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Susan Sarandon has been taking heat lately for her antiwar messages on television. But in one of those neat twists of TV programming, she will play an evil, warmongering princess on "Children of Dune." The six-hour sequel to one of the most successful basic cable series ever ("Dune") airs on Sunday through Tuesday nights on the Sci-Fi Channel.

In the sequel, Sarandon's character tries to depose her brother-in-law, the head of sci-fi writer Frank Herbert's royal space family, the house of Atreides.

Despite playing a space villain, Sarandon says the story evokes obvious comparisons to current events. "It's very much about fundamentalists," she says. "Whether it's consumer fundamentalists or whether it's religious fundamentalists. It's about religion run amok."

Indeed, Herbert's work is surprisingly topical, despite being published four decades ago: A deeply religious head of state has unleashed what Herbert himself dubbed "a jihad." His followers are fighting around the universe and upsetting longstanding political alliances.

Alex Newman plays Paul Atreides, whom, he says, has begun to doubt the virtue of his political power. "[The story] is more pertinent to how we exist politically in the world today, with plots and underhanded political devices" used by people to gain an advantage, he says.

For those who are not familiar with the Dune mythology, the big picture includes a vast, futuristic universe, ruled by the planet Dune. The key to power is the mysterious Spice, an animal extract that powers everything from hyperspace travel to higher consciousness - and which is only found on Dune.


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