last centuries of his rule, while his Museum Fremen carried out the old rituals with them utterly ignorant of the true reasons for their actions. The fact that one of them would copy a crysknife for sale to Siona Atreides illustrates the degeneration of the customs; no true Fremen would have permitted such a thing for any reason, least of all personal gain. Muad’Dib’s crysknife, then, could be seen as the last of it’s kind – a blade carried by one who knew the traditions and myths that held it apart from more common, less holy weapons.

While the old Fremen might have disapproved of the use to which The God Emperor put their leader’s crysknife, they would certainly have approved of the level; of veneration which surrounded it.