Dune Messiah is a mess of a book.
It successfully achieves the stunning feat of being half the length of its predecessor, whilst reading as if it’s three times as long.
The biggest crime that Dune Messiah commits, however, is that it’s tedious and boring. Sci-Fi is meant to fill you with wonder, awe, and excitement about the fantastical possibilities of science, whereas this is like reading the phone book backwards.
And that’s frustrating because the world itself, the ‘Duniverse’, is actually wonderfully creative.
He's not the Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy
At the end of Dune, our hero Paul Atreides braved the desert of Arrakis (or Dune) and raised an army of Fremen against the Emperor – installing himself as the top guy.
The beginning of Dune Messiah tells of the Jihad that saw Paul’s Fremen conquer the galaxy and exterminate 16 billion people in the process. Grim, but nonetheless fascinating.
So Herbert, naturally, decided to gloss over this huge moment in history and start Dune Messiah 12 years later. It’s baffling.
This isn’t the rollicking narrative-driven epic of Dune – the novel is a study of how bureaucracy and deification can lead to the downfall of governments.
Not particularly thrilling.
But that’s exactly what this is – bureaucracy in print. Here’s an example of what to expect:
“Production growth and income growth must not get out of step in my Empire. That is the substance of my command. There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence. And the reason for this is simply because I command it.”
The novel is full of menial prose like this.
It’s jam-packed with pseudo-intellectual musings on government and religion, internal monologues sprawling all over the place, and dialogue goes absolutely nowhere.
Still, it’s not all bad. Herbert’s a smart guy and, as ever, there are some great quotes.
And much like Dune, Dune Messiah holds a mirror up to the reader, challenging their real-world views.
Meanwhile, the world remains a fascinating place, and additions such as the Tleilaxu faction – an engineering race – and the Gholans, add another excellent layer of lore.
Perhaps Frank Herbert sought to write a metatext, the prose as bureaucratic as the themes in the text. But I bet he didn’t.
Instead, Dune Messiah takes all of the worst parts of Dune and consolidates them into a 300 page book.
Woeful, tedious for long stretches, and saved only by the fact that the world of its predecessor remains in-tact and a thoroughly interesting setting – I cannot and do not recommend Dune Messiah.