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Dune Messiah (SF) - Frank Herbert ***

In the sequel to his massive 1965 hit Dune, Frank Herbert widens his canvas considerably. Published four years later, Dune Messiah is nowhere near as good as the original - it's almost like a filler between Dune and the books that were to come later, feeling distinctly as if it was thrown together rather quickly.


The additions here include a whole new set of players in the Bene Tleilaxu, some of them 'face dancers' who can magically transform their body to any appearance, but who also provide technology such as artificial eyes that are treated suspiciously by others. A major character killed in the first book is brought back to life by this group as a 'ghola' - initially his regrown body with a new mind, but somehow endued with the original personality and memories by pushing him to a crisis. (Once again, emphasising how much the Dune series was science fantasy, not science fiction.) At the same time, we get added details on some of the players - so, for example, it's in this sequel that we first see the distorted figures of the Guild navigators in their spice chambers.

However, perhaps the most dramatic developments for the future of the series are those that happen to the main character Paul, losing his eyes but somehow continuing to see the world through vision until his children are born. This is Herbert both bringing a long-standing tradition of a tragic hero losing his eyes - from Oedipus to Corwin in Zelazny's Amber series - and also providing the model for others to come, notably Neo in the Matrix films, who also loses his eyes but continues with a mystical ability to see nonetheless.

It's not, then, that nothing happens in this book - but it's almost all establishing requirements for later novels. There's relatively little action and an awful lot of cod philosophising. It's essential to read this book if you are to complete the Dune sequence - but it's certainly something of a low point for the series.

Dune Messiah is still solidly in print - but for entertainment's sake, the cover shown here is the decidedly flashy one from my 1972 New English Library copy.

Review by Brian Clegg


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