I finally read Dune Messiah. I re-read Dune approximately every two years, but I never read any further into the “series.” I knew at once, after completing Dune, that the rest of the books would pale in comparison. Dune is a perfect novel – and perfect novels are extremely rare. So, finally, I decided to read Dune Messiah. I am glad I did and I want to read the rest of the series, but as I knew: its not Dune.
This novel is set roughly twelve years after the events that took place in Dune. At this time, Paul Atreides is the emperor of the universe. When he accepted the role of Mahdi to the Fremen, the Fremen launched the Muad’Dib’s Jihad. This was basically, a political/religious jihad on all of the planets within the universe to accept rule by Atreides. 60 billion people have perished as a result of the Jihad, which has spiraled out of the direct control of Paul Atreides.
Paul has also failed to produce an heir to the throne. This becomes a court intrigue and a stepping stone for the enemies of the emperor. The conspirators seek to infiltrate and force Paul Atreides to ruin.
If the above reads like a political thriller in space, that’s because its the mere barebones of the novel. In reality, the novel reads like an esoteric, LSD-induced rambling. Most of the novel involves Paul’s emotional/psychological visions, oracles, and prescience. This makes for some really challenging reading. I assume most people drop the book when they read these parts because they just don’t want to be taken on a crazy ride. Herbert draws heavily from Zen, Taoist, and Muslim esoterica. He melds these into the storyline by focusing on the key players: Paul, and Paul’s sister and Paul’s wife. There are definite point in the novel where the reader has no idea what’s going on, and loses track of the amorphous babble. (The dwarf character, Bijaz, is exceptionally maddeningly bizarre.)
I felt reading this book that I had stumbled into a book that a weird PKD + Nietzsche clone wrote after having gotten high from a mixture of hallucinogenics. Trust me, there are some parts that are just plain “out there.”
However, this novel also has some of the same gripping strength of its precursor. There’s something unique, dynamic, and deep about the story and the characters that make you keep reading. Most novels are written in a sort of “news report” sort of way. For example, person X experienced event y, which caused event z…. and so on. Herbert doesn’t bother with long descriptions and news-reporting. This makes the book both interesting and unbearable. Dune is the planet which provides the spice melange. And the whole universe is addicted to it. And when reading this book, you feel like maybe you have ingested some melange and are experiencing a melange trip. I wish there was a better balance to the book – delving into the subconscious “awareness-spectrum” stuff, but also more straightforward storytelling.
I don’t know that I like Paul. He’s likeable and hateable all at once. I am quite certain that I do not like Alia, his sister. But she’s the one left standing at the end of this novel, and I am dreading the next novel because I am certain it will focus on her. The ending of this book is tragic, but then, the whole book is filled with a heaviness and a darkness. It is not a book of optimism and hope. However, there certainly is not another book like it.
This is not necessarily a great read. But it is an important read, if you can make sense of that.