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Literature / Prelude to Dune

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"Like many culinary delicacies, revenge is a dish best savored slowly, after long and delicate preparation."
The Padishah Emperor

The Prelude to Dune series is a prequel trilogy to the popular Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert. The trilogy was the first outing of Frank's son Brian Herbert and his writing partner Kevin J. Anderson.

The trilogy consists of:

  • Dune: House Atreides (1999)
  • Dune: House Harkonnen (2000)
  • Dune: House Corrino (2001)

The series starts thirty-five years before the events of Dune and sets up the major reasons for the conflict between Houses Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino, resulting in the events of Dune. The novels cover the events that raise Leto Atreides to power as Duke of House Atreides as well as Shaddam IV as Padishah Emperor, how both Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho came to serve the Atreides and hate the Harkonnens, and the events that led Kynes to Dune.

The story sets up the tension between Duke Leto and Shaddam, despite personal like, the events set Duke Leto up as a much stronger and popular political leader in the Landsraad than Shaddam himself, creating part of the perceived threat that later creates common cause between Corrino and Harkonnen.

The Prelude to Dune trilogy contains examples of:

  • Anti-Villain: Hasimir Fenring is much more level-headed than Shaddam. He could possibly even be a good ruler, if he were the emperor. Also, most of the time in House Corrino we see him with the Tleilaxu Hidar Fen Ajidica, compared to whom he really seems like a good guy.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted — the Atreides are almost always benevolent, and the Ecazi, Richese, and Vernius families are more or less good. Too bad Being Good Sucks.
  • Avenging the Villain: It's eventually revealed that Viscount Hundro Moritani is descended from the unnamed House that attacked Salusa Secundus with atomics, resulting in (most) of that House being wiped out in return and Kaitain becoming the new capital.
  • Beta Couple: Rhombur and Tessia are this to Leto and Kailea.
  • Betrayal Insurance: The stalemate House Harkonnen and the Bene Gesserit end up in during the second novel. Each faction has blackmail they can use to destroy the other...but doing so will, of course, bring down the other side's leverage and ultimately destroy both parties.
  • Big Bad: The Baron, Shaddam, and Ajidica.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: The good kind. When the cornered Viscount Hundro Moritani plans to blow up the Emperor and many of the nobles with planted atomics, his Swordmaster reveals that he secretly disarmed the weapons, unwilling to be a party to this.
  • Break the Cutie: A very disturbing example from House Harkonnen is the prolonged and violent forced prostitution (and eventual murder) of Gurney Halleck's gentle younger sister Bheth. First she is kidnapped by the Harkonnens for trying to protect her brother. Then they cut out her larynx so she can't do more than scream wordlessly. Next she is subjected to 6 years (starting at age 17) of sadistic rape and torture by a recorded 4620 Harkonnen soldiers. Rabban finally kills her in retribution of Gurney's attempt on his life.
  • Call-Forward: In House Corrino, Navigator D'murr Pilru has a vision of the Enemy that will emerge 5,000 years later.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Baron has his etiquette teacher drowned in raw sewage. The man had been trying to teach the Baron how to behave in polite society.
  • Cruel Mercy: Swain Goire's fate following Kaleia's assassination attempt and Victor's death in House Harkonnen. Goire's unintentional role in the assassination saves him from execution, but Leto isn't feeling merciful and hands down a worse sentence: Goire is sentenced to live. Leto exiles Goire to force him to live with the guilt and the shame he's brought to House Atreides (between Victor's death and his affair with Kaleia).
  • Death by Origin Story: Both Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck grew up on Geidi Prime and lost family members to Rabban's ruthlessness, which is how they ended up fleeing to Caladan and signing up with the Atreides (at different times). Duncan's parents were killed by Rabban right in front of him for refusing to be the prey in their Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Gurney's little sister was taken by Harkonnen troops, repeatedly raped and had her legs amputated. When Gurney attempted to rescue her, Rabban publicly raped and killed her.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The Baron, just as in the original novel. This ironically ends up being a plot point in Dune: House Harkonnen after Wellington Yueh examines the Baron and diagnoses his disease as an STD originating from a female sexual partner. The Baron is understandably confused as to how that's possible...then instantly realizes it could only have been the Bene Gesserit over a decade earlier during the events of House Atreides.
  • Dramatic Irony: After treating the Baron's deteriorating condition in the second novel, Wellington Yueh hopes he never has to deal with the Harkonnens ever again. Oh, poor Wellington...
  • Driven by Envy: Emperor Elrood IX has never forgiven Earl Dominic Vernius for stealing away and marrying his favorite concubine Shando. It's one of the main reasons he assists the Tleilaxu in invading Ix and commands his Sardaukar to hunt down all surviving member of House Ix.
  • Explosive Overclocking: It happens to Ajidica at the end due to Amal overdose.
  • Evil Matriarch: Duke Leto Atreides' mother, Helena, is generally a thorn in the side of the Atreides household, and hatches a plot to kill her husband, the Old Duke Paulus. She is eventually exiled to the Sisters in Isolation to spend the rest of her life. She is also a Bible-thumper and hates the Ixians supposedly due to their (alleged) violations of the no-AI rule, but mostly because House Vernius (the rulers of Ix) beat her own House Richese in the technological and economic game. Anything bad that happens to the Ixians is God's will in her mind.
  • Fat Bastard: Initially subverted with Baron Harkonnen, who at this point in the Dune timeline is a fit aristocrat in the prime of his health and physique. How he becomes the familiar obese oligarch of the original novel is a subplot running through the Trilogy. His Fat Bastard status is also retconned to be a performance of intentional overindulgence meant to conceal the debilitating disease Mohiam infected him with during House Atreides. If the truth of his condition were to get out, it would weaken his standing in the Landsraad and could get him ousted as head of House Harkonnen.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The vision of the future Enemy that Navigator D'murr Pilru has during House Corrino. The Navigator specifically calls them an ancient Enemy. This is the first clue for the reveal of Hunters of Dune: That the Enemy is actually a reborn Thinking Machine Empire.
    • During the occupation of Ix, and in the midst of his Amal-induced megalomania, Hidar Fen Ajidica dispatches Face Dancers into deep space. Their purpose is to establish Tleilaxu colonies for their long-term galactic plans (which come to naught after House Atreides helps retake Ix). These Face Dancers will encounter, and be captured, by Omnius — which will lead to the Enhanced Face Dancers 5000 years later that will be a key component of the Thinking Machines' revenge.
  • Frame-Up: The Baron tries to frame the newly-ascended Leto for an attack on a Tleilaxu delegation in House Atreides. It nearly works, but fails due to the Bene Gesserit blackmailing Shaddam (through Leto) into saving the young Duke (as the penultimate generation of the Kwisatz Haderach program requires Atreides genetics and they need Leto alive).
  • The Fundamentalist: Again, Helena Atreides.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The Amal project. It seems to be a success at first, but turns out to be a complete catastrophe when Ajidica tries to use it as a real spice substitute. This results in two heighliners losing course when they secretly replace the navigators' spice with amal. The sardaukar soldiers who get it become more fierce and dangerous, but they lose all their discipline, making them eventually easier to defeat.
    • The Harkonnen attempt to frame Leto in the first novel for an attack on a Tleilaxu delegation on the eve of Shaddam's coronation. They hope to cripple their ancestral enemies and the rival Tleilaxus before Project Amal can be completed (and ruin the financial income from Arrakis). It fails due to unanticipated intervention from the the Bene Gesserit and not only does Project Amal remain intact, but the exoneration begins Leto's familiar reputation, integrity, and popularity.
  • Gunship Rescue: As Leto and the Vernius siblings are fleeing Ix, their shuttle is being chased by Tleilaxu fighters. Then several Atreides warships show up and protect the shuttle from the attackers, revealing to have just arrived via a Guild Heighliner.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Chobin when the Harkonnens ask if anyone else knows about his development of the No-Ship technology. Also gets deconstructed afterwards as Piter De Vries points out that perhaps they should have tested and ensured the technology actually works before employing this trope — a concern that is borne out in the next novel when they're not only unable to replicate the No-Ship technology, but also lose it after Rabban goes Leeroy Jenkens with the Bene Gesserit.
  • Heroic BSoD: [[spoiler: Leto after Victor's death and
  • Hidden Army Reveal: While the majority of the Atreides military is off-world, the Harkonnen and the Moritani agree to a joint attack on Caladan in order to cripple House Atreides economically. As the joint strike fleet descends from orbit, they are suddenly confronted by a huge wet navy with guns all aimed at them. Rabban hastily orders a retreat. After they're gone, the Atreides breathe a sigh of relief and tell the fishermen to remove the fake guns from the decks of their boats.
  • He Knows Too Much: Stable master Yresk's 'death' during his interrogation. Leto and Thufir can't risk what else he knows about Helena Atreides' role in Paulus' murder and her other schemes getting out as a matter of internal House security.
  • Invisibility Cloak: A Richese scientist develops the no-field technology, which he uses to build the Baron a room for secret meetings and a small no-ship. Rabban later uses the no-ship to frame the Atreides for attacking another House aboard a Guild Heighliner. However, this version of the technology turns out not to be immune to prescience, which Rabban discovers when he tries to attack Wallach IX. The technology is lost at the end of the trilogy, although it's possible that the Bene Gesserit have studied it. It's left unclear if the future re-discovery of the tech is completely independent or based on these studies.
  • It's Personal: Given their Death by Origin Story (see above), both Duncan and Gurney have a score to settle with the Harkonnen.
  • Mad Scientist: Hidar Fen Ajidica, a Tleilaxu scientist. It gets even worse by the end, when he's abusing his own Spice substitute called Amal.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Duke Paulus' murder during his final bullfight.
  • Never My Fault: The Baron executes etiquette teacher Mephistis Cru for the disastrous banquet during House Corrino...even though the banquet was only a disaster because the Baron went off-script with the ill-advised dessert (and without input from Cru).
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Rabban's impulsive and disastrous attack on Wallach IX during Dune: House Harkonnen. He loses the House's only No-Ship and its technology to the Bene Gesserit and undermines the Baron's bargaining position. Worse, it also gives the witches the evidence to confirm their longstanding suspicions about who really attacked the Tleilaxu delegation and framed Leto in Dune: House Atreides. This gives them enough blackmail leverage to trump the Baron's own blackmail leverage. Scant wonder the Baron beats the ever-living crap out of his nephew and banishes him from Geidi Prime once Rabban's returned.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Shaddam's ultimate plan is to destroy Arrakis from above, in order to eliminate the natural spice, preparing for the arrival of the spice substitute Amal he has commissioned from the Tleilaxu. Fortunately, when the Guild finds out about this, all the Navigators jump out of the system, leaving Shaddam's fleet stranded. He's forced to cancel his plans in order to convince the Guild to bring the Heighliners back.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Happens by accident, when Kailea Vernius, angry that Leto Atreides refuses to marry her, tries to assassinate him. Unfortunately, the bomb is discovered and triggered by their young son Victor, who is killed instantly by the blast. The explosion also cripples Kailea's brother Rhombur. Upon learning of this, Kailea leaps from the tower window to her death.
  • Planet of Hats: Shows up more than the original novels. For instance, Houses Ix and Richese's hat is being gadgeteer geniuses.
  • Please Select New City Name: On a planetary scale, after the Tleilaxu invade Ix, they rename it "Xuttah". After the planet's rightful rulers are restored, the original name is likewise brought back.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • Hasimir Fenring. While in House Atreides he acts like the kind of assassin who kills people for funnote , in the later books he becomes much more benign. He tries to keep the emperor as reasonable as possible, at least until the Amal plan is completed.
    • This trope saves Wellington Yueh from Baron Harkonnen's wrath (at least until the original Dune). Despite the risk of news of his condition getting out (along with the humiliation of Yueh's examination), even the Baron knows better to kill a Suk Medical Doctor and risk making an enemy of the Great School. Besides, his ultimate target of revenge now is the Bene Gesserit for infecting him.
  • Production Foreshadowing: Since Legends of Dune was in pre-development during Prelude, Herbert and Anderson plant seeds for key players and events from that earlier historical period that would get explored in the next Trilogy.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • The Baron rapes Gaius Helen Mohiam, resulting in the birth of Jessica. As punishment, Mohiam poisons the Baron, making him the Fat Bastard we know and hate.
    • On the flipside, Mohiam herself was blackmailing the Baron, demanding that he impregnate her, which could also count as a form of rape.
  • Retcon: All over the place, ranging from major (the identity of Jessica's mother and the circumstances of her conception, the Tlielaxu being widely known as religious fanatics several thousand years before this was revealed in Heretics) to relatively minor (the presence of chairdogs and no-globe technology, both post-Scattering innovations).
  • The Rival:
    • The two inhabited planets in the Epsilon Eridani system, Richese and Ix, focus on science and research. They are frequently competing against one another. While Richesians tend to give a wide berth to technology that may be seen forbidden, Ixians are less constrained, which is helped by their facilities being located underground. The Richesians are still bitter about losing the Spacing Guild contract to the Ixians.
    • Kailea Vernius also sees her fellow concubine Jessica as this. Ironically, it's Kailea's increasing jealousy that eventually drives Leto into Jessica's arms.
  • Saved by Canon: Cleverly subverted with Piter De Vries. Given his role in the original novel, the reader expects he'll survive the events of the Trilogy (and the bloody climax of House Corrino)...only for Piter be killed during his attempted abduction of the infant Paul. The reveal thus is that the Piter of Dune is actually a Tlielaxu Ghola commissioned by the Baron to replace his Mentat. This reveal also explains why Piter discovers Jessica's true parentage earlier in House Corrino, but doesn't know it in the original novel).
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: A gender-swapped version: Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam threatens Baron Vladimir Harkonnen that she will reveal to the emperor his illegal spice hoard if he doesn't impregnate her. When her child turns out to be defected, she repeats her demand. No wonder the Baron overreacts.
  • Self-Made Orphan:
    • Rabban kills his father in a fit of rage, declaring himself as The Beast.
    • Also, Crown Prince Shaddam Corrino gets his friend Hasimir Fenring to kill his father Emperor Elrood IX in order to take the throne.
  • Shoot the Builder: Rabban kills the Richese scientist who developed the no-field technology, believing he was no longer needed. Unfortunately, not only are the Harkonnens unable to replicate the technology without him, but Rabban ends up losing the only no-ship they have in a rash and impulsive attack.
  • Space Station: Richesian scientists do much of their work aboard a large space station in orbit of their planet. The station is blown up by the Sardaukar at Emperor Shaddam's orders. The resulting explosion, plus the stock of Richesian mirrors aboard, results in a huge chunk of the planetary population going blind.
  • Subspace Ansible: An Ixian young man named C'tair Pilru constructs a crude device that allows him to link his mind with that of his twin brother D'murr, who is now a Guild Navigator. C'tair is able to have several communication sessions with D'murr at great interstellar distances, but the stress eventually kills C'tair. The Guild later tests the device by using two Navigators, whose Heighliners are parked in orbit over Kaitain and Caladan, to allow Emperor Shaddam IV to speak with Duke Leto Atreides in real-time. However, the attempt eventually results in the deaths of the two Navigators, and the technology is abandoned.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The aftermath of Leo's trial after the attack on the Tleilaxu delegation in the first novel. While he's legally acquitted thanks to Shaddam's influence, he's also never technically cleared for the actual crime. So even decades later, a decent chunk of the Landsraad still thinks the Duke did it (much to Leo's chagrin as it impugns his personal honor). The Tleilaxu certainty still think he did it and refuse to forget or forgive (or even consider he was telling the truth and it was a frame-up).
  • Taking You with Me:
    • When Earl Dominic Vernius is cornered by Sardaukar troops in his base on Arrakis, he detonates a stone burner, killing himself and a good number of the Emperor's troops.
    • When The Emperor and the allied troops capture Viscount Hundro Moritani, the latter reveals to have hidden atomics all over the area and plans to detonate them as a last "screw you" to House Corrino. Fortunately, one of the servants sabotages the remote detonator, unwilling to go along with the atrocity.
  • invoked Technology Marches On: House Ix has the exclusive contract for building Guild Heighliners. However, when the Ixian engineers manage to improve the design to provide a 20% increase in cargo space, Emperor Elrood IX demands that Earl Dominic Vernius go back to the previous design, as House Corrino is paid a fee per fold, not by weight, which would mean an overall loss for the Corrino, as fewer folds would be required to transport the same amount of cargo. Vernius refuses to back down, citing the need for progress.
  • Underground City: The Ixians keep the surface of their planet pristine. Everything is located underground in vast caverns.
  • What Could Have Been: The Rabbans planned to raise their second son Feyd-Rautha well and not in line with the traditional Harkonnen ruthlessness. Unfortunately, the Baron has other ideas and takes little Feyd from his parents to raise as a his own.
  • You Have Failed Me: For killing the Richese scientist who developed the no-technology that the House couldn't replicate on their own, along with losing the only no-ship they had in a reckless attack, the Baron exiles Rabban.

Alternative Title(s): Heroes Of Dune