I already know much of what happens in Dune - the top end of the saga at least - thanks to my brother's enthusiastic prattling, a famously inept film adaptation I never sat all the way through, a low-budget TV miniseries I did and a succinct musical synopsis by Iron Maiden, but maybe I'll get more out of it now that I'm no longer too young and pre-undergraduate to recognise the obvious allegories about them Catholics and them Muslims.
Frank Herbert, Dune
1965 / Audiobook / 412 pages / USA
It's not like I didn't already know how this riches-to-Jesus story was going to go down, but even if I hadn't, Herbert insists on spoiling things anyway with his frequent intertextual interruptions and prophetic spoilers. His universe-building is very nicely done though, throwing us in at the deep end with zany terminology we're expected to commit to memory (my brother's paperbacks came with a glossary, the audiobooks don't) and filling in the history tastefully as we need it. Since I wasn't coming to this untainted, my mental Paul, Gurney and Feyd were played by Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart and Sting respectively, despite the audiobook narrator's best efforts to make everyone sound exactly the same and equally uninterested in what's going on.
Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah
1969 / Audiobook / 256 pages / USA
Now that your basic Hero's Journey is out of the way, things can take a turn for the sinister and weird. I have no idea yet how well this series is going to hold together in its later extremities, but this is a properly good, justified sequel that spends its entire (more manageable) length bogged down in the consequences of the first, leaving the slate only slighter cleaner by the end. It turns out that letting a fickle, fragile universe think you're the Messiah wasn't the recipe for a happy ending after all. You don't need second sight to predict some of the likely plot points, but if you expected things like the resurrection of a minor character from the first book as an assassin and a living Wikipedia dwarf, I'd be worried about you.
Frank Herbert, Children of Dune
1976 / Audiobook / 408 pages / USA
Since the story was basically complete, with no pressing loose ends to tie up, it's time to start again with a Next Generation revamp... but one that still squeezes in as many old, dead characters as possible and again spends most of its time stranded on this one, poxy planet with these spoiled elites rather than exploring more of the Duniverse. It's like Frank Herbert's writing his own fan fiction, even before incest comes on the scene and we're treated to such delectably raunchy descriptions as "an adult beef swelling in his loins." Woof, woof.
Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
1981 / Audiobook / 454 pages / USA
Herbert loosens up slightly and we're catapulted millennia into the further future to see what the hell became of the man-worm god emperor, get inside his omniscient head and explore his beneficent tyranny. This has got to be up there with the strangest sequels in history, and a welcome step in a creative direction after its predictable predecessor. I'd actually read this one before, while wandering aimlessly in Taiwan, but my enjoyment had been hindered by awful audiobook narration. Since I couldn't find a superior version, I had to settle for that same narrator again and it didn't seem so bad this time, which can only mean I've been desensitised by the good amateurs at Librivox.
Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune
1984 / Audiobook / 471 pages / USA
We're firmly in the realm of pointless, forgotten sequels by this point - Dune's Battle for the Planet of the Apes or Hellraiser: Inferno. On the bright side, we finally ditch the dynasty and get off that bloody planet (for most of it), though the story is still the customary blend of devious machinations, religious satire and unsexy erotica (a clasping vagina makes an appearance). Despite the climactic ending, it's the first of the sequels that doesn't feel like Herbert's final word on the subject, as he finally realised he'd be churning out Dunes until he died. Which wouldn't be very long, as it turned out.
Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
1985 / Audiobook / 464 pages / USA
And so the Dune saga ends, seemingly half-way through Herbert's endgame, or at least his latest trilogy. Like he wouldn't have found more excuses to keep cracking them out if he'd lived. Even if I was in love with the story (or even paying attention), I doubt I'd bother with the "official" sequels and prequels authorised and supposedly co-written by the Herbert estate, even though it's obviously prolific franchise whore Kevin J. Anderson who really writes them. I don't care enough to even pretend to be angry about that.