Exploding spaceships, a mad escape from thinking robots, boiling mud? Wow, that sounds like some great material for a short story. They are the basic elements of Hunting Harkonnens, the very first story in the entire Dune chronicle. And while the end result might not be the most exciting story, it is a great introduction to the basic ideas of this early Dune universe.
Every series has to start somewhere. And, of course, the Dune purist will say that Dune starts with Dune–the original series as written by the venerable master Frank Herbert is all there is. Full stop. Well, I don’t belong to that camp. I want to embrace the whole Dune universe, even if some of it doesn’t really fit nicely with the original novels. Remember, the events of Dune take place a very, very long time after the events of Hunting Harkonnens and the books of the Butlerian Jihad series. So, things that don’t agree with the original series can be dismissed as details lost in the mists of history rather than mistakes by the authors.
Hunting Harkonnens begins with the elder heir of the Harkonnen family, Piers, and his parents returning to Selusa Secundus after visiting some of their holdings on the planet of Hagal. (All familiar names to Dune fans.) Somewhere above the sparsely populated planet of Caladan, the Harkonnens are intercepted by a small fleet of thinking machines, neo-cymeks and the great Titan Agamemnon. Piers escapes to the planet’s surface where he eventually finds shelter with a small tribe of natives. The climax is quite exciting, but ultimately changes little in the Dune universe. Nonetheless, we now know a Harkonnen was stranded on Caladan long before the Atreides family arrived.
The most common criticism levelled at the Dune books and stories written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson is that they aren’t well written. I have said so myself on several occasions. However, after rereading Hunting Harkonnens with fresh eyes (and having, unfortunately, read some truly terrible books last year), I can honestly say I think Herbert and Anderson make a pretty good team. Sure, they aren’t at the level of the elder Herbert, or Issac Asimov or even Dan Simmons, but they are good writers. They have laid a good foundation for the first book (so far!) in the series The Butlerian Jihad.
Hunting Harkonnens is currently available in the book Road to Dune.