I think Frank Herbert’s Dune series has an imaginary scope rarely seen. Sadly, he died before he wrote the 7th and final book.
His son Brian and gun for hire Kevin J. Anderson decided to write that finale based “directly on Frank Herbert’s [30-page] outline, which lay hidden in two safe-deposit boxes for a decade.” They ended up writing two books, 500+ pages each.
If the ending is anything like that outline proposed, it turns out that Frank Herbert wanted the end of the Dune series to be about humanity’s material nature. The story echoes what so many other SF-writers wrote and still write: thinking, self-conscious robots, like any advanced self-conscious form of A.I., aren’t morally or ethically different from a biological human. It is electricity that runs through our nerves, we are robots ourselves, made of flesh: “moist robots”, as Dilbert creator Scott Adams coined it.
I thought the first of those two additional books, Hunters Of Dune, was quite enjoyable. Not really good, but I still liked it. It felt nice to be back in the Dune-universe, and I was curious about how the story would end. So I started Sandworms with a certain kind of eager anticipation: the conclusion to my favorite series. I knew it wouldn’t be a stylistical triumph, but at least I’d get closure. It turned out to be utter pulp, and it is the worst book I’ve read in a long, long time.
They should have just released a transcript of that 30-page outline: that would have done justice to the legacy of Frank Herbert. The fact that they opted for 1000+ extra pages leaves the reader with a constantly nagging “Was this particular plot thing their invention, or Frank’s?”
What we get in Sandworms is an overabundance of plot stuff: genetically altered worms that thrive in oceans (see the cover of the book) and even produce “ultraspice”, almost the entire cast of all the books brought back to life as gholas, as are characters that never featured in the original series and were probably made up by Brian & Kevin, like Serena Butler and Xavier Harkonnen, two robots called Omnius and Erasmus, a godlike figure called The Oracle of Time, Face Dancers galore, a super “Ultimate Kwisatz Haderach”, etc.
Was all that really in the 30-page outline? We’ll never know. That the mysterious enemies that hunted the Honored Matres in Chapterhouse Dune turn out to be descendants of robots that once fled the Butlerian Jihad is a plausible and even an interesting turn of events, good stuff for a final book indeed. All the other stuff… I dunno.
What we also get in Sandworms is a nearly complete checklist of what pulp is: tons of repetition, lengthy explanations for obvious things, rephrasing of those same explanations 3 chapters down the road, dialogue that summarizes previous chapters, tons of exposition that summarizes previous books, dialogue that summarizes previous paragraphs, obvious foreshadowing, characters that behave stupidly, characters that behave as caricatures of the characters Frank Herbert wrote, adult characters that speak as children in a YA novel, formulaic and slow pacing (short chapters of about 3 pages that advance only one idea each), uninteresting details, cheap prose, deus ex machinas galore, happy ending. Abomination!
Or, as a Goodreads reviewer put it, in a spot-on, one line review: “Shitworms of Dune”.
If you want closure, just read the plot summary on Wikipedia, and don’t give your money to this travesty. It’s the result of a soulless, greedy sham: there’s 15 books already in the franchise. If Brian was truly serious about doing his father honor, he should have hired a much, much better writer to write a Dune 7 of 350 pages tops.
Reading Sandworms Of Dune I never had the feeling Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson showed any respect: no respect for the source material, and no respect for the intelligence of their readers.
I’m seriously thinking of not bringing this to the secondhand bookstore, but burning it.
Click here for my other Herbert texts: long analyses of Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune, and more regular reviews of Destination: Void, The Santaroga Barrier, Whipping Star, Soul Catcher & The Dosadi Experiment. I’ve also tackled Hunters of Dune, and wrote about Villeneuve’s 2021 film Dune: Part One.