Saturday, June 8

Dune Messiah Review

Written by Frank Herbert
Published by Hodderscape London, 2005
ISBN: 978 –1–473–65532-4

Dune Messiah is a direct sequel to Frank Herbert’s original ground-breaking Dune novel. Messiah follows on from Dune so naturally that while reading it I was struck with the feeling that it belonged as part of the original. Indeed, Dune and Dune Messiah both go together perfectly to tell the story of Paul Muad’Dib Atreides.

Messiah picks up twelve years after the end of Dune. Paul Muad’Dib Atreides is the ruling emperor of the known universe. His sister, Alia, has become the current Reverend Mother of the Fremen. Their mother, Lady Jessica, has retired to Caladan. In the twelve years since the end of the previous story the Jihad that Paul saw in his visions has come to pass. It has cost an estimated sixty-one billion people their lives making Paul the deadliest conquerer in all human history. For a real-world example of how many people that truly is, I’d like to remind you that Earth as of the 2020’s has an estimated population of just under 9 billion people. The end result of the Jihad is the entire known universe now worships Paul and Alia as gods. Although powerful people also plot against them, all hoping to take their power for themselves. The conspiracy against Paul is comprised of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Princess Irulan of the Bene Gesserit. Edric of the Spacer’s Guild. Scytale of the Bene Tleilax. It’s up to Paul, his sister, and their allies to tread carefully and avoid getting destroyed by this conspiracy.

Guild Navigator from the 1984 Dune film

The members of the conspiracy expand the universe of Dune by simply introducing us too more of it. Namely the Navigators of the Spacer’s Guild and the entire order of the Tleilaxu. The Navigators were mentioned, briefly, in the first book. We learn much more about them during Messiah, including their abilities and mutated appearance. They must be constantly exposed to spice melange as a gas which means when not within their ships they are housed in mobile tanks. This constant exposure and consumption of melange has mutated the navigators into humanoid fish creatures. The advantage is that each one of them can transport the guilds ships across vast distances of space almost instantly via folding space on itself. They are also capable of a small amount of prescience that blinds Paul to their conspiracy. An oracle is blind to other oracles within the sea of future time. Then we have the Tleilaxu. This mysterious group can take dead flesh and bring it back to life as a genetically altered ghola. Scytale is themself a ‘face-dancer’, a person able to change their form at will. These are the shapeshifters of the Dune universe. 

Even more the Dune series is pushed into the genre of fantasy over science-fiction. The Neo-genre Science-Fantasy really does feel perfectly suited towards this series. Both Dune and Star-Wars show what is possible with the blending of these two genres. The downside of this is the same as it was with the previous book. It’s a very dense story. You need to learn a lot to be able to follow along with the politics and conspiracy unravelling itself. It’s easier during Messiah than it was during Dune simply because the majority of the universe has been built during the first book. Dune struggled to both introduce us to the world and rules while telling an interesting story. Dune Messiah gets to just focus on the story while only expanding the world where it wants to. Because of this it’s an easier book to just pick up and read.

Dune Messiah also gets rid of the awful gay panic, fatphobia, and mild misogyny that plagued the first book. While it’s not perfect, some descriptions use outdated terms and language when referring to a minority, it’s a massive improvement over its predecessor.

Alia Atreides from the 2023 Dune Part Two film

Frank Herbert has a real talent for writing prophecies. Normally I dislike when a story uses a prophecy as a plot point. They so often feel lazy. Just a way for the author to get characters to do a certain thing or find a certain person. I’ll use Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film as an example of this. Alice arrives in Wonderland and discovers that she is part of an ancient prophecy that sees her defeating the Jabberwocky. We never learn anything about this prophecy. It simply exists as a contrivance allowing Alice to move from scene to scene. There is no reason why the prophecy would target her. We never learn who started the prophecy or why it was written and passed down for so long. It only exists because the story wouldn’t work without it. Dune and Dune Messiah avoid these problems, delivering us, possibly the best story including a prophecy. Herbert does this by having the main protagonist, Paul Muad’Dib, as the one able to see the future and therefor make the prophecies. In other words, we see how Paul uses and is both used by this prescience. We witness Paul and Alia both struggle to navigate through countless prophecies to try and arrive at a future they want. We also see as the Fremen prophecy of the Lisan al-Gaib grows beyond Paul’s control until it washes over the universe as the mighty and terrible Jihad. Although Herbert also lets us know where this prophecy began. It was planted within the Fremen culture by the Bene Gesserit generations ago as a failsafe. The prophecy of Lisan al-Gaib isn’t some fantastical thing born of magic. It’s a tool used by powerful people to manipulate a population. A tool of politics. Put simply, Frank Herbert avoids prophecy being used as a lazy writing technique by always showing us the start, life, and outcome of the prophecy. Dune and Dune Messiah are not stories that just use prophecies, they are stories wholly about both the Prophecy and the Prophets. 

In conclusion, Dune Messiah is a masterpiece that both continues and improves upon the original masterpiece. A giant standing atop the shoulders of another giant. It reaches new heights of excellence. If you’re a fan of the first book, any of the films or games, or you just enjoy other science-fantasy stories then you really should read this.

Chani from the 2023 Dune Part Two film


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