“Dune Messiah” by Frank Herbert (Week 5 – Book a Week)

Last week, I reviewed The Magician King, fussing and moaning and worrying about sequels.  Dune Messiah embodies the core of those fears.  It’s an unnecessary slog through what happens after all the mammoth problems and conflicts of the previous book have been resolved.

One of the central themes of this space epic is dealing with success.  The main characters in a recently conquered universe worry about what their power has wrought.  They don’t have anything else to conquer or anyone else who can conquer them.  So, the central conflict is mostly in the heads of the characters.  “Should I or shouldn’t I?”  This might be an engaging subject.  I am sure great empires were undone from within, that rulers engage in exciting internal battles, but in this book it makes for a lot of waffling, some abrupt arguments and very little actual action.

This is not to say that a book should only be measured by how much shooting there is.  A lot of the excitement in the first Dune book was in the build-up and the planning.  But in Dune Messiah, the empire is already built.  Characters argue with themselves about visions that are never shared with the audience. It’s not mysterious, it’s boring.

It’s easy to make a connection between a hero who has conquered many worlds and an author who has already written his great work.  The main character, Paul Atreides, worries that his past victories will undo his future.  Dune Messiah is undone by Dune.  That book ended with such totality, there wasn’t a lot of mess left to clean up.

Are there people out there who would love this book?  I am sure they are legion.  It’s got the characters that were so exciting in the first adventure.  It’s got a couple of intriguing additions (Bijaz, the riddling dwarf, in particular).   The world is consistent, there just doesn’t seem to be much left to do in it.  If you would like to go deeper into the world of Dune, I recommend you reread the original.

Not Recommended

Upcoming

Week 6 – Machine Man

Week 7 – The Glass Key

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman (Week 4 – Book a Week)

American Gods is as good a book as you can hope to read.  It tells a massive story with the scope and gravitas to encompass gods and nations, but it remains so specific that you feel as if your friends are living it.   The locations are real.  Gaiman lovingly describes the Great Lakes states.  Peru, Illinois and The House on the Rock are note-for-note perfect.  He may be just as good on Reykjavik but, as a Midwestern boy, I can speak with more authority on his observations of Wisconsin.

The cast of American Gods mostly contains mythic figures on the brink of a huge conflict, but a few humans find their way into the story through an accident of history.  In a way, it is easier to write a fictionalized version of character who exists already.  They carry a certain cachet and the reader can picture who they are.  But the difficulty in working with characters who exist in the collective conscious is that if the author hits a wrong note it jars the reader.  So when Gaiman introduces Loki, he needs to be the close enough to the Loki of our imagination that we recognize him, but the story needs to be engaging enough that the character doesn’t get lost in its own shadow.  Gaiman does this beautifully.

The novel is an epic.  It builds up a number of stories, starts a number of conflicts and then pays them off beautifully.  The Dude would call this book “a fucking Swiss watch.”

A Note on the Medium

I originally borrowed this book from the library in CD format.   But it was too exciting for me to wait for someone to read it to me.  I wanted to eat through it in big bites.

Recommended

Housekeeping

I had originally said that I would review Machine Man this week and I still plan to do it but I would like to post that review as a companion piece to the interview that I did with the book’s author, Max Barry and I am waiting for the Max Berry article to be published before I write that review.  If you’re waiting on that review then bless you.  You’re an angel.  If you aren’t… Well, I am going to write it anyway

 

Upcoming 

Week 5 – Dune Messiah

Week 6 – Machine Man