Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah

I've been reading me some Frank Herbert lately (see here and here for others), in preparation for a student whose project on Dune I'll be supervising between September and April. Pretty fun stuff, and it's been interesting to read the Dune novels that made his reputation in relation with more speculative, one-off pieces.

In part it's fun because the prose of the Dune novels is stodgy, classical, heavy: since The Green Brain uses a much more conversational, contemporary prose style, it's obvious that it's not just Herbert's writing style that's at issue. This is important because I heard from more than one person who said that Herbert's books were slow to read, not engaging, distant, which are just the sorts of things that prevent a person from even trying out a new author.

So anyway, it's clear that in the Dune series, Herbert purposefully aimed at a prose style that defamiliarized the reader somewhat. I feel some stylistic connections with different sacred texts, which makes sense given the novels' representation of an overlapping religion and government across many years. It's not a Genesis story, by any means, or Revelation either, more like one of the middle Gospels where things bog down a bit in the minutiae. It's vital to the story arc of Herbert's represented world, much like Philemon or 1 Timothy are vital to Christian Bible, but when was the last time you heard a less from First Timothy discussed at a funeral or non-core church event? When was the last time you heard Philemon discussed at church, period?

You may be wondering what all this has to do with Dune Messiah, the second novel in Herbert's trilogy, and the alleged subject of this review. Not much, but really I don't have much to say about this one. I know I should be more interested in the shape-shifting and genetics and disguises and so on, especially since I'll be teaching ENGL 478 in January 2012 on roughly this subject (special topic: "Splicing Genes, Splicing Genres"), but the ghola, dwarf, and Tleilaxu/Face Dancers left me a little cold.

The eponymous first novel of the Dune series saw Paul Atreides rise to power, drawing on his genetic heritage, his Arrakeen environment, and his mother's Bene Gesserit psy training. This second novel sees Paul Atreides, now generally known as the religious icon Muad'dib, unhappily administering a vast Jihad occurring in his name but against his will, as well as a vast bureaucracy. Intrigues occur, favourites come into disrepute, visions of the future collide: space opera, without the singing. Meh.


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