God Emperor of Dune


by Brian Herbert

In the summer of 1980, I was visiting my mother and father at their home in Port Townsend, Washington. On a small table beside my mother’s favorite chair, I noticed a draft of God Emperor of Dune. She had the manuscript open to page 516, near the conclusion of the novel. When I asked Dad how it was going, he said it was a totally new kind of love story, unlike anything ever written before. When I finally got the opportunity to read the story, I found it was that, and a great deal more.

To understand this complex novel, it is important to realize that Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune form a trilogy. The fourth entry in the series, God Emperor of Dune, is a bridging work leading to a new trilogy. Before Frank Herbert died in 1986, he wrote the first two books in that trilogy, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, and made notes for the third volume, to which he gave the working title Dune 7. (In collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson, I later wrote Dune 7 as two novels: Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune.)

God Emperor of Dune also marks a change in writing style for the series. The first three novels are filled with action and layers of important messages about politics, philosophy, religion, ecology, women’s issues, history, and the very nature of humanity. While God Emperor begins with action, and ends with it, there are many pages of dialogue in between. In those pages, there is a great deal of conversation about important, interesting subjects—much of it spewing from the God Emperor, Leto Atreides II. The thoughts are so brilliant, springing as they do from the mind of Frank Herbert, that I scarcely notice the difference in writing style when I’m reading. I like the book very much, and it was my mother’s favorite in the series. But it is different, and it marks a change in style that the author carried forward to the next two books in the series, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune.

Think of the style of Dune, with its adventure story following the classical hero’s journey of Paul Atreides, and so many important messages layered beneath. The presentation is accomplished so expertly on the pages, so seamlessly, that when you get to the end, you hardly realize you’ve just learned a great deal about ecology and things that matter to this planet and to all of humankind. You only know that you want to read the book again, spending even more time with Paul Atreides, Duncan Idaho, the Lady Jessica, and the other characters in the incredible Dune universe. Bits and pieces of the story cling to you afterward, luring you back into it. So you return again to page one and continue on. This time you might focus on other aspects, other layers, things you didn’t notice before.

God Emperor of Dune is different. When you finish it, you realize that you’ve just absorbed a large amount of data from a great mind, so much that you need to go back and study the material to see what the author intended. Realize, though, that in this novel Frank Herbert was exploring some of the layers of Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune that he had already established, taking the dangers of government and organized religion to new levels, merging them, and extrapolating to an extreme, providing a scenario of what it might be like if a holy tyrant led humanity and if that despot could not die. The stakes could not be any higher.