the Little Red Reviewer

Dune Messiah, by Frank Herbert

Posted on: April 24, 2014

dune messiahDune Messiah, by Frank Herbert (Dune, book 2)

published in 1969

where I got it: have owned forever.

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Why am I starting with the 2nd novel in this series? The first book in the series,  Dune, was one of my gateway books to science fiction, and I’ve read it so many times in the last 20 years, that I practically know it by heart.  I grew up reading this series. But you may not know Dune by heart.  You may not have grown up with it. It’s okay, I forgive you.  But since I’m not a total jerk, here are some reviews of Dune to get you up to speed (The Founding Fields, Fantasy Book Review, Best Fantasy Books, Looping Wor(l)d, Josh’s Fantasy Novel Reviews ), and if those are tl:dr, here’s the wikipedia cliffsnotes.

My goal is to get through the rest of the series during this year. It’s been a good eight (yikes, ten?) years since I attempted Chapterhouse, so I’m due for a reread of the entire series.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even rewatch the movie and miniseries, and we can talk about that too.

 

Will there be spoilers in this series of blog posts? yes. sorry, ‘tis unavoidable.

Will they wreck your enjoyment of these books? Nope. read ‘em, and you’ll see what I mean.

and as usual, these will be my weird, impressionistic, paint thrown at the wall style reviews.

Dune Messiah  opens with the planning of a conspiracy to dethrone Emperor Paul Muad’Dib Atreides. Before Paul ascended the throne, there had always been an unspoken rule of checks and  balances – the Corrino Emperor ruled of course, but often bowed to the needs of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and the Spacing Guild. Compromises were made, powers were kept relatively happy, any embarrassments could be swept under the rug of money and power.  If Paul continues his refusal to compromise, he will have to be removed,  and a more suitable (suitable = controllable) person put on the throne.  The conspirators consist of Paul’s wife Princess Irulan,  Scytale the Tleilaxu face-dancer, the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Edric the Guild Steersman, representing a cross section of the political parties whose future stability relies on being able to influence and control the ruling family.  The plan they come up with involves nothing more suspect than a gift befitting an emperor.

 

Dune Messiah takes place twelve years after Dune, and we really see the metamorphosis Paul and his family have been forced to go through. Paul rules as Emperor of the known universe, yet he is completely powerless to stop jihadists who kill  in his name.  By allowing his Fremen to call him Messiah, he has given up all personhood, becoming a prisoner of his own success.  Nearly overnight the known universe became a theocracy, and everything that’s happened, everything that will happen, Paul has already forseen.  The future isn’t written in stone, Paul has merely seen all the possible paths, with roads that narrow as events get closer.  He’s the most accidental Emperor ever, and he and his sister Alia sometimes joke about the tragicomedy of their whole situation. A renegade genetic success and his abomination of a sister, ruling the galaxy, what could be funnier?  it’s actually a little depressing, when you think about it.

Everyone in this saga is trapped. It is important to remember that.

The dynamic between Paul, his concubine Chani, and his royal wife Irulan defines much of the first half of the book. Irulan was the price of peace, and this Empress-to-be has practically become a hostage of a wife. Does it feel like a twist of the knife every time Irulan sees Chani, a desert woman, being treated like royalty? It may have been an order from the Bene Gesserit, but I’m sure Irulan gets personal satisfaction every time she secretly drugs Chani with contraceptives.  If she can’t have Paul’s child, then no one can.

 

And all this time, Irulan thought that her political power was currency towards some kind of peace and freedom. At what moment did she realize she’d never have either, that her whole life she’s been nothing more than a tool, one to be discarded when no longer needed? Of course she knew she’d be pushed into a political marriage to someone she hardly knew, such is the way a princess becomes an Empress. It would have been natural for her to believe she was a political tool of her father, the Emperor, perhaps even a prize. But educated within the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, Irulan’s life belongs to their genetic goal of a child between her and the valuable Atreides gene line.  Does Paul realize that every time he refuses her, he cements her failure within the sisterhood?  How terrible to realize that the women who raised and educated and trained you, that this is the very family that is treating you like property, like nothing more than a breeding vessel.  I never felt bad for Irulan until this rereading, and now I find myself pitying her.

DUNE MESSIAH 2

What is happening has all happened before, as Paul has seen all of these possibilities in his prescient visions.  The path of his religious rulership leaves very little space for his own individuality. Stuck on a path he can’t adjust, he finds himself drawn to any fuzziness on the edges, anything that might speak of escape, freedom, or even surprise.   He knows exactly what Irulan is doing to Chani, and he doesn’t attempt to stop it, because he’s seen what happens if and when Chani gives birth to his daughter.

 

If only Paul could stay in this moment forever. He’s been able to keep the status quo for nearly twelve years.  He is desperately trying to pull humanity away from stagnation and failure, yet hoping against hope that nothing in his personal life will ever change. He knows he’s a fool.

 

When the Spacing Guild visits the palace, Paul welcomes them with a wry smile on his face.  Better to have this Guild Ambassador where he can be watched. One does not attend court without an appropriate gift, and Edric offers something truly one of a kind. A Ghola, a creature grown from the dead flesh of the original, and given new life (think a clone).  This Ghola answers to the name Hayt, but was grown of the flesh of Duncan Idaho, friend to the Atreides, who died protecting the family during the first attack on Arrakis.

 

Designed and built by the secretive Bene Tleilaxu, Hayt has been trained as a mentat, a human computer. He comes to logical conclusions in the blink of an eye, and is incapable of lying. When Paul asks Hayt what his purpose is, Hayt responds honestly that his purpose is to destroy Paul.  But Paul can’t let this man go, this creature who is a connection to his more innocent past. Hayt is a danger, but he’s also a curiosity, something Paul can’t predict, something that’s fuzzy in his visions. Maybe this is the “out” that Paul needs. Duncan was one of his teachers when he was a boy, Duncan still calls him “young master”.   Death at the hand of an old friend wouldn’t be the worst way to go, right?

dune messiah 5

The second half the book consists of Paul coming to peace with what he has to do. These are the choices that kill those we love. These are the choices that destroy us.  Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Because sometimes destroying yourself and those you love is the least terrible option.

 

Sounds like I gave everything away, doesn’t it? But I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I’ve told you nothing of Alia, nothing of the politics of the situation, nothing of the would-be-funny if it wasn’t deadly interactions between Paul and Hayt and a few other characters. When it comes to the important scenes and interactions, and wordless discussions, I’ve spoiled nothing.

 

Ahh, wordless discussions, you know what I’m talking about – where communication is done through glances, inflection, body language. It’s not a language of exact words per se, but one of intentions and expectations.  Herbert plays a lot with language and communication in Dune Messiah, playing with layers within language, how to send multiple messages with just one word, and send entirely different messages with your body language.  This isn’t just fun with words, it’s a subtle way of showing the complexity of the situation and the intelligence of those who are involved with it. There is a great scene between Irulan and Giaus Mohiam where their spoken words are rather small talk-ish, but their hand language is vicious.  And it’s not sign language, it looks more like fidgeting. Herbert isn’t always completely successful in describing these secondary languages, but I get what he was going for, and I appreciated it.

 

Both Dune and Dune Messiah read much more like literature than they do genre fiction.  And I don’t say that to diss genre fiction.  Put it this way – you know how your John Grisham / Sue Monk Kid reader needs a gateway book to genre fiction? Sometimes readers like me need a gateway book to literature. The shortest of all the books in the series, Dune Messiah is a relatively quick read.  It ends on a bit of  cliffhanger, which is why many readers will read Messiah and Children of Dune as one long book.

dune messiah 4

 

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30 Responses to "Dune Messiah, by Frank Herbert"

Thanks, Andrea.

The first Dune novels knocked me on my arse (and having a protagonist named Paul–I fell for them, immediately). I’ve also ruthlessly stolen from these books for RPGs and other things.,

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of course! Who wouldn’t want to read about an Emperor with the same name? now someone just needs to write a book with a main character named Andrea, who takes over the universe, and opens up a microbrewery on every street corner…..

the first Dune book is ripe with stealable fun stuff. did you ever get a chance to play the Dune board game from (I think) the 80s? I remember hideous artwork and a fun gameboard of Arrakis.

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Avalon Hill produced the boardgame. There were also two expansion packs – The Duel and Space Harvest. See http://itdoesnthavetoberight.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/dune22.jpg

Years later, Last Unicorn Games design a Dune RPG. They produced a sample rule book for the gaming convention, but were forced to drop the game when they were licensed to produce a Star Wars RPG. See http://itdoesnthavetoberight.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/dune15.jpg

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We had that Avalon Hill one for a while! it didn’t game very well (maybe the expansions improved it?) but I liked having it.

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You had to play it like Risk. Then it was excellent – even if you often lost friends over it :-)

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Great review and discussion. I love this series and it has been a few years since I last read this book. I always loved the secondary languages in this series because it makes total sense. The Bene Gesserit have their secret hand signs and all the major houses have Battle Language, which is way cool! It also adds to the layers each character has, and also the paranoia level of a character – is that character always worried that whatever secret language they are using has been compromised?

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oh, I love all the language play! I edited an entire paragraph about the languages out of my review, about exactly that: the secret langauges being compromised. Based on the language you were using, and the information that got out, you might be able to trace it back to a traitor who would have heard those words, in that language. you really hit it right on the head, that using secret codes all the damn time signifies intense paranoia.

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This will be my next Dune book to read. I’ve only read the first one, but I loved it. Very imaginative world I want to revisit.

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you are in for a treat! Messiah and Children aren’t as action packed as Dune, but I think they are smarter.

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Dune was already pretty smart. Amazing cultural development.

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The law of diminishing returns. Dune was great. Dune Messiah very good but I found they went downhill from there with the Brian Herbert books being virtually unreadable.

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The first three books (Dune, Messiah, Children) form an obvious trilogy that works. God Emperor is kind of it’s own thing, and Heretics and Chapterhouse are a sort of duology. they do get very, very strange as they go.

I read the first Brian/Kevin J Anderson prequel, and was not impressed, so didn’t continue.

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The writing actually improves as the series progresses, but since most of the world-building was done in the first book people have the fondest memories of it. Some of the plot in the last two books were a little hard to swallow, though.

The Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson sequels are appalling. The House series reads like Dune YA, the Legends of Dune series is badly-written pulp adventure, and their “seventh Dune book” duology makes a mockery of Frank Herbert’s work. I stopped reading them after that. I think they’re now working on two further trilogies set in the Dune universe.

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I well remember reading Dune when it was serialized in ANALOG, with the great illustrations by John Schoenherr, before it’s initial hardcover release. The combination of story and illustration just blew me away. When this second book was published, I leaped to buy it, read it, was mildly disappointed. The third book seemed to drift further away from the captivating world building and fascinating plotting of the first book, and from there the series, for me anyway, devolved into a dark, sticky galactic political mess.

I know a lot of people like, no, love, the whole Dune series, but I honestly don’t see why. I’d reread the first book in a minute, but I’d not venture into the rest of Frank Herbert’s, and his son’s, continued saga.

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Dune is the only “action-packed” book in the entire series. the rest are all very philosophical, lots of internal monologue, very little of what made the first book so epic. These later ones are still captivating in my opinion, just very, very different.

Brian and Frank wrote a stand alone SF book together, Man of Two Worlds, which if i remember correctly, was pretty decent. And Herbert has a ton of stand alone fun SF books that are pretty fun, especially Hellstrom’s Hive, and The White Plague.

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I read Hellstrom’s Hive and you’re right, it’s not bad, though a comparison to Dune would be unfair.

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I appreciated more than enjoyed Dune, but never had any desire to move on with it. While eating up the first half of the book I struggled so bad by the end. Had it been my gateway I would have quit the genre forever.

So this and Ancillary Justice are the books we disagree on. Other than that you have great taste =)

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my first reading of Dune was like later readings of M John Harrison and Vandermeer. It was an experience of “i have no idea what this is, but i know i like it”. hmmm.. also similar to first taste of single malt scotch!

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THAT explains a few things. ;-) I drink bourbon, Jack Black. I also drink Pepsi, orange juice and water (none of them together!).

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Messiah has always been my favorite book in the Dune series with Dune being second. This book is one of the most intelligent books i have ever read.
For those who are trepidacious about Heretics/Chapterhouse i find them to be very good and well worth a read. I do have to admit that i have never liked God Emperor though…. don’t tell Frank Herbert!

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You don’t like God Emperor? what is wrong with you? LOL!

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I feel bad I have yet to read Dune. I hope this summer maybe I can finally read that masterpiece.

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well, I don’t think you’re going to be getting any sleep any time soon…. :D

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I love these old covers! And you know I never thought about it that way but you’re totally right – they are all trapped. What a bleak way to see it. I should totally do a reread on these someday since like you I have freaking loved them since I was a child.

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yes, yes! reread! it’s like a nostalgic comfort read, you know? This is the stuff I go back to anytime a well meaning youngster tells me how much they love the Star Wars prequels.

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[…] I’m working to get through all the Dune books this year. Since I know the first book by heart, I started with Dune Messiah. […]

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I received the first three books for Christmas from friends of my folks back in ’78… Greatest gift anybody ever gave me!
Took me a year to get through DUNE (all the new words, y’know), but the next ones went much faster. I never read past God Emperor, though.

(Then there was a traumatic incident: When I loaned DUNE to my Dad to read, it came back with the cover TORN OFF! I was in tears, and my Dad could only shrug when I asked him what happened to it. Then my Evil Stepmother cheerfully chimed in with “Oh, that was me! There was a spider in the bedroom, and I needed something to take it outside with.” Who the hell does that to somebody’s book?!)

Anyway, I just bought my first Kindle this past Christmas, and the first thing I did was load every single Dune title available onto it! I even found the Dune Encyclopedia in PDF format!

I’m at the 70% mark on Dune Messiah and, even after 35 years, I’m saying to myself “Stone Burner comin’!”

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Oh, and if you’re gonna be rewatching the Lynch film and the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, get hold of this fan-edit of the Lynch film called “Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux”. It runs almost three hours, and is infinitely more watchable now!

http://www.fanedit.org/ifdb/412-dune-the-alternative-edition-redux

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Hi cljohnston, thank for your comment! Hmmm, what kinda fan am I, I’m not even sure if I’ve read the Dune Encyclopedia? The Lynch film has a very special place in my heart (you know, that place where bad scifi goes to die?), so what wonderful new about the alternate, fan edited version! Three hours is nuthin’. ;)

Now that you have them all, do you plan to read past God Emperor?

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