Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, Frank Herbert

This is about the second and the third book in the first Dune trilogy. I’ve already written about the first one here.

When a book is successful, the author knows that his ideas are received well by the readers. If in the first book, he has kept himself in check for mass approval, he lets it go in the sequels. The sequels are truly the ideas of the author, without the shackles of the publisher pressures. The author has the pressure of expectations, but the first battle is already won.

Dune Messiah is a relatively small book, The first book talks about Paul’s ascension and Messiah is about his rule. Prescience takes a centre stage. Dune establishes the ecosystem of Arrakis and introduces prescience around which the series builds itself. Messiah follows Paul’s life as the ruler of Arrakis. It also introduces different factions like Bene Tleilaxu. The third book in the series completes the trilogy in a convincing and meaningful way. The first Dune trilogy is complete and one of the best science fiction works I have read till date.

You start thinking that some of the mind blowing ideas are introduced in the first book and the latter ones would just follow the legacy, Frank Herbert proves you wrong. The first book just remains as a primer and Herbert takes us for a confusing yet entertaining ride.

For the most part, the books are philosophical. However, the story holds its ground, and then breaks it. Prescience is central in the entire series. I was thinking how would you bring interest in the story where the protagonist is already aware of all the possible futures. Yet the books surprise you with the offering. I guess the verbosity comes as a package when you only talk about larger than life things and highly philosophical ideas about governments, history, the human psyche and behaviour. The plans within plans continue in these two books as well.

Frank has a penchant for complex wordplay.

Atrocity is recognized as such by victim and predator alike, by all who learn about it at whatever remove. Atrocity has no excuses, no mitigating argument. Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past. Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity. It is self-perpetuating upon itself — a barbarous form of incest. Whoever commits atrocity also commits those future atrocities thus bred.

Such quotes and paragraphs are plentiful in the series. At times you need more than one reading to get the intended meaning, but that is the beauty of Dune. Interestingly, Frank Herbert advocates tyranny frequently. His writing gets an edge when he is writing about tyrannical power or religion. The focus and study around the importance of water continues and he goes to appreciable details talking about water and its usage in the Dune worlds.

By the second book onwards you start noticing the direct impact of Islam on Herbert’s writing. Especially the language. It feels he has modelled the Atreides, Harkonnen and Fremen as Americans, Russians and Arabs respectively. These names keep a strong tether with the world we live in. It is sometimes offputting. A more distant naming scheme would have made staying in the Dune world easier by isolating it from the world we live in.

I am currently reading the fourth book. It is significantly different. The events in the third book play out somewhat strangely. Those help in concluding the trilogy. As a trilogy, this was greatly satisfying.

Dune does not have world building of the Lord of the Rings scale, but it is high fantasy nonetheless. It focuses a lot on people, their thoughts, their actions, both mediated and performed and the dilemmas. Frank Herbert has a keen understanding of human behaviour which he puts to a great use.

If you want to try out science fiction but are wary of the robots and computers in general, then I’d suggest you give this a try.

Originally published at harshalbhave.in on August 5, 2016.

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