The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

The novel “The Butlerian Jihad” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson was published for the first time in 2002. It’s the first book in the Legends of Dune trilogy.

A cymek-led attack on Salusa Secundus shows Omnius’ new warlike intentions against the planets where humans live free from the thinking machines. The League of Nobles that rules most of these planets finds itself facing a more serious threat than ever but there’s no unity of purpose.

Xavier Harkonnen led the forces that defended Salusa Secundus and saw the renewed danger from the thinking machines. While Serena Butler tries to unite all of humanity to face the enemy, the scientist Tio Holtzman tries to invent new weapons and new forms of defense, helped by his new assistant Norma Cenva. The Sorceresses of Rossak led by Zufa Cenva prepare to use their mental powers in a war that seems inevitable.

In the Dune saga, Frank Herbert mentioned on various occasions the Butlerian Jihad, a crucial event in human history in which humanity waged war against the thinking machines and prohibited any new development of any machine in the likeness of a human mind. The inspiration came from Samuel Butler, who in his novel “Erewhon” was among the precursors of modern science fiction: in particular, he was among the first to explore the idea of artificial intelligences and their destruction by humans because they were considered too dangerous.

References to the war between humans and artificial intelligences remained vague in the Dune saga. Frank Herbert was interested in developing a fictional universe in which humans had developed their mental abilities in different ways due to the need to run an interstellar civilization without the aid of computers. His son Brian stated that he discussed with his father how the Butlerian Jihad could have happened and many years later he transformed the results of these discussions into a trilogy written together with Kevin J. Anderson.

The Legends of Dune trilogy is set over ten thousand years before the original saga in a very different society. It begins with the breaking of what seemed like some sort of stalemate between free humanity and the thinking machines led by the artificial intelligence known as Omnius.

The attack against the planet Salusa Secundus is conducted by exploiting a weak point in the defensive shield that seems quite obvious. However, not even its inventor Tio Holtzman realized that he had invented a defense that’s far from perfect. If the beginning doesn’t seem promising, the continuation is even worse.

The Dune novels written by Frank Herbert are sophisticated, with multifaceted characters who become involved in events with complex ramifications. “The Butlerian Jihad” has rather stereotyped characters with often crudely developed characteristics. For example, the robot Erasmus studies human beings for years to try to understand them, and the very poor results it obtains make it seem at times almost a parody of the android Data from the Star Trek saga.

Compared to the original saga, this prequel seems more like a space opera in the style of Star Wars, another case in which it didn’t go very well with the prequels. Kevin J. Anderson is a writer of quantity and in this novel, he offers a lot of action to tell the origins of the Empire seen in Frank Herbert’s novels, which was born from the Butlerian Jihad.

The authors try to give a minimum of depth to some themes. In particular, they show how free humanity is actually far from perfect, and on various planets slavery is legal. The parallel between the Niko Bludd/Tio Holtzman and Omnius/Erasmus couples is quite obvious. It really seems too little to me.

The point of the Legends of Dune is to tell how the various organizations present in the Empire were formed, the participation of the ancestors of the protagonists of the Dune saga, and the role of the spice in that great story. “The Butlerian Jihad” begins that story but the Legends form a single story, so you need to continue with the other books. For the fans of the saga, it can be considered a sort of test of the gom jabbar. It’s available on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.

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