Children of Dune by Frank Herbert – 2/5 Stars

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert - front cover

Paul decided to disappear into the desert with his visions of past, present, and future. His empire disappears with him, leaving corruption, vice, and greed in his wake. The ecology of Dune is adapting, and water is plentiful. The old Fremen ways are dying out, and moisture-fat Fremen live in the towns, grown soft with privilege, and fearful of their incompetence to the tyranny.

The third Dune novel focuses on the abnormal children of Paul Muad’ Dib and Chani, who the Bene Gesserit faction fear are both at risk of becoming abominations. As if to give truth to the theory, Paul’s sister Alia is overwhelmed by the tumult of voices from the living consciousness of memory that exists inside her and she becomes tyrant, in thrall to a familiar evil voice from the first Dune book.

There were many scenes and parts I enjoyed in Children of Dune: the children attempting to escape death from the beasts of assassination, the Lady Jessica’s attempted escape from her mad daughter Alia, and Leto II’s rise to prominence.

However, more than half of the story was mired in irrelevant conspiracy, corruption, nostalgia, and uninteresting characters. Children of Dune was a disappointment, for three main reasons:

Firstly, the character focus is off, and what binds the subplots together is the planned assassination of the children of Paul Muad’Dib and Chani. Both of the parents are now dead as characters, and there wasn’t much about either boy Leto or girl Ghanima that made them unique characters. They were lenses into the past characters and events in Dune, the first story. Through the story I had my fill of all-knowing children with many memories of lives stretching back to ancient times. Though the contrast between abomination Alia and the children was meant to be illustrative, the delivery of differences was tiresome, complex, and littered through the text.

Secondly, the book was all about nostalgia: what Paul had said to Chani or his mother Lady Jessica; dead characters returning in new forms; or inflexible Stilgar being Stilgar. It was okay with Duncan Idaho in the second book Dune Messiah because the author added a more developed, if not entirely plausible, idea about his flesh being resurrected and him being given new abilities. As a character Duncan Idaho had changed. There is change in Children of Dune but the emphasis of that change wasn’t interesting enough: about a bureaucracy having grown large and corrupt, no longer recognising the days of die-hard Fremen. I thought we had covered this in Dune Messiah so returning to it and exploring it further made it read like a history of Dune than a great science fiction novel.

Third, these visions have gone too far! As with the many-lives of the children, the intricacies of how the omnipresent visions work go beyond comprehension and into a realm of justified contradiction, and of the nonsensical.

I actually really enjoyed the last third of the book, which did tie some loose ends together and it moved the story forward through immediate action – Leto II’s struggle to escape captors and learn the truth of his purpose on Dune. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll read this book a third time.

Children of Dune on Amazon

The Official Dune Website

Mamluk by James Jackson – 5/5 Stars

Mamluk Emergence by James Jackson

The story of Mamluk is the story of a prototype reptilian soldier stranded on a primitive planet, fighting for survival and learning and using every device at his disposal to launch back towards the safety of the Protectorate empire that created him; a ruthless expanding empire that sends in enhanced soldiers to wipe out indigenous species in expectation of a second wave of colonisation. Along the way Mamluk will witness the growth of a civilisation, make many enemies, and even find what it means to have friendship and mutual respect.

The most compelling aspect was the friendship between Mamluk and a feline predator he names Madcat, especially when they are threatened by groups of savage tribal people that makes you wonder who the real predators are. Through stages of civilisation, in which technology ever increases, Mamluk and Madcat must work together to survive and protect their territory; which starts as a familiar cave but expands at a nice pace to encompass a lava tube, valley, forest, etc. The second half of the story complements the first well, filling it with emotion and purpose and adding significance to the main struggles Mamluk had faced and the people whose lives he touched. In this way there were potent messages in this story, of the impact of individual actions and how they shape the future in terms of war, monuments, and records.

Author James Jackson’s use of the first-person present tense gave him a platform for connecting scenes together with immediacy, thrill, and visual clarity. It enabled him to build Mamluk’s situation without interfering with other plotlines. What suggestions I have for improvement are minor. I’d have liked to learn more about the periods on the planet, or involve more complexities between Mamluk and the main people he comes across; mostly those referred to later on. I didn’t think any more depth needed to be added to the people, beasts, or the environment. The simplicity of the descriptions was why many chapters worked so well in connecting the rest of the plot into a cohesive and comprehensible whole. I did occasionally feel as if there was a bit too much fighting, but I gradually came to accept this made sense as Mamluk’s genetics, training, and his way of dealing with problems; which were abundant because he looked like a monster to the locals. An extra scene break or two might not have gone amiss; it would have disrupted the flow in some chapters; but would have given that extra breathing room between fighting in others.

Mamluk is a concise and well-structured novella that doesn’t try to be too clever by introducing events on a grand scale, instead presenting them in a relatable way through the immediate action Mamluk faces. This is quite despite the fact that author James Jackson has thought a lot about his world-building. For example, in reference to an expanding empire: ‘numerous space-factories churn out a steady stream of defence platforms to fill gaps in the grid as it expands’, shows that he has thought about solutions to his creation. Mamluk is a thoughtful novella that makes you think about what’s really important on a world that appears cruel, barbaric, and yet familiar. The setting surprised me with its familiarity to a medieval fantasy, but thankfully it only dips into the similarities enough to make the second half of the story plausible. Yes, you really need to read the second half to get the full benefit. I’d say Mamluk was a tidy novella overall, with all the elements in their allotted place; a feat I can imagine to be quite difficult for the average author. Supposedly advanced technology wasn’t so much explained, as it was delivered in terms that are well known to most avid genre readers, which made reading effortless. Make no mistake though that it’s quite clear throughout that you’re reading a science-fiction story. With Mamluk, I think James Jackson’s writing has made an impression on me, and has given me confidence he can craft engaging stories with vision, balance, and brevity. I have a newfound appreciation for his writing and hope he continues to think, write, and share his creations!

James Jackson’s website