Children of Dune, the third book in author Frank Herbert’s Dune series, explores the lives of Leto and Ghanima Atreides, the twin children of Paul Atreides, the hero of the first novel. TV writer Andrea Kail was impressed by the book’s thoughtful examination of complex ideas.

“This is a very philosophical book, much more so than Dune was,” Kail says in Episode 559 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The number of historical and philosophical references in this just blew my mind.”

Science fiction author Matthew Kressel agrees that Children of Dune is a smart, well-researched book. “I was trying to figure out all the religious references,” he says. “I have Buddhist, Hindu, obviously Christian, Jewish references, ancient Egyptian. There’s also Jungian psychology. I mean, there’s so much in there.”

Children of Dune excels when it comes to ideas and worldbuilding, but the pacing and characterization can feel a bit dated. Science fiction author Rajan Khanna warns that the book is sometimes pointlessly obscure. “A lot of stuff gets revealed right before it becomes relevant, and it could have been woven throughout a little bit better,” he says. “And there’s a lot of playing coy with the reader. ‘Oh, I’m going to talk about this stuff that nobody else knows,’ and that bugged me.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley admires the ambition and vision of Children of Dune but didn’t necessarily enjoy reading it. “It seemed like an intellectual exercise,” he says. “It didn’t seem like [Herbert] was that interested in the characters. He had all these ideas he wanted to explore, and he was sort of going through the motions with the characters is how it read to me, because the ideas were what he was really interested in.”

Listen to the complete interview with Andrea Kail, Matthew Kressel, and Rajan Khanna in Episode 559 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Matthew Kressel on worldbuilding:

I found myself at times just blown away by how deep and resonant and powerful the ideas are, and just the depth of thought that Herbert put into this, and just going back and reviewing all the plot threads and how they fit together, and how he had to plan that from the beginning, and just the philosophical undertones of it. … I almost feel like Herbert himself is taking spice and seeing the future of humanity. This book feels real. It feels like it’s a lived-in world. When you read this book you experience it along with the characters, and it is so vivid and so real in my mind. I think it’s as good as the first book.

David Barr Kirtley on character motivation:

Far and away my number one problem with this book is that I found it constantly frustrating that I didn’t know: ‘What side is this person on? What do they actually want? Are they a double agent? Are they telling the truth in this scene or are they hiding something?’ I’m OK with a couple of characters where you’re not sure what their agenda is, but I felt like there was just nobody here that I could identify with and that I was with emotionally. So often characters have plans and there’s a throwaway line to explain their motivations that was like a hundred pages earlier or a hundred pages later, or doesn’t appear at all.

Andrea Kail on Jessica Atreides:

Jessica is a villain. She’s incredibly selfish. She’s selfish when she gives birth to a son when she’s supposed to give birth to a daughter, leading to all of this. She’s selfish when she takes the Water of Life when she’s pregnant. She knows what it’ll do and she does it anyway. She sacrifices her daughter to save her son. And then she ran out on her two-year-old daughter and left her there to deal alone with the consequences of her actions instead of staying on Dune and being the guide that she needed. Alia’s downfall is specifically because of Jessica, and I came out of this horrified by what a terrible person Jessica is.

Rajan Khanna on Leto Atreides:

The second biggest thing I hated about this book was superpowered worm-flesh Leto, because he just starts throwing doors and punching worms and jumping off cliffs. I’m like, “How does that happen just from wearing the sandtrout on your body? How is this organism which is supposed to be very primitive giving you super strength?” I guess if you want to slide through the desert they’re designed to do that, but how is he super strong from that kind of stuff? I don’t get it. … I love superhero comics and movies and all that stuff, but it felt like suddenly a comic book hero jumped into this Dune novel that I was reading, and it was jarring.

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