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Literature / God-Emperor of Dune

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"It is difficult to live in the present, pointless to live in the future and impossible to live in the past."
Leto Atreides II

God Emperor of Dune is the fourth installment of the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert. God Emperor of Dune was published in 1981 by Putnam, it was a best seller according to Publisher Magazine the same year.

God Emperor of Dune skips 3500 years from Children of Dune. Leto II is ruler of the Imperium and has continued the metamorphosis he started in Children of Dune, greatly enhancing his life-span and making him Nigh-Invulnerable. Leto's awareness greatly surpasses even his father's and he had an iron grip on all aspects of life in his empire in order to ensure humanity's continued survival via the 'Golden Path'. Leto has commandeered the Bene Gesserit breeding program for his own purposes, culminating in Siona Atreides, a rebellious girl who is invisible to even Leto's oracular vision. Siona is the daughter of Moneo, Leto's majordomo, who himself was once a rebel as well before seeing the necessity of the Golden Path. Moneo and Siona are distant descendants of Leto's sister Ghanima. The cast is rounded out by Duncan Idaho, which Leto continues to task the Tleilaxu with restoring back to life over the last three millennia both for breeding and for the company he provides, despite many of them dying while trying to assassinate Leto himself.

Just when Leto's ultimate success is at hand, Ix has sent a new ambassador, Hwi Noree, designed to seduce Leto and make him vulnerable. Despite Hwi's best intentions to betray her Ixian superiors, her very presence does exactly what was intended, for the first time in millennia causing Leto to doubt his choice and sacrifice. The other threats to the Atreides continue, the Tleilaxu are also scheming throughout, the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit attempt to influence events to the best of their comparatively feeble abilities and Siona lurks ready to pounce on the tyrant she resents so much.

Will Leto's 'Golden Path' survive? Will humanity?

God Emperor of Dune contains examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: Leto II, when at the end of Children of Dune combines his body with sandworm larvae to extend his life by thousands of years and gain immunity to almost every form of physical damage, also inherits the sandworms' vulnerability to water. Of course, this only becomes part of his plan.
  • Affably Evil: Malky, the Ixian representative. He takes pleasure in being known as a wretched man, and he's one of the few who can really get under Leto's skin. In spite of all that, he's always in good spirits and Leto admits a fondness for him.
  • Amazon Brigade: Fish Speakers and the Bene Gesserit.
  • An Arm and a Leg: An attempted assassination of Leto II via lasegun ends with one of his flippers (the atrophied remains of his legs and feet) seared off. Leto remarks on how useless those limbs had become as his healing factor stymies the wound but does not grow the flipper back.
  • And I Must Scream: Leto II's awareness supposedly exists in each of the sandtrout and sandworms produced from his body. In his words, he is "a pearl of awareness locked in an endless dream".
  • Anti-Magic: Due to Leto II breeding the Siona gene into humanity, a substantial portion of the human population (including all of the Bene Gesserit) cannot be seen within prescient visions, thereby preventing the prophet's trap. No-Ship technology also applies.
  • Arc Words: "The Golden Path" defines the entire series after the second book, and only becomes more and more powerful as you fully come to realize what it means.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Leto II’s view.
    "The surest sign that an aristocracy exists is the discovery of barriers against change, curtains of iron or steel or stone or of any substance which excludes the new, the different"
  • Badass Army: The Fish Speakers, created by Leto as a replacement for the Corrinos' Sardaukar, and the Atreides' Fremen warriors. The remnants of the Sardaukar served Leto in the early decades of his reign, but eventually a Duncan Idaho clone rallied them to make a last, futile rebellion against the God Emperor, after which they were permanently disbanded. The Fremen, meanwhile, were not destroyed - but centuries of living on a lush and terraformed planet made them go soft, ending the harsh desert culture that made them such potent warriors in the first place. Fremen bloodlines continued but as a culture they've gone extinct. Many of the Fish Speakers, however, were bred from Sardaukar and Fremen bloodlines.
  • Big Bad: The Tleilaxu and Ix
  • Bittersweet Ending: Leto is apparently betrayed and dies, although this ultimately went out as planned by him in spite of all the tumbles and turns through the way. With his sacrifice, humanity is finally set on the Golden Path.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology/Bizarre Human Biology: Leto's sandworm body has grown even bigger, being mostly worm with a human face and arms at one end.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Leto II is the greatest tyrant in history; yet both claimed their actions were necessary to avoid an even greater catastrophe — the complete and total extinction of humanity. (And considering that his father Paul and Leto both share an ability to see into the future, they are probably right.)
  • Bodyguard Babes: Leto's Fish Speaker guard.
  • Body Horror: Leto II in demiworm form.
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: Inverted. Siona and her descendants cannot be detected by prescience.
  • Chastity Couple: Leto and Hwi, though not by choice.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Leto II
  • The Chessmaster: Leto II
  • Clingy Costume: Stillsuits. Mostly out of use by this time, but Siona needed one during her test.
  • Combat Clairvoyance: Thanks to his powers, Leto II could even foresee where to best place his forces for ambushes.
  • Compelling Voice: Leto II, thanks to carrying the memories of his Bene Gesserit grandmother.
  • Covers Always Lie: Not as bad as some cases, but what the page image depicts isn't really what the text describes regarding Leto II. (For one thing, he still has arms.)
  • Crazy-Prepared: Leto II is prepared for everything thrown at him, to the point that he's bored.
  • Darwinist Desire: Leto II essentially confiscates the Bene Gesserit breeding program to produce the Siona trait.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The opening pages give a detailed backstory to multiple characters who are immediately killed.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Hwi Noree is this for Malky, literally. She was genetically engineered to be Malky's polar opposite in every way, as a way to bait Leto II.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Golden Path is humanity as a whole earning theirs. However it is averted in Leto II himself who, despite his sacrifices, doesn’t get his, despite it being dangled in front of him.
  • Emperor Scientist: Leto II actually becomes the God Emperor of the Universe to continue a gigantic human breeding program personally.
  • The Emperor: Leto II as God Emperor.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Leto II drops the quote word for word when the Duncan Idaho Ghola at the beginning of the novel attempts to kill him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: With his immense knowledge of history, Leto II goes on to round up historians who fabricate and lie to serve their own ideology and has them burned on pyres of their books. When discussing this, Leto II makes it clear that he will not kill historians who simply made errors. While he states that it's because he doesn't want to make martyrs, from Leto's own point of view he's committing these actions to kill and spare because he genuinely believes he's helping humanity. He also draws the line at having them awake when they're burned; he lets people believe they are because it helps his image, but in fact he has them knocked unconscious before the fires are lit so they die unaware.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Duncan Idaho frequently dies betraying Leto II. In the end, he is partially responsible for Leto’s death, despite being in charge of protecting him. However, for Leto himself this is Just as Planned since his death is part of the Golden Path. It could also be a Heel–Face Turn if you consider Leto II the bad guy.
  • Fat Bastard: The Baron Harkonnen is discussed with Moneo believing him to be a hedonistic Sense Freak.
    "He was a seeker after sensations," Moneo said. "The fat was a side-effect, then perhaps something to experience for itself because it offended people and he enjoyed offending."
  • Fictional Document: The events of the story are based on Leto’s journals being found in the future.
  • Foregone Conclusion: God Emperor of Dune is written from the Framing Device of the titular Leto's unearthed memoirs. That he is dead and his reign ended is therefore known from the start, and the nature of his demise ("fragmented consciousness") is foreshadowed.
  • Gambit Roulette: More like a Gambit Casino because Leto II goes through four millennia of jihad after jihad, taking a totalitarian grip on all matters secular and religious, controlling the universal economy with his stranglehold on the spice, and carefully manipulating the bloodline stemming from his sister through the ages, all to get Duncan Idaho in bed with his great-great-great-great-great-great^? grand niece (and subsequently create prescient-immune people).
  • A God Am I: Leto II, at least publicly.
  • God-Emperor: This book was a big influence on the more modern "Memetic Divinity" aspect.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Hwi Noree. The Ixians breed and designed her to be the perfect Honey Trap for Leto. Unfortunately their attraction and compatibility with one another is so perfect that Hwi sides with Leto and betrays the Ixians soon after meeting him for the first time.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Leto II, between human and sandworm.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Leto II determines that the only way to prevent an energy crisis and galactic war leading to the extinction of humanity is to establish himself as a tyrannical, semi-immortal God Emperor. Though this is a bit of a subversion, since the problem was that humans wouldn't leave their safety zone of the known star systems unless they were oppressed and forced to stay there for a couple centuries. Once Leto died, every major human civilization was then free to explore the universe again, in a bit of reverse psychology. Of course he knew it would happen that way.
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Leto and Hwi, a seven-metre-long worm-human hybrid and a human. Lampshaded by many characters, with Malky among others asking Leto if he has "a monster penis inside that monster body". Subverted, though, as Leto and Hwi are a Chastity Couple, though not by choice.
  • Immune to Fate: Siona and her descendants.
  • Internal Retcon: Leto II, being a Kwisatz Haderach, has full access to his masculine and feminine genetic memory which stretches from about the year 40,000 back to the beginning of human awareness. What does he do with it? He has hundreds of historians burned alive for misconstruing the facts that he has personal access to. Of course, this was partly mystique-building, as he secretly rendered them unconscious first.
  • Jerkass: Siona opposes the greatest tyrant mankind has ever known, but she's also hypocritical, cruel and pointlessly vindictive. Nor does she admit the consequences of her actions. She does not even oppose the Golden Path once she understands it, but persists nonetheless. Which just goes to show you that Leto is cruel because he must be, Siona is cruel just because.
  • Kill It with Water: Aside from extreme old age or atomic explosions, the only way to kill a sandworm is by completely drowning them in water. Good luck finding any on a planet called Dune. This, of course, comes full circle in God Emperor of Dune, where Leto II must be killed in water for the sandworm cycle to continue.
  • Kill the God: Many people have planned and failed to kill Leto. Only Siona is successful, talking Nayla into destroying a bridge Leto and his cohort are crossing, sending them into a river below. Just as planned by Leto.
  • King Bob the Nth/Dead Guy Junior: Leto IInote 
  • Last of His Kind: Leto II, as the last of the sandworms. Later averted with his death.
  • Living Distant Ancestor:
    • Leto II has no direct biological descendants on account of his transformation, but he's raised many generations of his sister Ghanima's descendants.
    • The latest Duncan ghola is informed that many of his prior incarnations sired several children, by one of his descendants.
  • Lonely at the Top: Leto II at the height of his power laments that he has no one who can truly understand him.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Leto II's enforced "peace" makes Paul's jihad look benign. Also highlighted in how the death of some historians seems to get greater focus than the plight and death of billions under Leto II.
  • Mundane Utility: Horse drawn antigravity wagons for farmers. Dune, for all your anachronistic needs. Justified in that Leto II intentionally suppresses all forms of advanced culture and technology except those he uses himself, as part of his plan to force humanity to evolve.
    "Have you not considered how much easier it is to control a walking population?"
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning/Heroic Sacrifice: Leto II's Golden Path.
  • Necessarily Evil: Leto II makes himself the most terrible tyrant in history deliberately, so that when he is dead humanity will scatter and never be controllable by a single power ever again. A scattered humanity that cannot be found via any type of prescience is also a humanity that cannot be exterminated. (c.f., Siona's initiation to the Golden Path.)
  • No Place for Me There: Leto's ultimate goal is to eliminate the power of beings such as himself over humanity. Not only can he not exist in the future he's trying to create, he can't even foresee what it will be like.
  • No-Sell: Downplayed. Leto II's worm body is immune to Lasegun fire as worms were able to generate and withstand intense heat. However, the still human parts of his body are vulnerable and early on he loses a foot in an assassination attempt.
  • Not So Omniscient After All: Leto II has been working to make himself this through a millennia spanning breeding program. The goal being that no one like himself could ever control all of humanity ever again. He succeeds with Siona and as a result she is able to kill him.
  • No Woman's Land: Inverted in that Leto II deliberately elevates women over men, save for himself and a select few. A sharp contrast to the old patriarchal Imperium.
  • Numbered Homeworld: The planet Ix (pronounced as spelled) developed from millennia of language-development to the point that the original prefix was lost, and Ix came to be pronounced as a word rather than as "IX", or 9 in Roman numerals.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Leto II, though framed more like Necessarily Evil.
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: Psychically-invisible Siona Atreides. Someone planned for it to happen.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: Leto II
  • Sand Worm: Notably absent, as they're all extinct. Leto II is the closest thing.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Leto II asks Hwi Noree if she's familiar with the philosophy of Noah Arkwright (a Meaningful Name, when you consider that "-wright" means "maker" or "builder"). It turns out to be a pseudonym of Leto II. It's an in-universe shout out to the Biblical character.
    • As it is said at the top of the page, Leto famously says: "It is difficult to live in the present, pointless to live in the future and impossible to live in the past." Considering Herbert's interest in Buddhism, this is likely a shout out to the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, where Buddha is quoted as: "What is past is left behind, the future is as yet unreached, and whatever quality is present you clearly see right there".
  • Super Soldiers: Leto II's Fish Speakers, an Amazon Brigade, become more feared than the Sardaukar.
  • Terraform/Weather-Control Machine: The sandworms managed to turn the once-lush and verdant Arrakis into a desert-world. Paul promises to transform Arrakis into a paradise through use of weather satellites, and makes good with signs of life and vegetation taking hold of the planet at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, his son Leto II realizes this is taking place much too quickly and will destabilize the universe's political and social infrastructure if the sandworms die out, so destroys the canals. He takes control of the program himself and over the next 3,500 years transforms Arrakis more steadily, only to return it to a desert world once again on his death.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Leto's Golden Path involves him dying in water to continue the sandworm cycle.
  • Time Skip: 3,500 years since Children of Dune
  • Two Beings, One Body: Leto II's merge with the sandtrout/sandworms.
  • Übermensch: Leto II
  • Unobtainium: The Spice. Now even more rarer as Leto is the only source and distributor of the stuff.
  • Villain Protagonist: Leto II. Interesting in that he is only evil so that he can preserve humanity. This really comes out when you see how Siona and the novel's main Duncan feel about him, as they are virtually the only people who don't worship or beg of him.
  • Voluntary Shape Shifting: Face Dancers, though Leto and his forces are trained to detect them.
  • Warfare Regression: Lasguns are back in use, thanks to Leto banning Shield Technology to force warfare to start evolving again. Then reverts back when Leto II bans shields.
  • The War to End All Wars: What could probably result if Leto didn't stick to the Golden Path.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Leto has lived 3,500 years. He's not too happy.
  • Women Are Wiser:
    • Invoked- The reason the Fish Speakers are an all woman force is because of Leto's assertion that men, conditioned to violence and deprived of an outlet, will turn on their own populace, while women in the same position will turn to maternal instincts. Leto understands this because he has both male and female Genetic Memory. It gets ultimately subverted, though, as this makes women just as flawed as men, just in different ways: they are just a more easily controlled army then men are.
    • Possibly subverted in a different way. Given that the Honored Matres in later books are a fusion of Fish Speakers with rogue Bene Gesserit, and Leto could forsee the future... it's possible that he made an all-female army of super-soldiers anticipating that this would lead to the creation of the Honored Matres.