Dune Messiah * (Book 2) Frank Herbert

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Having recently finished Dune by Frank Herbert, I decided to jump right in and read the second book in the series, following the immediate outcome from Paul of the House Atreides marrying princess Irulan alongside his concubine Chani. He’s now the new emperor and under his command are the Fremen and a lot of conspiring houses who only want one thing: the spice.

Twelve years after his victory over House Harkonnen, Paul Atreides rules as emperor from the desert planet Arrakis – but his victory has had profound consequences. War has been brought to the entire known universe, and billions have already perished. Despite having become the most powerful emperor known to history, Paul is powerless to bring an end to the fighting.

While former allies conspire to dethrone Paul and even his own consort acts against him, Paul accepts a gift from the Tleilaxu, a guild of genetic manipulators, hoping to find a single spark of peace and friendship amidst the betrayal and chaos. But this act undermines Paul’s support from the Fremen, his own people. The Fremen are the true source of Paul’s power; losing them is the one thing that could truly topple his empire.

As matters escalate, Paul will be forced to chose between his throne, his wife, his people and his future – and the future of the entire universe.

The good parts: Paul and his sister are adults now and you can see all the work that they’ve done since they were just starting off. There is a lot of care that went into describing how exactly the prescience of the future actually bound Paul into delivering it, even Alia can see it. I loved the ghola Duncan Idaho, non-Duncan and the ghost-in-the machine approach. Are you still the same person if you died once? What makes a person real? Memories you have or memories other have of you?

Alia also manages to create a full-blown religious cult who goes on to spread the religion of Mua’dib to other worlds. Paul creates a plastic city (’cause plastic was the “new” material of the future in 1970) that could host a multitude of other cities within and makes water available on Arrakis.

They even have a flag and go on off-world expeditions with an army of fremen, bringing the entire empire under one rule – Paul – the new Messiah.

I loved how the Fremen reacted to the water on other planets and even brought souvenirs of paintings with them in water or washing.

Also a constitution is created and Bureaucracy!

“Constitutions become the ultimate tyranny,” Paul said. “They’re organized power on such a scale as to be overwhelming. The constitution is social power mobilized and it has no conscience. It can crush the highest and the lowest, removing all dignity and individuality. It has an unstable balance point and no limitations.”

The bad parts:  I confess to being disappointed by this book. It feels like it was rushed out, an outline for one thread of a greater book. It doesn’t help that due to Paul and his ability to know all things/sense all things he already knows there is a conspiracy against him and he even knows what Irulan has been up to. So it’s just people wandering around trying to make chess moves against each other while holding up a sign saying “I am so going to get you this round.”

The book carries one, rather basic when it’s boiled down, storyline which frankly fails to keep the interest or impress. Its only focus is continuing the bloodline – either via the Gesserit approach of mating brother and sister (yuck!) or by having Chani murdered (bad) or by letting Chani carry to term not one but two children. I’m not even sure nobody mentioned twins until Paul was actually in the delivery room? I mean hasn’t he seen Star Wars? There’s always twins.

And to make matters more confusing, because Chani has been eating tons of food drenched in Spice (I imagine Zendaya looking like a chubby elephant in the new movie), the children are a perfect mix of Bene Gesserit genes and Fremen – containing the knowledge of all their fore-fathers and fore-mothers (some in intimate detail as they mention) powered by Spice. So again, like Alia, fully blown up adults born as babies again, mini-Abominations.

Chani dies during childbirth (as foreseen by Paul but not mentioned to her other than in cryptic comments)

“We have eternity, beloved.”
“You may have eternity. I have only now.”
“But this is eternity.”

Paul is blinded mid-book and instead of getting his hands on some good tech, he walks around with his empty orbits causing people to cringe and fear.

Chani is only there for moral support but does not seem to have a life or other interests than a consort who travels from city to city and tries to get pregnant again after the death of Leto, her first child, in the Harkonnen attack in the first book.

Paul and Irulan

Irulan, who I thought was wise based on the constant spoilers in the first book, becomes this faded creature, more of a puppet to the Bene Gesserits and I was like WTF towards the end – she does a full 180 – and becomes super in love with Paul and his kids and the best auntie ever.

Paul, like an idiot, decides to walk into the desert and die (offer himself to Shai-Hulud) now that he has kids (Ghanima and Leto) and his beloved Chani died, leaving his orphaned offspring in the care of their demented aunt Alia and his never-bed wife Irulan. I know he wanted to make a powerful statement that Paul, as Usul, was still a Fremen and not above the Fremen law, but he’s dismantled so many of their customs with his rule that keeping this one felt more like a slap in the face.

“A creature who has spent his life creating one particular representation of his selfdom will die rather than become the antithesis of that representation”

“It seems to most observers, however, that you conspire to make a God of yourself. And one might ask if that is something any mortal can do . . . safely?”

Eh, deification complete. The man, the myth, the legend.

A minor weakness of the book is that it is asserted, but never shown, that the events unfolding will impact inter-galactic empires, create a holy jihad and cause the rise of a major religion centering on the main character. This fails to hurt the book because of none of this actually happens within the confines of Dune, aside from a minor scene at the end that crowns him. This event, in itself, is consistent with the plot.

My biggest complaint is that my favorite character from the first book (Jessica) is essentially absent from this one.

All in all, a must read but not a good one 🙂

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