God Emperor of Dune is a serious novel, with serious concerns. How could I take any interest in it in 1982, in its gaudy paperback cover, the fourth in a science fiction sequence? But it is worth taking interest.
Leto Atreides, part human, part Worm, whose symbiosis gives him superhuman strength, is the three thousand year old emperor of the galaxy. His brain permeates his seven metre long body, only its face and tiny arms appearing human, and he has the conscious memories and personalities of all his ancestors back to the Earth no-one else remembers. This is not science fiction based on possible technology. War brings death, but peace brings decadence: Leto seeks to create the Golden Path between, for humanity to develop. Rakis is no longer harsh desert: the worms have gone, and there are rivers and open water. The Fremen, therefore, have become weak, keeping up a few old rituals without understanding.
Frank Herbert’s views on homosexuality have developed since 1965, when in Dune the wicked Baron Harkonnen’s peak of vileness was his desire for young men. Now Duncan Idaho, ghola relic of a past age, is horrified by it, but Moneo Atreides knows that homosexuals make good soldiers. In this matter, Herbert is of his time. And he addresses questions of wisdom which I address, usefully to me. Reading the Tao Te Ching, I saw that I only understood the wisdom I had already reached.
The Empire remains a dark galaxy. The old power bases survive, and Tleilax, Bene Gesserit, Ix all seek to destroy the God Emperor. Ix creates weather satellites for Rakis, imagining that Leto wants them to punish his adversaries with storms or drought, rather than to develop the planet for any creative aim. Here, what can his Golden Path be? He knows that he will be remembered as a great tyrant. He deliberately breeds the Atreides line, who in youth rebel against him and after testing, come to serve him, for that is the least bad way.
It will be alright, won’t it?
I am OK, aren’t I?
haunt me, though I know that for adulthood I must accept my own answers, which must be “As alright as it can possibly be” and “Yes”. Moneo, limited by seeing God as the all-powerful Benevolence, is forced to grow up and see God as the Struggler, alongside us, no longer above us.
This is a wisdom for constant conflict, where each human being is alone. Ix creates a woman, wholly good, loving and beautiful, in order to destroy Leto- she remains a mystery as we see her only through male eyes. I still hope that we flourish in co-operation, not competition, seeking the good of all: that yin has reality as more than the mere negation of Herbert’s yang.