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The Butlerian Jihad : Legends of Dune Paperback – April 1, 2003
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- Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton; New Ed edition (April 1, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 624 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0340823321
- ISBN-13 : 978-0340823323
- Item Weight : 11.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.33 x 1.57 x 7.09 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #273,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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While "Dune" is a classic of the genre, it's well documented Frank Herbert, the original author, died before he could finish out his saga. His son, Brian Herbert, took over and finished out the series and began filling out the universe his father created using his notes and original drafts. As such, "The Butlerian Jihad" is not up to the same standards of quality. There are some truly cringeworthy and groan-inducing lines of dialogue and prose in this one, and early on it reads like an overly ambitious young-adult novel.
However, at 700 pages, there's surprisingly not a lot of wasted space in "The Butlerian Jihad." Most of the characters are one-dimensional archetypes (with the exception of the machine characters, who are genuinely fascinating to read about), but everyone's narrative journeys are thrilling enough to forgive most of the lazy characterization.
If you approach this novel as a pulpy sci-fi serial in the vein of Star Wars, you'll probably have a good time. This is not high literature. It's robot overlords, spaceship fleets, exotic planets, big battles, and impassioned speeches for revolution. Nothing more, nothing less.
This prequel, supposedly based on the late Frank Herbert's notes, tells the story of the Butlerian Jihad, the ancient war against the thinking machines. Where Dune described this uprising as more of a philosophical movement, more about people rejecting automation and taking on their own burdens to achieve true freedom. This prequel depicts the jihad as a simple war between free humans and the evil machine empire ala Skynet. Kevin J Anderson is largely known for writing Star Wars books, so it's no wonder this story got boiled down to such a simple conflict.
This reflects an overall lack of depth in the book. This is not the philosophical and thematic work that Dune is, and is instead a work of simple "genre fiction." Not a fan of the term personally, but it brings to mind all the right associations to describe this book. But even if we can accept that The Butlerian Jihad is simply an escapist dime-novel, I would argue it is subpar on those merits as well.
The plot is glacially slow, even for such a light read, and disjointed. Unlike Dune, which focused on Paul Atreides and only occasionally jumped to other perspectives, Jihad is a sprawling narrative. We follow Xavier, Vorian, Erasmus, Serena, Selim, Nora, and more, and we're already at six POV characters! These characters are often separated by literal cosmic distances and you never see the neat interweaving of narratives that sort of format promises. Some of these characters never meet, and only two are present for the events at the climax. Which is less a climax, and more of a sequel bait. "We won the battle, now the war begins" type of ending. Just like Dune, chapters are short, so we barely spend time with them before moving elsewhere for long stretches. It makes it hard to connect.
Also, this book pulls the mistake many prequels do, which is over explaining how things from the original came to be. Holtzman shields, FTL, the beginnings of Spice trade, the origins of Wormriding, the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats. It's silly, and feels like box ticking. Instead of writing an interesting story, the book obsessively keeps saying "look! It's that thing from Dune!" Over and over.
The prose is simplistic and even on occasion clumsy and awkward but mostly functional. Honestly, a couple lines were straight up baffling and even unintentionally funny. The worst thing is easily the cymeks. These are immortal human brains in jars that pilot robot bodies to fight the humans. It's as silly as it sounds, and yes, they are literally brains in jars, canisters, whatever. Their dialogue is constantly talking about their superiority, and how they must crush the rebellious and puny humans. Far from the intelligent, scheming villains of Dune. Characters in general are one note and never do anything surprising or have interesting facets that are discovered. If you've read their first appearance, you already have a full understanding of them, there is no depth.
The book is a buildup to a battle which covers mere pages, only to end with a promise for the Butlerian Jihad in the next book. It's full of characters we don't care about going through the motions to set up the pieces for the story we actually care about. If you're looking for a fun sci-fi adventure, avoid this pondering, workmanlike product. I can only recommend this to absolutely hardcore Dune fans who must see everything in the franchise out of a kind of morbid curiosity like me. There are occasional moments of cool worldbuilding or sci-fi concepts, but these exist only due to the genius of Frank Herbert. This book has no soul.
I then started reading his son's (and Kevin J. Anderson's) work and I noticed a sharp difference. Their books are more straightforward and action packed. But when reading The Butlerian Jihad, I had a phenomenal time. They expanded on the Dune universe in a fun and intriguing way. People hate on them for not being Frank Herbert. So what? Stop being a snob! Once they are gone someone else will take over and have their own take (and so on). Just have fun and enjoy this universe!
Although it gave me needed historical information on the Dune universe, the writing was uneven. The Arakeen chapters were well-dune, but those dealing with Earth were poorly written and I ended-up skimming past a lot of the filler BS. I want to read the rest of the book in the series, and am hoping the 2nd and 3rd books in this trilogy are better.
Top reviews from other countries
• As a story in its own right I thought it was very good, it moved along at a good pace and whilst it is very definitely science fiction it does not overdo the science to point where you struggle to understand it. I liked the main characters (even some of the Titans who were obviously the bad guys) and even the interaction between humans and the thinking machines was plausible and felt sufficiently real.
• It was also fascinating, having read Dune, to try and fast forward in one’s own mind to see how a particular storyline culminates in the original Dune novel. For example riding of the sand worms
• I found the political tension that the apparent hypocrisy of the humans intriguing. On the one hand you had the free humans of the League of Nobles and the un-aligned planets hating the thinking machines for their takeover of vast amounts of the universe and terrible conditions that humans lived in on these Synchronised worlds. At the same time these free humans see nothing wrong in enslaving a subset of humans belonging to religious groups who worship the Budallah. The justification for this apparent hypocrisy is that these religious groups did not join the original fight against the machines and therefore slavery is a just punishment to enable them to ‘pay off’ the debt they owe the other humans for keeping them free. These two storylines move along similar lines and both end up with rebellions. It will be interesting to see how these two themes resolve themselves in the later novels.
Like most books one reads there are downsides and from my point of view the biggest downsides of the book are:
• I felt the chapters were too short, sometimes you would read a 4 or 5 page chapter only to move onto another strand of the story in the next chapter. I would have preferred less jumping around which could have been achieved by merging some of the chapters together
• Linked to the point above are the ‘sayings’ at the start of each chapter, given the number of chapters the novelty of these saying had worn away by the end.
• I found it difficult at times to keep track of the timeline. The book covers a period of 3 or 4 years (I think), but it wasn’t always easy to keep track as there would some considerable jumps and in places it was only Serena’s pregnancy that enabled me to keep up. It would have been helpful if some of the sayings at the start of a chapter had been replaced by a date so that the passage of time could be more easily tracked
Whilst it did have downsides, these were no big enough to detract from the overall enjoyment I got from reading the book.
Would have loved this to be able to fill in back stories and wanted to like th book, but the writing was simply un-engaging in my opinion, so will not by trying any more.
I liked the role reversals - having a Harkonen as the Saviour of Humanity and the original Atreides as a Trustee of the Computer Evermind.
If you are looking for a book in the same magnitude as Dune then you will be disappointed but if it’s simply a yarn in the same universe then it will entertain you. Give it a try.
I must say I love the ideas and story, but find Anderson's writing style annoying in over-filling the story with too many characters and then changing characters and story-lines EVERY CHAPTER. I find it less annoying in this dune series than in his saga of the seven suns, however.