Top positive review
The Leto Experience. The Worm Who Is God.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 3, 2020
God Emperor of Dune. The Leto Experience. The infamous. The impenetrable. It boggles the mind, this book. It is something that my 15 year old self was not ready for. I get something new out of these books each time I read them, and I was especially looking forward to reaching this one, as I have only read the back three books once each. Suffice it to say, reading this book was an entirely different experience this time around.
God Emperor is without a doubt the most divisive book in the series. You sometimes see it hailed as a fan's favorite book in the series, other times as utter drivel that should be the stopping point for all readers. It's interesting, really. I'm not quite ready to claim it as the high point of the series, but I will say that I loved it. And while there were plenty of pieces of this puzzle that still went over my head, so much more of it landed. I am a firm believer that when you read a book is as important as reading it in the first place. And I may not have the memories of my ancestors to call on or a prescient vision to guide me, but I found my right time.
I have been jokingly referring to this book (using Leto's own words) as 'The Leto Experience', rather than its actual title. The entire book is a trip. Truly, it felt like Frank Herbert found a storehouse of the spice melange before writing it and partook heavily during the process. The frame-story is noted by the discovery of the journals of the God Emperor Leto Atreides II, some 1,500 years after his death. The story we read then, is taken from the contents of these journals. This story is 3,500 years after the reign of Paul Muad'dib, and so right away a reader's expectations are blown apart. This is by far the biggest time gap in the series to date, but (once again) it is necessary for the story Frank wants to tell. I (do and) don't want to dive deeper into what the story is about because I think there is something to be said for the discovery by the reader of just how much has changed since the time of Paul. An enforced tranquility hangs over the universe, a suppression of freedom. Leto holds to his Golden Path for the good of mankind, but there are some who name him tyrant.
It must be said though, God Emperor is unlike anything that came before it. It is still unequivocally Dune but... more so. It is dense with knowledge and absolutely stuffed with information. 90% of the book is just dialogue. This did not bother me because among Herbert's many writing strengths I think that conversation is one of his greatest. If conversation bores you though that would be a deal-breaker for this book. I must admit though, it is hard for me to imagine being uninterested in the conversations within. Dialogue between Leto and the Duncans, Leto and Moneo, Leto and Hwi Noree, Leto and Siona, Leto and his ancestral memories, even Leto and his own imagination. I think one has to give it up to Frank Herbert for what he has created in the character Leto Atreides II. I mean, it's hard to imagine a being living for 3,500 years. What a being like that would be like. And yet... Leto feels so believable. One must remember that this isn't just a matter of age, either, but of ancient memory, and intimate knowledge of the future. What would it do to someone to have perfect knowledge of their ancestral memories, going back into time immemorial? What would it be like to be so closely associated with the future of one's universe? You'd grow bored. Emotion would fall away, replaced by an implacable intellectual resolve. You would crave novelty, treasuring every surprise. Herbert represents this state of being remarkably well in Leto. Now, if Dune and Dune Messiah were Herbert showing readers the dangers of a charismatic leader, then God Emperor is him showing us a universal tyrant in the long term. He does this in such a compelling way because he gives us an omniscient look at the why behind Leto. Because rest assured, from almost any other point of view the oppression he serves up to the universe is tyrannical indeed. But, as silly as it sounds, this is tyranny with a purpose. The terrible purpose that Paul brushed up against but could not fulfill. That awful purpose that requires Leto to give up his very humanity to achieve it, for the good of his kind. He is both hated and worshiped for it, and it is completely fascinating.
I can't really do justice to the complex and infinite nature of God Emperor of Dune with a simple Goodreads review, but I would urge potential readers to not be deterred from reading it because of external opinions. I think it is something to be read and judged for oneself. I think this book, more than any other in the series, has Frank himself shine through the pages the clearest. I understand that it bothers people (and frankly the book isn't without its faults, and Frank has a few unfortunate, outdated opinions) but it is an ambitious feat, if nothing else.
"You have faith in life. I know that the courage of love can reside only in this faith."