Chapterhouse: Dune (Dune, #6) - Frank Herbert Book: 3 stars
Audio CD: 3 stars

In Dune, Frank Herbert achieved a near perfect balance of story, character and exposition. In fact, the story and characters expressed the themes of the book, and Herbert avoided long, philosophical discursions. Dune is a self-contained novel needing no prequels or sequels. However, Herbert had more to say and produced five further novels set in the Atreides Imperium that were interesting to the compulsively completist amongst us (and I number myself one in this case) but came no where near the power and passion of the original. IMO, the series hit its nadir with God Emperor. The two subsequent novels - Heretics of Dune and the one under discussion - recaptured a bit of that original power though they, too, suffered from far too much plodding, philosophical distractions.

For the most part, I like what Herbert has to say about politics, emotions, the role of history and other themes but they destroy the books' pacing, threatening to turn them into Platonic dialogs rather than novels.

The plot: It's several thousand years after the Tyrant's death. The Old Empire fell, and humanity was Scattered, breaking the iron bonds of Leto's prescience and presumably ensuring Man's survival. Now, elements of the Scattering are returning. In particular, a group known as Honored Matres - women who exhibit inhumanly fast & deadly combat skills and enslave males through sexual domination. Herbert never reveals their exact origins but they display Fish Speaker and Bene Gesserit origins, with perhaps a dash of Tleilaxu. Whatever the case, they rampage through the Old Empire, destroying any opposition with insane orgies of violence that leave entire planets (including Dune) "sterilized." And the Bene Gesserit are the particular targets of their wrath.

The best aspect of these latter works is that we deal with an almost entirely new cast of characters, with the exception of the ubiquitous Duncan ghola. Duncan Idaho was never a favorite character from earlier novels but I've grown resigned to his presence in every book. Far more interesting were the new characters, in particular two. There's Miles Teg, a military genius and the BG's military leader. He represents a further advance in the Atreides' gene line, having the ability to "see" no-ships and is able to function at superhuman speeds for brief periods of time (faster even than Honored Matres). Then there's Darwi Odrade (another Atreides descendant), who eventually becomes Mother Superior and the architect of the plan that saves the BG from destruction at the hands of the Honored Matres.

I enjoyed the novel well enough in both is print and audio forms but I would recommend it only to those I mentioned above who need to know how things turn out.

I'll take this opportunity to close with a few comments on the abominations that Herbert's son, Brian, and his collaborator, Kevin Anderson, have produced. I tried reading Dune: House Atreides but the writing was so atrocious, I gave up in disgust. From what I gather, I am not alone in my reaction. For my money, the best post-Dune, non-Frank Herbert resource, if uncanonical, is Willis McNelly's The Dune Encyclopedia. It's only failing is that it was published before Heretics or Chapterhouse so there are only a few, tantalizing entries discussing the post-Leto universe, and we're forced to rely on the amateurish scribblings of Herbert fils and Anderson to complete the saga.