Dune Messiah is the middle act of the original Dune trilogy, and possibly the most accessible of the three books. A little recap. Dune told the story of Paul Atreides, whose family has been given the spice-rich desert planet of Arrakis, colloquially known as Dune. It’s 10,000 years into the future. Computers and robots have long been banned, and interstellar travel is only possible by use of the spice, a by-product of the giant sandworms. The spice allows space pilots to guide space ships between stars at faster than light speeds, extends life spans, and grants the power of prescience. The Harkonnen family, which once held Arrakis, wants it back. They reconquer Dune, kill Paul’s father, Duke Leto, and drive the family into the desert among the Fremen. Paul lives among this desert tribe and becomes incredibly prescient. The Fremen declare him their messiah and dub him Muad ‘Dib. He rallies the Fremen to overthrow the Harkonnens and even the very empire itself. Got all that?
Good. This is not that book. This is Dune Messiah. It’s ten years after Paul’s jihad has swept the galaxy, and the powers that be are all chaffing under the yoke of the Fremen’s prophet. Paul does not really care for his role as a god. His sister, Alia, however, relishes it, though she will do anything to defend her brother. Meanwhile, the knives are coming out. The Bene Gesserit – an ancient sisterhood embarked on a centuries-long genetic engineering project, the Bene Tlielax – shape shifters, and the Spacing Guild are conspiring to bring down Paul. Their weapon of choice?
The resurrected Duncan Idaho, killed in the first book, in the form of a “ghola” named Hayt. Hayt is there to prey on Paul’s self-doubt and guilt over radically changing the Fremen’s way of life and slaughtering billions in the name of his godhead. All the while, Paul is attempting to produce an heir, but not by his wife, Irulan. No, Irulan has the worst kind of blood, that of the dethroned emperor. Paul wants his heir to be born of his concubine and true lover, the Fremen woman Chani.
That’s a lot to keep track of. And when I first read the trilogy in high school, it made my head swim. But Dune holds up quite well, mainly because its setting makes projections of technology in the far future irrelevant. The book recaps Dune without postponing the story for a quick history lesson. The Dune novels are already based on a complex premise, and Dune Messiah amps up the questions of religion and politics and what happens to the founding figure of a faith as it grows out of his control.
It’s a worthy successor to the original Dune, but definitely not a book for those uninitiated in science fiction.