the Little Red Reviewer

God Emperor of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Posted on: October 12, 2014

god emperor of duneGod Emperor of Dune, by Frank Herbert

published in 1981

where I got it:  have owned this paperback since high school.











If you read only Dune, and never felt the interest to read further, that’s okay.  If you read the first three books in the series, and never felt the need to read further, that’s okay too.  It’s especially okay because God Emperor of Dune is completely different from the earlier books in the series.   If you’re expecting more intrigue, more adventures of Paul Atreides, more of running an empire and getting rid of the damned Harkonnens, you’re in for a surprise, that’s for sure. (by the way, click to read my reviews of Dune: Messiah, and Children of Dune)


At the end of Children of Dune, nine year old Leto Atreides, heir to the empire, goes into the desert and starts covering his body with sandtrout, the small flat pre-worm creatures that fold themselves around pockets of water. The sandtrout bond with his skin and his body, creating a second skin of sort. He knows he is becoming something new and different, something that will change the face of humanity forever, the only something that can save humanity from the brink of extinction.


God Emperor of Dune takes place thirtyfive hundred years later.


Thirty five hundred years. think about that for a minute – where humanity was thirtyfive hundred years ago, how our culture has changed, how everything has changed. Now, imagine that nothing has changed over thirtyfive hundred years, that things have purposely and deliberately been held in  a state of stagnation.

Leto is still alive.  The sandtrout have been very slowly changing his physical body in something approximating a sandworm.  The artwork on my cover makes a grotesquery of what he looks like, but it’s not far off. Arms and legs have become vestigial, the only human part of him remaining is his face.  The man who became Emperor is prescience and effectively immortal, and has created a living godhood around himself.  Still living on Dune, Leto finished what Liet Kynes started, he has turned the face of Arrakis into a lush, green jungle, keeping only a small area in the original desert form. Nearly all the inhabitants of Dune, now known as Arrakis, are the descendents of Ghanima Atreides and her consort Harq Al Ada (also known as Prince Farad’n, remember him?), and Leto as God.  Leto has beaten the Bene Gesserit at their own breeding program game.


Readers will recognize the old powers of the Empire, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, the Guild Navigators, the Ixian machinists, and the Tleilaxu.  The empire still runs, albeit  a bit more slowly, on the spice melange, which can only be found on Arrakis.  Sitting on his vast hoard of spice and holding tight control of it, Leto has effectively neutered the powers behind the old Empire. He is in full control, and keeps humanity locked planetside, putting down rebellions with his all female army of soldiers, called the Fish Speakers. This is his “enforced tranquility”.  There is very little war, no want, no hunger, very little corruption.   through his prescience, Leto can see everything on the horizon, and those who ask questions, who crave something more than just an easy farming life, are handled swiftly and often fatally by his Fish Speaker soldiers.


Leto can easily control the Bene Gesserit and Guild Navigators through their bargainings for spice, but he’s developed a much trickier relationship with the Ixians and Tleilaxu. the Ixians provide him with the machinery he needs to rule, and the Tleilaxu provide him an endless suppy of gholas of his father’s most trusted confidant, Duncan Idaho. Grown from the original cells, gholas aren’t exactly clones, and if triggered, they can remember who they once were. Along with the newest Duncan, comes a troubling rumor of an Ixian machine that will be able to predict Leto’s movements, instead of being a victim of his prescience.


In his conversations with his majordomo Moneo and with Duncan, there is discussion of the Butlerian Jihad, the machines the Ixians have created, and where exactly the line is between human, and a human that is so close to a thinking machine that it becomes a thinking machine itself.  You’d think Leto would be concerned about this Ixian rumor, but in fact, he’s fascinated by it, and even more fascinated by the new Ixian ambassador, Hwi Noree.  Leto no longer has a human body, but he does have feelings, and he finds himself falling in love with Hwi.


Much of the middle of the book is Leto’s internal thoughts, and his attempt to explain his actions to Moneo and the attempt to get the new Duncan acclimated to how things have changed in the last three thousand years.  I found a lot of these conversations boring, repetitive, and Leto’s pretentiousness to be off-putting. But then I realized, how bored must he be? How many times has he had this exact same conversation with a majordomo, tried to explain the exact same thing? How many times has a Duncan asked him this same exact question? He’s got to be bored out of his freakin’ mind, desperate for a surprise. But, how does one surprise someone who can see the future? How indeed.


Some of my favorite scenes in the book involve Duncan Idaho. The man out of time, this newest Duncan needs to acclimate himself as quickly as possible. But how? None of these people act or talk or fight or care about the same things he does. How can they deify a giant worm? Leto is as desperate to talk to someone who doesn’t deify him as Duncan is disgusted by him.  When they do talk, it is as equals. As all the Duncans have, he does eventually ask the wrong questions, and push conversations in uncomfortable directions. Leto has been spoiled by his bred Fish Speakers, by people who would never, ever question his actions, and he tends to respond violently to advisors who does nothing but question his decisions. There is also the unfortunate issue that Duncan is also falling in love with Hwi.


So let’s talk about Hwi for a minute, this woman that the God Emperor has fallen in love with, and that Duncan also has a thing for. She’s smart as a whip, but doesn’t have much of a personality. We do learn that she was genetically engineered, that she’s sort of a clone, and she says she knows the Ixians bred her for a certain purpose. She also says that she’s now on Leto’s side, and that she’ll no longer do the Ixian’s bidding. What were those rumors again, of what the Ixians were trying to design? I can’t blame her for not having much of a personality, because for lack of a better term, she’s been programmed that way.


God Emperor of Dune was my favorite Dune book when I was in my 20s. It’s still got some great scenes, but in my recent rereading of the series it’s been the hardest book to read.  Some of the prose gets needlessly dense, and the pacing is decidedly off, with the first hundred pages or so being very fast paced, the ending being incredibly rushed, and the middle being intolerably slow. I’m still fascinated by Duncan, I tell feel bad for him.  I still have respect for what Leto did, even though I disagree with many of his opinions. It was fascinating to see his reasonings, and his opinions on religion, military control, and the differences in how men and women view warfare. Leto did what he did to save humanity from extinction. On the one hand, you could say that he sacrificed himself for humanity. One the other hand, you could say that he enslaved us all to his whims.  His Atreides breeding program is absolutely creepy, and I don’t think he’s breeding for another Kwisatz Haderach, but he’s certainly trying to get another mix of genetics just right, for someone who can do, something else, perhaps.

When Leto dies, and he knows he eventually will, his worm body will return to that which it came, the desert.  The sandtrouts which make up  his skin will become small sand worms which will be slaughtered for their spice essence, or the giant worms that will rule the desert once again. Arrakis will become a desert again, and all who ingest Spice particles will be ingesting something that once was part of the God Emperor’s consciousness.

16 Responses to "God Emperor of Dune, by Frank Herbert"

I never made it to this one, although I owned a copy of it at one point


yeah, this is the “what the hell? this doesn’t quite read like a Dune book!” book.

now i gotta psych myself up to read the *really* weird ones.


The last time I read this was in high school. And I distinctly remember thinking “WTF was that?” Then I moved on to Heretics, and I think that is the only book in my high school reading career that I never finished. I just couldn’t get into the whole killing people with sex thing.

Anyway thanks for the review. Had me nostalgic for locking myself in my bedroom and reading all summer vacation, and inexplicably listening to Incubus’ “Morning View” over and over again . . .


I do remember it taking me a few times to get through Heretics the first time. I just didn’t get what the hell was going on.

nostalia for the win!

Liked by 1 person

The pacing issue has never really bothered me, but the density of the Leto’s thoughts and discussions, particularly on government, was always something I found difficult to get a handle on. I find now, after numerous re-readings and my own understandings about government and other issues increased, the book isn’t difficult anymore.

Personally, I enjoy the second trilogy (this book and the two afterwards) far more than I do the original three. Herbert had really matured as a writer and a thinker in those intervening years.


all you needed was age and experience.

Sounds like a lot of us tried reading this for the first time when we were in high school, and we’d a) never come across anything like it before and b)just didn’t have the life experiences to be able to related to most of what Leto is saying.

I do still wonder about a lot of his conversations with Moneo. He ofen seems to be baiting Moneo, to purposely be talking in idioms and making reference to things and people Moneo can’t possibly understand. Is Leto baiting him, knowing he’s terrified? Is Moneo just not that bright, and Leto is regretting breeding intelligence and gall out of his family?


I started reading this post then suddenly remembered- AAAaaaggghhh! I cant read anymore, as Im in the middle of Dune for the first time. Although what I did read it does sound intriguing.


How are you enjoying Dune?

eh, this book takes place so far in the future that it doesn’t really give much spoilers for the first book.


Really enjoying it and taking my time with it, still cross with myself at having not read it before.


First, let me say this is a great and thought-provoking review of a book I never finished because I can’t remember why.

…But second, may I be the first to point and giggle and stage-whisper: “THAT IS A SUPER PHALLIC COVER.”


LOL, now I’m never going to think of that cover in any other way! it’s the cover art I grew up with, and less ugly than the other cover art I found.


I haven’t ever tried to read the Dune books. I honestly couldn’t quite figure out which one was the first 😛 Should I attempt them?


if you enjoy intelligently written science fiction that takes the long view, then yes, you should read them.

The first one is called “Dune”.


Thanks for a very crisp and perceptive review of this difficult novel. I’ve read and re-read these fine works; always found GEOD to be a challenging slog somewhat. Your writing helped my understanding of the story.

If I may say so respectfully, your review contains numerous typos that detract from the quality of what you wrote. Worth cleaning up IMHO. Regards – – – PM


I’m happy you enjoyed the review. sorry about the typos!


God Emperor is by far the most important Dune novel, admittedly it’s not the easiest read but the decades of thought it provokes are worth the effort.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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