Monday, February 7, 2011

What was Frank Herbert Thinking?

I'm going to just say it - Dune Messiah is a terrible, boring, awful book. Taken on its own, it might have been merely okay, but as the direct sequel to the brilliant, epic, endlessly-fascinating DUNE, it's plain awful. Primarily because DUNE was filled with political intrigue, action, interesting and unique characters, and tons (and tons) of dramatic tension. Whereas in Dune Messiah, pretty much nothing happens. There's lots of thinking, and some talking, and more thinking, and a bit of maneuvering, but practically no payoff at all. (A guy gets stabbed. Big whoop.) I've read this book now at least three times, possibly as many as four, and I've hated it every time. Only after reading the excellent series of Dune novels by Herbert's son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson was I finally motivated to give the novel one more try. And, sure enough, having so much background on the characters, so much backstory, so much added life breathed into them and their actions, I was finally able to get through it. But for some forty years, all of that was missing, and the world was stuck with a truly craptacular sequel. Yes, yes, I know, lots of people love it. Bully for them - they're seeing something I'm missing, I guess. It's not for lack of trying on my part, and I've always felt you shouldn't really have to work that hard to enjoy a book.

After finishing Dune Messiah, I always moved on to Children of Dune. Again, it's a novel I've attempted as many as three previous times. In the past, I'd always put it down after a few chapters, just utterly worn out by how awful Dune Messiah was and finding Children of Dune to be more of the same. Well at last I can report: it's not! I really, really enjoyed it this time. There's action, there are interesting characters again, we get to see some old favorites, and Herbert's storytelling returns to a least a shadow of the brilliance we saw in DUNE. Which makes me wonder, "What was Herbert thinking when he wrote Dune Messiah?"

I went and read the plot summary on Wikipedia and, really, the book doesn't sound like it ought to be that bad. It just is. It's missing all the flare of DUNE, all the feeling of impending danger, all the spice, no pun intended, of the first novel. Bored me to tears time and again.

Anyway, I have to say that if you've ever felt this way about Dune Messiah, go and read the novels Paul of Dune and especially The Winds of Dune (originally titled Jessica of Dune, which I think was a better name for the second in the "Heroes of Dune" series). Then try the original sequels one more time. You may be surprised to find that Herbert and Anderson resuscitated this tired, old, broken novel and made it far more readable than it ever was before.

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