SANDWORMS OF DUNE – Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (2007)

Sandworms Of DuneI think Frank Herbert’s Dune series, all six books, are straight-out genius. 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.

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15 responses to “SANDWORMS OF DUNE – Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson (2007)

  1. I thought these books were dreadful. I think I sold them two moves ago to save the trouble of having to pack them up. One of the problems with these books is that they tried very hard to make their own prequels fit into this Dune 7 project. They might have had a chance coming up with something worthy if they hadn’t done that.

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  2. Burning one’s own books as an act of honoring their would-have-been and should-have-been author, and as an act of protecting the world from their vandalism — only a true book lover could do such a thing, and only a true book lover can feel the pain of doing it. 😀

    Tell us the story of this thirty-page outline? I hope it’s not destroyed…

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  3. Totally agree that this last book was a disappointment. Can’t really express why anymore (It has been several years since I read it), but the dull ache of disillusionment still lingers after all that time.

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  4. Reading your review, my foremost feeling was relief: after a couple of less-than-inspiring encounters with the prequels written by Herbert Jr. and K.J. Anderson I stopped altogether because the differences with the original material were painfully glaring in all departments – writing, characterization, style. But the fact that this Diabolical Duo kept writing them meant there was a public, and maybe I was the one who couldn’t appreciate their effort.
    Your comments, that mirror all of my own disappointments with these works, made me understand I’m not alone in thinking that they should have left Herbert Sr.’s vision untouched even if unfinished.
    Thanks for sharing!

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    • The contrast between Frank’s writings and this is so big that I start to wonder whether there’s a lot of overlap between the audiences of both. Then again, one can also appreciate the original Dune on just a pulp level, so…

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  5. Thank you for writing this.

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  6. I bought Dune: Butlerian Jihad (2002) and after reading one page I literally threw it against the wall in disgust. The piss-poor writing, the plot holes, and canon inconsistencies – after one page, was enough for me to trash the book. I have never, ever thrown out any other book before.

    I do not believe that Junior and KJA have a 30-page manuscript. If they do, then what they wrote bears little resemblance to it. Junior and KJA are liars, con-artists, and cashing in on the legacy of a great American writer. Nothing more. Poor, poor Brian. He’ll never get out from beneath his father’s shadow now.

    My sincerest hope is that their 15-books of claptrap will fade into memory, while the original six novels endure.

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    • Yeah I’d very much would like to see that manuscript too! I feel it’s even worse for Anderson, as he’s supposed to be the professional writer/artist… I’m truly surprised the stuff keeps selling.

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  7. >I’m truly surprised the stuff keeps selling

    I suppose that’s the enduring power of Herbert’s Dune. There’s a hunger for more. I just wish Brian had been as classy and as intelligent as Christopher Tolkien (J.R.R.’s son), who painstakingly reconstructed his father’s notes and manuscripts (over decades) to produce works that were truly and lovingly based on his father’s canon. Christopher Tolkien is a hero to his father’s fans; Brian, not so much.

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  8. I went as far as reading two of the Houses prequels, Atreides and Harkonnen, and The Butlerian Jihad, I don’t remember the order in which I read them, nor in fact do I remember a single thing about House Harkonnen. What I remember is that I found House Atreides dreadful, the thing that stuck most sharply in my memory is how they turned the Bene Gesserit from the supreme manipulators in the Dune Saga, to this bumbling group who’re not even sure what the hell they’re actually doing.
    But it was The Butlerian Jihad that took most of my hate, it’s just the exact same story about evil machines and plucky humans that’s been told over and over, one of those things first time writers produce before they know better. Who knows, maybe I extra hated that book, besides of the clunky writing and terrible characters, because that’s a trope I’m specially sick of, the whole evil machines vs. plucky humans; and also probably because it clashes too much with my own head canon about the Butlerian Jihad.
    I always envisioned the Butlerian Jihad as more of an economically motivated war between human factions, a class struggle with heavy religious implications on one side, and I saw the feudal universe of the Dune saga as a consequence of such an event, not just the prohibitions against sentient machines, but the entire culture. I assumed the Butlerian Jihad was something you were not supposed to see entirely as something good and not entirely bad, kind of like Muad’Dib’s crusade is anything but unambiguously good and how the Golden Path is necessary but on the face of it a calamity. So the simplistic nature of the event in the prequel really annoyed me.
    The curious thing is, I don’t remember having read any of the other prequels nor the sequels, yet I seem to remember a lot of what happened in those other books. I must have spent a lot of time on Wikipedia and other wikis reading what those other books are about, in a haze of morbid curiosity.

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    • Interesting points on the class struggle. It doesn’t surprise me the prequels dumb it down, it’s indeed the moral complexity (tragedy) that makes the original series such a great read. Wikipedia is great, as I wrote, better read that than give your money to Brian & Kevin. Then again, the bulk of those plots can be dismissed as the result of money grabbing only. We do indeed miss a Christopher Tolkienish figure, to make clear what is Frank’s canon, and what was added.

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