on October 16, 2000
First of all, I think Amazon made a mistake listing this cassette edition as being read by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It's actually read by Tim Curry, as was Dune: House Atreides.
I disagree with the other reviewers. I thought Dune: House Harkonnen was extremely well done. Especially Tim Curry's reading. When I first started listening to Dune: House Atreides, I wasn't sure Curry was a wise choice as reader. (I kept picturing him in Rocky Horror Picture Show, or comedic movies such as Clue.) But his characterizations grew on me...so much so that I was eager to hear this latest installment in the Dune prequel trilogy.
Curry reads with gusto, obviously hitting his stride and feeling more comfortable with the characters. It was a pleasure listening to him. (I particularly enjoyed his humming and irritating portrayal of Hasimir Fenring...or the menacing growl that is Baron Harkonnen...or the belly-laugh, slap-you-on-the-back personality of the exiled ruler of IX, the elder Vernius.)
As far as the book itself goes, House Harkonnen is a dark, violent and often disturbing tale that reveals just how evil the Harkonnens are. At times, I stepped out of my car (where I do all my audio book listening as I drive) feeling depressed after a particularly sadistic scene. But I clung to every word, eagerly awaiting the next time I'd take a drive so I could discover what happens next.
True, House Harkonnen (or House Atreides, for that matter) doesn't have the depth and density of Frank Herbert's original work, but is that really so bad? Just as there's only one C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ray Bradbury, there's only one Frank Herbert. But that doesn't mean Brian Herbert is doing his father a disservice. On the contrary, I think Frank would be proud of his son's efforts to tell a good tale and provide background that many have wondered about over the years.
House Harkonnen offers many plot twists, sub plots and interweaving plot lines that require the listener to pay attention, but the pay off is worth it. The point of view often shifts from planet to planet and from character to character, unraveling (or weaving together as the case may be) plot threads in clever ways...all masterfully leading toward the culmination of the original Dune.
One reviewer said there's nothing in Dune about Leto's son Victor. Granted, but the existence of Victor explains why Jessica felt moved by love to bear Leto a son. Nothing short of the events surrounding Victor would have made Jessica betray her Bene Gesserit mandate to bear a girl.
Another reviewer said House Harkonnen isn't "really about anything." Not true. It reveals how and why Duke Leto Atreides got to be the man he was in Dune. It reveals why Baron Harkonnen's condition worsened without a cure. It reveals how Raban got his nickname "The Beast." (Trust me; it was a much-deserved name.) It reveals where Feyd-Rautha came from. (I keep picturing Sting as Feyd in the movie version.) It reveals the intricate plots within plots of the Bene Gesserit. It reveals the many schemes afoot among the Great Houses, and why Duke Leto was so protective of his son Paul. It reveals the origin of Gurney Halleck and how he and Duncan Idaho met and why they were so loyal to House Atreides later on.
In short, House Harkonnen is "about" many things that interested me.
Frankly, I'm surprised the reviewers weren't more kind. I thought Dune: House Harkonnen was a captivating (if often sordid) tale that kept me listening right through to the end. On one hand, knowing the end result (like what happens to everyone in Frank's original Dune) took some of the surprise away from House Harkonnen. Yet, other times knowing the end result made me think, "So THAT'S how that came about."
I was impressed with the complexity and bravado of House Harkonnen, but didn't give it five stars because I thought a few of the plot lines were overly contrived...and a few of the violent scenes were gratuitous. Can the Harkonnens truly be that evil? Would Raban really kill his own...? (You'll have to read the book to find out!)
I can't wait for the third installment...and hope Tim Curry reads that one as well.
on June 5, 2004
I think by reading the previous 150 reviews of the House Harkonnen that this is not a book written by Frank Herbert. We should be glad since Frank Herbert lies dead and may he rest in peace. However, it seem clear that many of the 150 or so previous reviewers were looking for Frank Herbert ghola to write more Dune clones.
I found both House Atriedes and Harkonnen books to be relatively interesting and fast paced. Its pretty obvious that they were not written by Frank Herbert so why are so many people whining about it. The new series appears to be written in totally different style. But I thought it was pretty well written. There are four different plot lines, Duke Leto's, events on Giedi Prime and House Harkonnen, events on Dune and events with the House Corrino. And of course, them little sisters of the poor. But the book was never confusing and the authors managed to intergrate all the plotlines very nicely. You have to read each book in order to get the most out of them but overall, its an entertaining reading material. Nothing serious and nothing really deep.
If someone wrote a spin off series on Middle Earth and people whine that he doesn't write like JRR Tolkien, is there any logic to that? There is only one JRR Tolkien and sadly, there is only one Frank Herbert. I think this series have to judge on its own merit and not on the merit of the original series.
on November 4, 2003
House Harkonnen is the sequel to the first book in the Dune House trilogy, House Atreides. It is set a number of years before Frank Herbert's classic: Dune. The novel spans several years and traces several characters, most specifically Leto Atredies, Vladimir Harkonnen, Gurney Halleck, Lady Jessica, and Duncan Idaho. Leto is trying to grow into both the man as well as the Duke that his father would have wanted him to be. Vladimir Harkonnen is suffering from the effects of the disease given to him by the Bene Gesserit and is plotting against the Bene Gesseritt, the Emporer, as well as House Atreides. Duncan Idaho is training to be the deadly swordsmaster that we came to know in Dune (this is actually more interesting than you might expect). Jessica is in training with the Bene Gesserit, and it is in this novel that she finally meets Leto for the first time. We see Gurney growing up under the thumb of the Harkonnen's and how he will come to be in the service of the Atreides. That's a lot of plot to cover, but that is only a portion of all that is in this rather large and detailed novel. We also have rebellions on Ix, the Bene Tleilax, the Fremen, hints of the Muad'ib, use of the forbidden atomics, and a whole lot of story.
Since the Dune prequels are written by Frank Herbert's son, Brian, as well as Kevin Anderson, the style of writing is much different than Frank's original Dune. Despite the novel's heft, it is a fast moving story with fairly short chapters bouncing from character viewpoint to character viewpoint. I would not recommend reading House Harkonnen without first having read House Atreides. There is too much detail that would be missed. Brian and Kevin are working from Frank's notes and are filling in the backstory that Frank only hinted at. This (and the rest of the House trilogy) is a worthy addition to the Dune universe. It's not the same novel that Frank might have written, but it should be an interesting one for fans of Dune
on December 13, 2002
My opinion of House Harkonnen is very similar to my opinion of House Atreides (see my review there). Like its predecessor, House Harkonnen is slow and has too many plot threads. Some of the most interesting ones (the fate of House Vernius; Abulurd Harkonnen's fight with his half-brother) are muffled in the huge number of stories being told -- we see Gurney Hallack and Duncan Idaho growing up, Duke Leto and Lady Jessica coming together, the birth of Feyd-Ruatha, etc. And like House Atreides, this book suffers from our knowledge of the future (spoiler warning) -- we know Leto, Gurney and Duncan aren't going to die and that Shaddam IV will still be emperor in the future.
Still, it's a decent read -- especially for Dune fanatics like myself. It fills in the history of the Imperium. And the fight between the Tleilaxu and Vernius; between the Grumman and Ecaz -- are interesting. In fact, the book might have been better had it focused entirely on these conflicts -- with Leto and the others serving merely as secondary characters.
The narrative style is improved and the higher rating I give this book is mainly due to the incredible villainy we get to see in House Harkonnen. This actually *improves* your appreciation of Dune. (Spoiler warning again). You smile knowing these monster will eventually get what's coming to them.
And, of course, I'm buying the next book -- which tells my real opinion of this one (3.5 stars).
on May 10, 2002
Sometimes I think maybe people take DUNE too seriously. It is a great testament to the power of the series that it consistently
manages to be so philosophical, pulpy, and entertaining at once. This book follows the stories of many familiar characters, Duke Leto, Jessica, Baron Harkonnen, Reverend Mother Helena, the Emperor Shaddam IV, Rabban, Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck, Count Fenring, Piter De Vries, Liet Kynes among others, and adds a few new ones such as Rabban's father and mother, a renegade household, the Verniuses, and C'tair a rebel on the planet of Ix who is the twin brother of a HUMAN Navigator, D'murr. There is certainly a lot of material here, and at times it seems almost too much, but that is what Space Opera is for, and the resulting "brings up as many questions as it answers effect" is kind of nice. Perhaps one day we'll find out a little more about the Butlerian Jihad. (And it's all still hugely symbolic.) There are discrepancies, which is to be expected in any long running epic series. The only one which really bothered me was that Fenring supposedly built the Conservatorium in the Palace on Arrakis for his wife, the Bene Gesserit Lady Margot. I believe the primary works implied its origins were a little bit more legendary. But it's still a fascinating portrait of a VERY SICK human race imperceptibly struggling, one hopes, for recovery, and it's all the more a fascinating read for the dark, conflicting and increasingly ironic philosophies that permeate. I hadn't read House Atreides, and I didn't really have very much trouble with using House Harkonnen as a starting point for the new series. But you do need to know the base characters before hand. You'll learn about Paul's brother, Jessica's sister and how Rabban got to be called "the Beast." And if you're like me, you'll think Reverend Mother Helena has a heck of a lot of nerve testing anyone for being human.
on January 28, 2002
I've never been much of a science fiction fan, unless you count the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. But, when I was a beginning teacher, some of my students were reading DUNE by Frank Herbert, and I gave it a try. I guess it was the melange, a kind of hallucinogenic spice that heightens your intellect, and the giant sand worms that could be ridden around the desert like living trolley cars, but I loved it. I read several of them, but then Frank Herbert died. I was vaguely aware that his son Brian was now writing the series, but I was a little leery about taking a chance until I saw it offered by one of my book clubs.
The number of characters and plot lines is a bit daunting at first, but around page two hundred I finally got used to it. It's also somewhat hard to keep track of exactly where you are at times. The setting is a galaxy or the Imperium. Emperor Shaddam, more ruthless than Ghengis Khan, rules over the Imperium. He has a sidekick called a mentat (think Spock) who is plotting with him to take over the spice trade.
The main character is Duke Leto Atreides, a great-grandson of Emperor Elrood IX, who presides over Caladan. His concubine, a defrocked noblewoman, wants him to marry her and declare their son his heir. He scorns her for a better political match.
The villain in the piece is grossly fat Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, who's been cursed by the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood with a desire to dethrone the emperor and create a theocracy. The Harkonnens control the spice trade, the most valuable commodity in the Imperium.
Then there's Pardot Kynes, the planetologist who wants to turn Dune into a garden. His son, Liet-Kynes is part Fremen (revolutionary commoner) who fights the Harkonnens. Another plot line includes Planet Ix, which has been taken over by the Tleilaxu who have enslaved the populace. Kailea, Duke Leto's concubine and the mother of his son Victor, is the daughter of the former ruler of Ix. Her brother Rhombur also lives on Caladan. On Ix, the freedom fighter C'tair endures a lonely struggle against the Tleilaxu. On Geidi Prime, the home planet of the Harkonnens, Gurney Halleck's sister is kidnapped by the Harkonnens and he spends years trying to find her and steal her back.
Meanwhile a protege of Leto's, Duncan Idaho, is training to become a Swordmaster. It's an eight year course and when finished he will work for Leto. I was impressed by how well Herbert and Anderson handled the passage of time. At the beginning of the novel, Duncan is just starting his training; at the end, he's become a Swordmaster. With virtually hundreds of characters and umpteen plot lines, that's not easy.
Lots of juggling going on here, but all of the plots are interconnected and many of the hundreds of characters wind up on the same planet at various times and we get to see the relationships. Some of the plot lines are unresolved to be taken up in the next book.
It took me over three weeks to read the thing, but I'd say it is a worthy successor to the original DUNE. Some readers may find the villains hopelessly overdrawn. Harkonnen's nephew has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Some of you may remember the Sting movie based on Dune and the monstrously fat Harkonnen. He's just as repulsive here.
Almost forgot. One of the main characters does get killed in the end. I thought that was a brave move on Herbert's part. This is also done very logically as is an earlier death of a rather likable Fremen.
on January 24, 2002
I read House Harkonnen right after finishing House Atreides, and I found that House Harkonnen had more to offer than the first novel. Although both books lack the power and writing style as the originial Dune, this novel is very good due to its dark and deceitful side of politics. It is a great novel because you can finally see why the Atreides were beloved rulers and the Harkonnens were basically slave drivers.
The Harkonnens in this novel show their true mettle and viciousness. Murder, sabotage, and patricide hold no meaning to this family. On the other hand, compare this house to House Atreides and you will see that these houses have two different methodologies of how to rule their subjects.
This second novel in the prequel series is better than the first due to the "harsher" side of the Harknonnens. Their immoral behavior makes you want to read on, and see how much worse it can get. Again, this novel does not have the aura of the original Dune, but the authors have made a valiant attempt to recapture the glimpse of Dune in these novels. Basically, these novels are history books leading up to the Dune series. And I must say, these are some of the best histories book leading up to a series that I have read.
on November 8, 2001
I came into this series with a lot of preconceptions that these would not be worthy successors to the originals. And they aren't. But after a second reading, I realized they're not supposed to. "House Harkonnen" is a prequel, not a sequel. It's supposed to "fill in the blanks" of what happened before the greatest book in science fiction history. NO book can ever hope to live up to that kind of hype. But I believe Brian and Kevin do a masterful job of setting up things that we =know= are going to happen in later books without killing the suspense. Now they've started to explore the new storylines they created, and they do a good job. I, for one, can't wait to see "House Corrino". So Brian's not Frank. But he's working from Frank's notes, with the aid of an author who is used to working in other people's universes. If you like "Dune" give this series a chance. I believe if you come into it with an open mind, you'll find it almost as entertaining as the original.
on October 31, 2001
Let's face it, Frank Herbert had a privledge that few commerical writers can ever achieve, he like, Tom Clancy, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stephen King, could take years upon years to put out a book. But in the modern world of fast profits and demanding editors, a writer, who is relatively unknown (despite his father being a grandmaster of Sci-Fi) and with few credits below his belt, cannot take the time that Frank would take to put out a book. And true it shows, but this I will say, while the book does interperate some of the aspects of the universe a bit liberally, ie No-Ships 10,000 years before the were suppose to be invented, Brian was in a good position to write something in the spirit of his father. Brian delayed doing this project for so long for the vary reason people are complaing -- he is not his father. Now that it has been done, we should be grateful that it was handled as well as it was, and not like the atrocity that the "New Foundation Series" was. So in all fairness the book was good, it was enjoyable and it allowed us to relive the wonder of Frank Herbert's universe. It is not a classic or a great book, but it is a good book in an age where most Sci-Fi writers are adding to the ever growing collection of cheap Star Trek and Star Wars themed novels.
on October 25, 2001
I have read all of the original Dune series. This is the first Dune book in a long time to hark back to the quality of the first book. What made Dune remarkable was its retelling of the classic hero story, not unlike Star Wars or any number of classics. The characters were engaging, and the writing was quite good. After the first Dune book, both the quality of writing and of the storyline declined dramatically. The hero element was quickly lost to the bizarre. Who could care about rulers mutating into large worms? The Atreides became as venal and corrupt as the rulers they replaced. Hence the demise of the heroic element of the epic.
However, Dune House Harkonnen brings back the heroic elements. On a simplistic level, its easier to tell the good guys from the bad. More importantly, however, the quality of the writing has improved from prior works, and Herbert's son treats the storyline carefully. If there are excesses in the descriptive passages, they can be forgiven in light of the lushness of the storyline.
One major complaint. I detested the movie, Dune, not only because it was utterly incomprehensible, but also because it depicted Baron Harkonnen as a disgusting physical specimen. The novel Dune depicts him as devious with a twisted, maniacal personality. The movie merely made him physically repulsive as a means of quickly establishing that he is repulsive. Well, Dune Harkonnen describes the baron's physical degeneration. It helps put the movie in context, but its at odds with the other novels. Small complaint in all.