Everyone knows Dune (you do, don't you? If not, why are you here?), and if you’ve even given this blog a cursory glance, you know that lately I’ve been obsessing about Dune more than a little.
I happened to chance onto a book called The Road to Dune in a local second-hand book store (I live in Malaysia. English is not the first language here, so it was a find). Within this book, along with deleted or early draft scenes from Dune and Dune Messiah, was a novella called Spice Planet.
Brian Herbert detailed in the introduction that this story came from his father’s notes - a detailed chapter by chapter breakdown of the story. But Frank had abandoned this story, making a new start and creating Dune.
It’s unclear from Brian’s notes how much of the novella is Frank word for word, and how much is his son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson extrapolating from notes. What is clear is that this story, seminal though it is, falls a long way short of the classic that we know today as Dune.
Most notable about the story is the absences. There are no Fremen, Bene Gesserit, nor for that matter a House Atreides.
Most notable about the story is the absences. There are no Fremen, Bene Gesserit, nor for that matter a House Atreides. The story is not about a boy becoming a warrior-god. It’s about the boy’s father winning in the political intrigues of an imperial court that is out to get him. In this way, it also feels like it’s a seminal source for some of Herbert’s other books, such as Whipping Star.
All of the character names and personalities are different, except for Gurney Halleck and the doctor, Yueh. Both of these tow plays roles similar to those in the story we’re more familiar with.
Nobleman Jesse Linkham and his wife Doris Mapes or the stars of the story. Their son appears perhaps three times, but never does anything of consequence. There are no Dukes, Barons or other titles except Nobleman and Emperor. The Spacing Guild, CHOAM, and the Landsraat don’t exist as such, although there are shadows of each in the story.
This story also lacks a lot of the in-world details that made Dune such a vivid read.
This story also lacks a lot of the in-world details that made Dune such a vivid read. There are no chair dogs, no mentats, and without the Fremen, a lot of the cultural exploration simply doesn’t exist - and so sand worms are never ridden or otherwise utilized. They are a problem to be solved and once solved, disregarded. Also, there are no crysknives, no water rituals, no duels for honour.
I should note that the planet is named Dune World, and it’s star is Arrakis. In Dune, the star is Canopus, which some have noted actually makes no sense.
Spice Planet is a weak reflection of Dune, an interesting insight as to where the story came from, but lacking the many layers that Dune can be read at. It’s one advantage is that it does explain the worm/melange ecology in greater detail (However Herbert abandoned this explanation for something simpler and less exact.).
Generally, Spice Planet lacks much of the grace that Frank Herbert’s writing had. There are places where it shines, but committing to reading this story is purely for the Frank Herbert completists and those who are obsessed with story development.