Dune Messiah is the second book in Frank Herbert's Dune saga. The events take place 12 years after the end of Dune; and where Dune was an adventure in a political setting Dune Messiah is a political adventure. Dune had a large cast across planets like Arrakis and Caladan. Dune Messiah takes place on Arrakis, where Paul Atreides - the Muad'dib is firmly entrenched having won wars, massacred billions and become a deity. He has adopted the ways of the natives of Arrakis - the Fremen - and they have accepted him as their own - hordes of Fremen come as pilgrims and pay homage to him. But his own power over the Fremen leaves Paul uneasy, and in his prescience he sees the destruction his 'jihad' will wreak upon humanity in the future.
Paul Muad'dib and his Fremen concubine Chani have been trying to have a child for some time, however Chani is being secretly administered a contraceptive by Paul's wife Princess Irulan on instruction from here Bene Gesserit sisterhood. The Bene Gesserit sisterhood is focused on their breeding program in order to bring about the birth of a 'super being' known as the Kwisatz-Haderach. Their plan was thrown into chaos by the actions of Paul's mother Lady Jessica, who defied the Bene Gesserit command to bear only daughters to Paul's father Duke Leto. The birth of Paul and his manifestation as the Kwisatz-Haderach have forced the sisterhood to re-examine their plans in order to bring the 'super-being' under their influence.
The Fremen army of Paul Muad'dib on Arrakis / Dune.
Stepping into the conspiracy and representing the Tleilax is Scytale - a 'face dancer' (genetically engineered subjects able to mimic humans), and standing in for the Spacing Guild is the Navigator Edric. The conspirators set in motion a plan to destabilize Paul, influence him to impregnate Irulan so as to bring his bloodline under the control of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.
The Tleilaxu penetrate the Paul's inner circle by inserting a resurrected and reprogrammed Duncan Idaho into his court. Scytale and Edric seek an audience with Paul and present him with the Ghola - Duncan Idaho, not known as Hayt. Duncan is a Frankenstein type creature - the body is from his own corpse and he is self-aware. He knows he has had memories but the Tleilaxu have biologically programmed him to their own end. The Tleilaxu purpose is to throw Paul Muad'dib off balance, to make him question his actions, judgment and reality, and allow the conspiracy to flourish.
The plot Dune Messiah revolves around a struggle between the old guard and the new. At the head of an empire built on war, Paul Muad'dib sees unending destruction for mankind at the hands of his armies. He agonizes over how to change the course of the future towards a more sustainable future, preferably one not built on too many dead bodies. But despite his temporal and prescient powers Paul Muad'dib is still subject to the the forces of the old guard who push to bring back some of the feudal system in which their agency was more intact.
The stark landscape of the planet Arrakis - also known as Dune.
However one of the most powerful influences limiting Paul Muad'dib's choices are his own adopted people - the Fremen. He admires and practices their hard but practical customs and rituals, which have bound him to the Fremen people and serve as powerful propaganda. But Paul is also wary of the nature of the beast he has unleashed among them. After having spent generations under the thumb of the previous Corrino Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, the Space Guild and other houses the Fremen are now at the top of the food chain. Paul's relation with them is symbiotic and they feed off each other materially and intellectually.
Add the spice Melange that controls the levers of the universe and over which the Fremen occupants of the planet Arrakis / Dune exercises a natural and exacting monopoly and you get a mental picture of a young and bloodied sovereign trying to pull his subjects away from inevitably brutalizing their way into a doomed future for humanity.
On of the toughest problems Paul Muad'dib struggles with is how to avert the destructive future he sees without losing his people.
Blue eyes - telltale signs of Melange use.
The Bene Tlelax are a powerful, bigoted and self-sequestered society in the Dune universe. Their speciality is the manipulation of biology & DNA to create extreme versions of mentats (the human computers of the Dune universe), shape shifters called face dancers, and clones of the dead - some of which are more organic than others - called gholas. Gholas are not zombies but they can be described as Frankenstein-like creatures who are raised from the dead, and under some influence of the Tleilax.
The comparison with Frankenstein is noteworthy. Mary Shelley's book is one of the earliest if not the first science fiction story. It is centered around Victor Frankenstein's experiments in creating artificial life from corpses; Dune on the other hand is one of the most influential science fiction stories. The parallel between the Tleilax ghola and Frankenstein's monster doesn't end the similarity; the origins of the Dune saga are also heavily dependent on the Bene Gesserit's experiment to create the 'super being', known as the Kwisatz-Haderach, and the chaos that follows that plan.
The first ghola in the saga is Hayt, raised from the corpse of the Atreides warrior Duncan Idaho. Hayt is synthesized from a corpse and the connection is supposed to have ended at physical similarities but something more seems to have gone through to the Ghola.
Frankenstein - illustrated by Theodor von Holst, from the 1831 edition.
The events of Dune Messiah take place 12 years after Dune ends. Paul Atreides is now the Muad'dib (kanganroo-mouse, in the Fremen tongue), Kwisatz-Haderach (super being, according to the Bene Gesserit) and Lisan al-Gaib (Voice from the outer world). He is also emperor and exercises dominion over the known universe after unleashing a deadly war that costs 61 billion lives. Paul is gifted with prescience which allows him to see many futures, and he sees the destruction of man if the course of his Fremen is not changed. Paul's struggle with this future has led to a pause in his war machine as he works out his moves and options.
Much like the Maurya king Ashoka who ruled over much of India in the third century BC. Ashoka inherited the throne from his father Bindusara (son of the founder of the Maurya Empire - Chandragupta), and won a bloody war at Kalinga (260 BC) where a hundred thousand were killed, many more died and still more were displaced. The all encompassing destructive aftermath of war deeply affected Ashoka who gave up warring. Ashoka adopted and promoted the peaceful practices Buddhism and the edicts of Ashoka are found across the length and breadth of India proclaiming his message of dhamma (peace).
A relief showing Ashoka on his Chariot, from the first century BC.