Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: Dune Messiah

Book Review: 'Dune Messiah' by Frank Herbert

1 / 5 Stars

‘Dune Messiah’ first was serialized in Galaxy magazine in 1969; the hardcover version was released in that same year. This Berkley Books mass market paperback version (256 pp) was published in June, 1970, and features cover art by Jack Gaughan.

‘Dune Messiah’ is set 12 years after the events in Dune. The novel takes place entirely on Arrakis (i.e., planet Dune), in the capital city of Arrakeen, where Paul Atreides rules the galaxy from his massive, well-fortified palace. Atreides is assisted by a number of supporting characters from Dune, including his younger sister Alia, his wife Chani, the Fremen leader Stilgar, and Princess Irulan.

As the novel opens, Atreides finds himself deeply troubled by the massive loss of life, and political turmoil, inflicted on the galaxy by the jihad being carried out in his name by the Fremen. The jihad has grown to the point where Atreides can no longer control it, and threatens to plunge the galaxy into chaos. Atreides remains cursed – or blessed - with a prescience that lets him determine the most likely of a seemingly infinite number of possible futures, but none of the choices open to him for halting the jihad are benign – all come with the risk of sending the galaxy even further into barbarism.

Chafing under the rule of the jihadis, a group of conspirators - all of them traditional enemies of the Fremen and the Atreides dynasty - have set into motion a plan to remove Paul from the throne, and end the rule of House Atreides. The plot’s success hinges on infiltrating a clone of Duncan Idaho, Paul’s combat instructor who was killed by Harkonnen forces in Dune, into the Atreides household. Once the clone has ingratiated itself into Paul's confidences, it will be triggered by an embedded subliminal command to betray Atreides and his sister Alia.

Paul Atreides is aware of the plot against his life, but is restrained by the knowledge that acting too precipitously against the conspirators could have dire consequences for the future of his household, and Arrakis and its people. Thus, he is forced to employ subtle counters to the machinations of the conspirators, waiting for the crucial moment when all possible outcomes coalesce into one single moment of action and reaction…….a moment that will change forever the fate of the galaxy………..

I found ‘Dune Messiah’ to be a disappointment. Like many of Herbert’s novels, the narrative is relentlessly constructed around lengthy exchanges of dialogue; even more so than in Dune, these are overburdened with figurative, metaphorical prose designed to evoke a Zen-like sensibility (indeed, the cloned Duncan Idaho refers to himself as a ‘Zensunni’ adept). Herbert’s continuous onslaught of koans, and passages showcasing Paul Atreides’s existential angst, gives 'Dune Messiah' a plodding, obtuse quality throughout its comparatively short length. 

The few action sequences begrudgingly doled out to the reader are well-written, but also too few, and too far between, to impart needed momentum to the narrative.

[I won’t disclose any spoilers regarding the denouement, save to say that I found it rather predictable.]

Summing up, reading ‘Dune Messiah’ left me underwhelmed, and in no hurry to tackle the next volume in the series, ‘Children of Dune’. If you are a dedicated Herbert and Dune fan then maybe your point of view will be different, but I can’t endorse ‘Dune Messiah’ as a must-have.

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