Mentats of Dune: Tor hardcover, March 2014, 445 pages, cover art by Stephen Youll. Mentats of Dune is the I-lost-counth prequel to Frank Herbert's Dune, co-written by Herbert's son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson, one of the most successful authors in the field of SF/F. Mentats of Dune takes place after Sisterhood of Dune. As the story opens, Gilbertus Albans, founder of the Mentat School where people are trained for machinelike precision of thought, is receiving a visit from the Emperor's brother, perhaps the true power behind the throne. The galaxy is unstable because Manford Torondo, leader of the Butlerians, has stepped up his crusade to eradicate all high technology (except for, y'know, whatever he needs) at the same time that Josef Venport, head of the VenHold Spacing Fleet, has vowed to embargo any planet that follows Torondo. Political machinations abound.
Tin Star: Roaring Brook trade paperback, February 2014, 233 pages. Tin Star is young adult science fiction. Cecil Castellucci has written several other YA books, although this is her first straight science fiction book. She is also a rock musician and film director. The star of Tin Star is Tula Bane, who is traveling with her family to help establish a new planetary colony, when the leader of the expedition, Brother Blue, beats her and leaves her for dead on a remote space station staffed entirely by aliens. When Tula recovers from her beating, she tries to make contact with her family, only to be told that their ship was destroyed.
The Battle: With Mentats of Dune, Herbert and Anderson have to start by arranging a lot of pieces across a complicated board. Through 25 pages, they manage this deftly, highlighting through different characters' viewpoints the seemingly inevitable conflict between the Butlerians and VenHold. I think it will quickly start to seem dry if you aren't a Dune fan, but then this book is so not written for people who aren't Dune fans.
As to Tin Star, let me first say that one part of reviewing has become much less fun for me since I started selling my own stories: the harsh review. I know now how it feels when you have a great story concept, but it just doesn't come out the way you wanted it, or it does come out the way you wanted it and yet readers don't appreciate it. So let's try to get through this quickly . . .
The opening section of Tin Star does not work for me at all.
The language strikes me as klunky from the opening line ("There are few things colder than the blackness of space."), and does not capture the voice of a teenaged girl.
The story makes no sense. The bad guy tries to murder Tula because she starts to have vague suspicions that he's up to something. What he's up to is knowingly sending a shipful of colonists off to die, so if he wants to get rid of Tula, all he has to do is stick her back on the ship. Instead, he tries to kill her, then tells her mother that Tula's not coming, and the mother doesn't even ask to say goodbye before leaving her daughter, maybe forever. Howzat?
The description of outer space is hazy at best, with details not well thought out, e.g., the narrator discusses how many years old an alien is, as if their years would be the same as ours.
Most importantly, the opening of Tin Star puts its protagonist through hell. She loses everything. She is stranded in another solar system with not a single human being to ask for help, and promptly learns her entire family has died. If you are going to start your story like that, you need to be prepared to show a character in soul-wrenching agony. The beginning of Tin Star does not capture that at all. Instead, it feels like Castellucci has wiped away Tula's whole family as a formality to get the real story started. Tula really deserves better.
THE WINNER: Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
Mentats of Dune advances to the second round, to face either The Last Weekend by Nick Mamatas or Glen Hirshberg's Motherless Child.
To see the whole bracket, click here.