May 20, 1985 12:00 PM

by Frank Herbert

After some 50,000 years covered in five Dune novels totaling well over 1,500 pages, Herbert’s Bene Gesserit are in a very tight spot. The space matrons/witches, whose self-appointed burden is baby-sitting for humanity while we “mature,” are facing extinction in a pogrom mounted by the Honored Matres, vicious female sexual enslavers who have appeared from deep space. And this is merely the tip of the sand dune. Plots and counterplots whirl in the minds of Herbert’s characters like detritus on a windy city street. History, religion and philosophy are merely subtle means to an end in the strangely cynical worlds of his ultra-evolved, sophisticated alien beings. Indeed contemplation has replaced action in Herbert’s latest work, and active, impetuous heroes and heroines have been replaced by intellectual, computer-cool ones. So much time is spent inside the heads of the characters in this book that the reader drowns in streams of consciousness. “Much of what we think of as ART caters to desires for reassurance,” thinks one character, who adds, “Don’t offend me! I know what I can accept.” Sometimes all this ruminating and mental maneuvering among larger-than-life awarenesses make the book seem like a cerebral space opera without any singing. The detachment is enervating. The most moving writing comes at the end of the book in a posthumous dedication to Herbert’s wife, Bev, who died last year of cancer. But in the novel itself there is nothing nearly so passionate. The philosophy Herbert seems to have adhered to most religiously is: I think, therefore I write it all down. (Putnam, $17.95)

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