Monday, April 17, 2006

Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

Title: Dune Messiah
Author: Frank Herbert
Publisher: Gollancz

Of the six novels that exist today as Frank Herbert's Dune series, Dune Messiah is the second and slightest volume. From the end of Dune the jihad has swept across the universe, consolidating power behind Emperor Paul Artriedes on his Dune planet. Mystery and awe surrounds Paul and his sister Alia, generating religion and changing everything. The powers that were however are not content to retreat - the guild of steersmen (the spice based navigators who control space travel), the bene gesserat (the body of reverend mothers responsible for the creation and loss of Paul and his sister) and the bene teilleuax (masters of black science who managed to stop their own creation gone out of control in the past). Together they scheme, ever more elaborate plots, determined to bring down the Artriedes family and seize power over their co-conspirators.

This is the basis of Dune Messiah. A novel where nothing particularly happens. In Dune great and epic battles happened between chapters, Herbert uses the same technique here. So that each chapter focuses on a couple of people, or a small group sitting around and talking - contemplating oracular time lines and the plots against them, or trying to block the reading of oracular time lines while plotting against them. This takes on a narrative sparseness, the sense that we are perpetually on the cusp of something happening, something that never comes. Or at least, when events take on a weight of their own, they happen while two people talk, and a messenger enters stage right to supply the news of events. With that Dune Messiah has something Shakespearian to it, a building tragedy, where characters wrestle with words on balconies, babbling stygian prophecy and waiting to be interrupted by messengers.

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