Frank Herbert’s Dune Sucks: Part II – Dune Messiah

If you started here, you started wrong, or in my opinion thematically, probably right. I suggest you read my analysis of Dune before going through this one.  If you’re interested, just click here for the truth about that living suck. Dune Messiah was Herbert’s first sequel in his Dune universe, and it tends to be poorly received by most. Not sure why, personally I kind of prefer this one to Dune for certain reasons, though of course you can’t ignore the fact that it derives its existence from the first one, which set the entire universe Herbert stomped into the ground throughout the rest of the series. It was released four years after its predecessor and started a revolution in literature that the smarter of us are still trying to figure out the reason for.  “What in the Hell happened for it to get this?” we all ask. Great book?  No, but it’s not as bad as people seem to think, and there are several reasons why.  I have no need to introduce Herbert all over again, so read through the link up there if you’re interested.  Otherwise, let’s get to it.

Second Analysis: Dune Messiah

Dune Messiah largely continues the storytelling style of Dune with its incredibly annoying inner monologues, wooden characters, and laughable, static dialog. It also continues its frustratingly intrigue-focused plot style, and this time around that’s about all you get. However, it works better this time, but not entirely, for reasons we’ll understand in a bit.  Some action is included in the intrigues, yes, but not enough, which was a problem with the first novel.  However, as you’ll see, it’s more permissible in this one. Overall, the problem here, and with the others after, is that Herbert never really planned anything beyond Dune. In fact, he admits this in his author’s introduction in book five, Heretics of Dune. This, then, is the issue; if you create an entire universe that’s basically set and you don’t plan ahead, your only option is to mess with what’s there and hope no one notices. Herbert struggled with this throughout the series, but Dune Messiah does the best job of avoiding it, or sort of. I guess not really.  Either way, it’s easily the best book in the entire series, and that’s even including the “groundbreaking” first novel (quotes required there, yes).  Here we go again…

Dune Messiah: The Good

1. Brevity. One of Dune‘s biggest faults was it was way longer than necessary.  I know what you’d likely say, so read my first analysis before you run your trap. Herbert had plenty of space to build his “intricate” plot in that one, but it ended up being plot within plot within plot without substance.  In Dune Messiah he seemed to have figured out that people didn’t like reading all that inner monologue and boring, unnecessary plot-building that made the first one such a fucking pain.  Dune Messiah is almost exactly half the size of Dune and Herbert successfully manages to cram his plot into every page without dragging it along. It’s actually the smallest book in the entire series.

2. New Stuff. Dune Messiah finally outlines a bit about the Bene Tleilax, which are only very briefly hinted at in the first novel.  This is one of the most awesome parts of the novel as they are this xenophobic society of weirdo genetic manipulators, essentially. They, in fact, serve to help the plot blossom because one of their Face Dancers is behind the attempt to assassinate Paul as he continues on in his life from the first novel. Lots of new features are closely tied into their existence, and it’s pretty cool, read further.

3. Face Dancers. Cool concept, they’re part of the whole Tleilax thing and are basically people who can shape-shift. Nothing new, really, in terms of an idea in science fiction, but they’re pretty cool.  Doesn’t matter that “Who Goes There?” did it better in the 1930s, because shape-shifting is always an awesome idea, if done right.  Unfortunately, Herbert thinks thought them a little too cool because they start to play a bigger role as the books advance. You only meet one in this one.

4. The Tleilaxu. Awesome, as mentioned, they’re basically a planet that has the focus of doing lots of weird genetic experiments. The Face Dancers are one of their creations, as are the gholas, which are basically clones made from the dead flesh of someone who retain parts of their memories. They also introduce things in Dune Messiah, such as the dwarf Bijaz, who functions almost like a Mentat and can remember names, faces, etc., but can also be implanted with special humming techniques that can be used to cause actions in those who have been ‘programmed’ to receive it. Thus, to Hayt (the ghola created from the remains of Duncan Idaho, who died in Dune), he performs this chant later to cause the ghola to activate what is basically a program implanted in it to kill Paul. Pretty cool, in his replacement of computers and robots, Herbert has thus assumed that we have all these performances that can be derived from minds alone.

5. Gholas. Already mentioned above, so read again. Great idea, and their creepy metal, insect-like eyes are a great added effect. It’s not an original idea by any means, Hell you could even argue aspects of Frankenstein were sci-fi and it came out in 1818, but the way the gholas function in Dune Messiah is pretty cool. The only bad thing is, as you’ll see, Herbert was fucking 12-year-old-Bieber-fever-lover obsessed with them. There’s basically a fucking ghola in every book after this one and it gets goddamn annoying and unnecessary.  Seriously, if it didn’t work the first, I don’t know, ten times, why in the Hell would it work after that?

6. More realistic intrigue. The intrigue in the first novel often felt stale and tiresome, like he lifted it from some classical Roman play with proper credit because the copyright was long expired. And he pretty much did. But in Dune Messiah there’s a conspiracy against Paul that actually feels devious and intricate. You don’t sit there thinking to yourself “come on, you know what’s going to happen next!”  This one’s sneaky.  Princess Irulan, who Paul married as a formality in the first book, is conspiring with the Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild, and the Bene Tleilax to kill him and eliminate Atreides’ control of the spice.  The navigator from the guild can shield Paul’s ability to see what they’re doing, Irulan has been giving Paul’s concubine (who needs to produce an heir) contraceptives, and all of that.  It actually functions much better than the first book because it feels like a believable plot, not something a child could figure out.  Plus, without all the stupid, boring waste-of-space text in the first novel, you can stomach it and figure it out without making a career out of it.

Dune Messiah: The Suck

1. The Tleilaxu. Wait, weren’t they good up there?! Yes, but here’s a big problem and this an issue with the remainder of the books.  Herbert didn’t think it would go further, so he had to expand on an already pretty static universe that’s completely tied into a single planet, Dune, and the life of the sandworms, which create the spice, which, to remind you, enable space travel.  The Tleilaxu are briefly mentioned in Dune, and I mean like twice and so on-the-fly you forget about it. The most you know about them is that they make “evil” Mentats or something, but you don’t see those guys again. Only Piter in the first novel is an example of it, and he’s more moronic than evil. There’s no real explanation of what the Tleilaxu are, they’re kind of a mystery, which can be cool, but they were almost completely irrelevant in the first novel.  Here, however, they play a huge-ass role. Their importance in Dune Messiah makes it problematic for one important reason, they don’t have the same importance in Dune.  If they’re hugely important in the second novel, they should have at least had some major play in the first, but they didn’t. Thus, their addition, albeit cool, is artificial. It’s only 12 years later, and you can’t tell me they suddenly got that important in so small an amount of time.  They basically run the entire plot of Dune Messiah!!!  Wouldn’t they have been used in the first a little more than one loser character?!!!  Christ, they’re mentioned about as much as Vlad III in Dracula.

2. The Jihad Shit and Lack of Action. Okay, sure, Paul’s followers go out and basically kick the shit out of everyone under the power of their messiah.  Sure, probably would happen, it mirrors the Middle East, okay but…  First off, yeah, Herbert’s lifted that idea from so many religions, myths, and other novels it’s not worth mentioning, so it’s far from original.  But we can let that go.  The big suck, though, is that supposedly like 16 billion people have died when Dune Messiah takes place and we barely get to see any of it!  Man, all that war and action potential, wasted!  You don’t get a single battle, there’s barely that much action in this one at all. Again, let me say it, good sci-fi makes you think and excites you.  This just makes you think, and think, and think, and think, and snoooooreee……

3. The Ghola. Okay, cool idea, but it gets reaaaal annoying after this.  The idea here is the Face Dancer named Scytale gives Paul his ghola (remember it’s made from his once-friend and helper Duncan Idaho) in hopes that it will confuse him and get him to ignore what they’re trying to do behind the scenes.  But, ummm, who in the Hell could ignore the fact that it’s fucking got creepy insect fly eyes and is made from a dead body?  I mean, I understand human attachments and all, but man, eyes are important to people, and if you see fucked up eyes you tend to see a monster, so not sure if it would be that effective.  But let’s let that go.  Big problem is Herbert gets obsessed with these things later on, so much that they’re all over the fucking place.  If they’re so important later on, why weren’t they important at all in Dune?  Seems it would have been a better way to infiltrate the royal family in that novel than a paper-thin conspiracy that read like a elementary school rendition of Hamlet. Meaning, everyone knows what’s going to happen, so why don’t the fucking characters?  Anyway, back to the ghola.  Again, the issue is that he’s adding things that play a huge role now, but not before.  Doesn’t work like that.  That’s why the Star Wars “prequels” were so God damn horrible, except it was like this in reverse.

4. Still Piss-ass Confusing. One of Herbert’s problems that he still doesn’t get past in Dune Messiah is his tendency to get wordy when it’s unnecessary, masking the plot and major details in a sludge of pointless dialog, opening, enigmatic vignettes, and someone speaking to themselves in their own mind back and forth.  In spite of the coolness to the overall plot, you don’t get the major details that make it cool just by reading it.  Paul loses his sight and can still see after a nuclear-type device is used to kill some people, he now has the ability to truly see the future for some unstated reason.  Okay, still cool.  If he sees the future, however, he is powerless to stop its flow.  Unfortunately, as cool as that may sound, it’s never really clear what’s going on.  I’m a careful reader, I tackled Being and Nothingness in a week and understood everything I was reading, but somehow in Dune Messiah I was totally lost at several points, had to go back, read again, and then sort-of grasp what he was trying to say through needlessly esoteric wording.  We get it, myth, legend, Paul, write clearly ass.  Jeez.  The major details under the surface are rarely easy to grasp because Herbert was too interested in appearing high-style when he didn’t have true ability.  Look at Kafka, look at Chekov, those guys knew how to give you huge thoughts in artful prose.  Yeah, and I’ve read them in their original languages too, so save it.  Dune Messiah is false-high-style, a forced artfulness that’s about as artful as a child’s watercolor in comparison to Titian.  There’s some high-style referencing for you, that’s how you do it Herbert.  Guy just couldn’t write, get over it.

5. Deification and More Superborn Children.  Okay, so Paul is basically man-god now and we expect him to die in some way.  But, sigh, yes, his wife gives birth to twins, and though the scene where Paul switches his mind into them is kind of cool, the idea that they have all of the memories of those before and shit is getting stale.  How did it really happen this way?  Herbert basically makes it this megamind idea without the Water of Life that’s just not very believable.  The whole idea was closely tied into the Water of Life in the first one, but it doesn’t play a role here.  Was Herbert trying to avoid the consistency he relied on before?  Yes, and it causes him to make shit up.  Somehow, to save his children, Paul sees through the eyes of one of them and times a perfect dagger attack and is now prophetically blind and wanders into the desert because the blind are condemned there because of how the Fremen traditions work, so he’s also avoided becoming a deity.  Herbert never explains what ‘being a deity’ means in Dune Messiah, he never did it in Dune, and you only get to finally figure it out near the never end of Children of Dune.  Just more additions, more pulling a plot out of a pool that’s already dried up.

Again, the major issue you see with this one is Herbert keeps on tagging new shit that plays a huge role in this novel, but not in the one that came before. You can’t do that.  If something plays a big role in a sequel, you better believe it would to some degree in the predecessor.  This is why true writers doing a series plan on it beforehand (think Norton and Witch World), otherwise their work looks like shit. Herbert, admittedly, didn’t know Dune was going to take off, but because his other writings sucked, well, he really had nothing else to go on so he milked it.  Kind of like how Stoker’s wife milked Dracula after he died.  That eventually became a worldwide phenomenon, but Dune has yet to reach that level other than amongst a bunch of fanboys who refuse to see its faults.  And it doesn’t work well in film or anything because by virtue of the depth Herbert foolishly created, it requires at least 5 hours or so to properly pull off.  That’s why the Lynch version failed so bad.  As for the books, horrible series, no, but not a great series, average at best.  Dune Messiah reveals some of the greater faults that plague the rest of the sequels, but at least it keeps it in a more realistic page count.  It doesn’t feel nearly as grueling, but it still can’t get past the fact that one, Herbert can’t write well, two, the plot has many derivative elements, and three, it’s just extra pimples tagged onto an already bigger boil that’s about to burst.  He never gets past this, and it basically goes downhill from here.  More additions without true background, more confusion, and fuck, more pages. Damn it…


Written by Arkus the Evil Dictator

Frank Herbert: Dune Messiah
Score: 3.5 / 5