Herbert, Frank 1920–1986

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Herbert, Frank 1920–1986

(Frank Patrick Herbert)

PERSONAL: Born October 8, 1920, in Tacoma, WA; died of complications following cancer surgery February 11 (some sources say February 12), 1986, in Madison, WI; son of Frank and Eileen Marie (McCarthy) Herbert; married Flora Parkinson, March, 1941 (divorced, 1945); married Beverly Ann Stuart, June 23, 1946; marriage ended; married third wife, Theresa; children: Penny (Mrs. D.R. Merritt), Brian Patrick, Bruce Calvin. Education: Attended University of Washington, 1946–47.

CAREER: Novelist. Reporter, photographer, and editor for west coast newspapers, including Glendale Star (CA), Oregon Statesman, Seattle Star, and San Francisco Examiner, 1939–69; educational writer, Seattle Post-Intelligence, Seattle, WA, 1969–72; lecturer in general and interdisciplinary studies, University of Washington, Seattle, 1970–72; consultant in social and ecological studies, Lincoln Foundation, and to countries of Vietnam and Pakistan, 1971; director and photographer of television show, The Tillers, 1973.

MEMBER: World without War Council (member of national council, 1970–73; member of Seattle council, 1972–86).

AWARDS, HONORS: Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1965, and Hugo Award, World Science Fiction Convention, 1966, both for Dune; Prix Apollo, 1978; Doctor of Humanities, Seattle University, 1980.



The Dragon in the Sea (originally serialized in Amazing Science Fiction as Under Pressure), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1956, published as Twenty-first Century Sub, Avon (New York, NY), 1956, published as Under Pressure, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1974.

The Green Brain (originally serialized in Amazing Stories), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1966.

Destination: Void (originally serialized in Galaxy; also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1966, revised edition, 1978.

The Eyes of Heisenberg (originally serialized in Galaxy), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1966.

The Heaven Makers (originally serialized in Amazing Stories), Avon (New York, NY), 1968.

The Santaroga Barrier (originally serialized in Amazing Stories), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1968.

Whipping Star (originally serialized in If; also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1970.

The God Makers (also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1971.

Hellstrom's Hive (based on the film The Hellstrom Chronicle; originally serialized in Galaxy as Project 40), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.

The Dosadi Experiment (sequel to Whipping Star; also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1977.

(With Bill Ransom) The Jesus Incident (also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1979.

Direct Descent, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Priests of Psi (also see below), Gollancz (London, England), 1980.

The White Plague, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.

(With Bill Ransom) The Lazarus Effect, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.

Worlds beyond Dune: The Best of Frank Herbert (contains The Jesus Incident, Whipping Star, Destination: Void, The God Makers, and The Dosadi Experiment), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1987.

(With son, Brian Herbert) Man of Two Worlds, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Bill Ransom) The Ascension Factor, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1989.


Dune (originally serialized in Analog; also see below), Chilton, 1965, twenty-fifth anniversary edition, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Dune Messiah (originally serialized in Galaxy; also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1970.

Children of Dune (also see below), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1976.

The Illustrated Dune, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1978.

The Great Dune Trilogy (contains Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune), Gollancz (London, Engand), 1979.

God Emperor of Dune (excerpt appeared in Playboy), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1981.

Heretics of Dune, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.

Chapterhouse: Dune, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.

House Atreides, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.

House Harkonnen, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

House Corrino, Bantam (New York, NY), 2001.

Dune: The Machine Crusade, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.


(With others) Five Fates, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.

The Worlds of Frank Herbert, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.

The Book of Frank Herbert, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1972.

The Best of Frank Herbert, Sphere Books (London, England), 1974.

The Priests of Psi, and Other Stories, Gollancz (London, England), 1980.

Eye ("Masterworks of Science Fiction and Fantasy" series), edited by Byron Preiss, illustrated by Jim Burns, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1985.


(Editor) New World or No World (interviews), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.

Soul Catcher (fiction), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1972.

Threshold: The Blue Angels Experience (nonfiction), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1973.

(Editor with others) Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Holt (New York, NY), 1974.

Sandworms of Dune (recording), Caedmon (London, England), 1978.

The Truths of Dune (recording), Caedmon (London, England), 1979.

The Battles of Dune (recording), Caedmon (London, England), 1979.

(With Max Barnard) Without Me You're Nothing: The Essential Guide to Home Computers (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor) Nebula Awards Fifteen (anthology), Harper (New York, NY), 1981.

The Dune Encyclopedia, edited by Willis E. McNelly, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.

The Maker of Dune, edited by Timothy O'Reilly, Berkeley Publishing (New York, NY), 1987.

(Author of foreword) Bryan Brewer, editor, Eclipse, second edition, Earth View, 1991.

The Songs of Muad'Dib: The Poetry of Frank Herbert, edited by B. Herbert, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Sonny Detmer) Ty: The Ty Detmer Story as told to Brenton Yorgason, Bookcraft (Salt Lake City, UT), 1992.

Also author of The Dune Coloring Book (fourteen volumes), Putnam. Contributor of fiction to Esquire, Galaxy, Amazing Stories, Analog, and other magazines.

Dune has been translated into over fourteen languages.

ADAPTATIONS: Dune was adapted for the screen by David Lynch and filmed by Universal in 1984.

SIDELIGHTS: Frank Herbert is most often remembered as the creator of the tremendously popular "Dune Chronicles." The first volume, 1965's Dune, instantly placed him among such preeminent authors as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov as a brilliant creator of imagined worlds. The novel first became a cult favorite and then a full-blown bestseller; it has never been out of print, selling tens of millions of copies and spawning five sequels and a film adaptation in the decades since it was first published. Dune is considered by many to be among the most influential novels in its genre, and is described by Robert A. Foster in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as "one of the unquestioned masterpieces of modern science fiction."

The popularity of Dune has been built around Herbert's portrayal of the desert planet Arrakis and its inhabitants—a portrayal which Joseph McClellan of the Washington Post Book World considered to be "more complete and deeply detailed than any author in the [science fiction] field had ever managed or attempted before." The novel takes place twenty-five centuries hence, when the known universe is controlled by two political powers, the Imperium and the Great Houses. These forces maintain a delicate and uneasy peace, oc-casionally punctuated by espionage, collusion, and infighting. The balance is further complicated by the presence of powerful independent organizations, such as the Spacing Guild and the cultish Bene Gesserit. As the novel opens, Duke Leto Atreides has been asked to abandon the throne of his home world of Caladan for that of Arrakis, known to its natives as Dune. This planet is a burning desert—quite unlike the watery paradise of Caladan—but is also the only source for the spice melange, an addictive narcotic which imparts to its user limited prescient abilities. The spice is highly valued by the Spacing Guild (whose navigators use the drug to help them traverse the cosmos), among others, making Arrakis a source of power to whoever controls it.

Leto takes his wife, Jessica, his son, Paul, and their entourage to Dune. Before they can assume control, however, they are ambushed by the forces of the Harkonnen family, arch rivals of House Atreides. Duke Leto is killed, but Paul and his mother escape to the desert wastes, where they encounter the indigenous people known as the Fremen. Years of living in the sands have forced the Fremen to adapt: they have constructed special suits to conserve and re-use their body's fluids; they have designed machinery to draw precious moisture from the atmosphere; and, most importantly, they have perfected methods by which melange can be harvested and distilled. The Fremen have learned the secret of the "spice cycle"—that the production of melange is intrinsic to the life cycle of Dune's most frightening creatures, the monstrous sandworms.

Paul and Jessica are introduced to the ways of Fremen culture. In a Fremen rite of passage, Paul ingests a near-lethal dose of spice, awakening within him the ability to see the future—and, to some extent, to alter it. He is hailed by the Fremen as their messiah, Muad'Dib. With them as his army, Paul struggles to wrest his father's usurped throne away from the Harkonnens; however, deep within the "network of probability" that makes up the future, Paul glimpses a terrible holy war drawing ever closer—a bloody jihad that he is destined to bring about.

While the plot of Dune is typical of heroic fantasy and science fiction, the world and culture of Arrakis set the novel apart from standard fare. Foster credited Herbert with establishing the science fiction tradition of "the invented-world novel, in which details of history, languages, customs, geography, and ecology … are combined with a rich complexity that pleases the reader by its verisimilitude and imaginative scope." While New York Times reviewer John Leonard admitted that Dune was not the first science fiction novel to create a self-consistent and logical alien world—Tolkien had already done so with his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as had Lewis in his tales of Narnia—he considered Herbert's work to be more ambitious than that of his predecessors. "Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, with their ready-made Christian moralizing to fall back on, are not in Mr. Herbert's inventive league," Leonard wrote. "For Dune, [Herbert] dreamed up several complete religions, and alien ecology and technology, entire histories and cultures and black arts."

Lending an additional air of believability to the novel is Herbert's detailed account of Arrakis's ecosystem; for instance, Foster cited the spice cycle as "one of the best examples of true scientific imagination in science fiction." Dune represented the first time a fiction writer had addressed these issues so effectively, and the result was dramatic. Gerald Jonas explained in the New York Times Book Review: "So completely did Mr. Herbert work out the interactions of man and beast and geography and climate that [Dune] became the standard for a new subgenre of 'ecological' science fiction." As popularity of Dune rose, Herbert embarked on a lecture tour of college campuses, explaining how the environmental concerns of Dune's inhabitants were analogous to our own. In this way, he has often been credited as contributing to the birth of America's environmental movement. America's Willis E. McNelly saw Herbert's message in the Dune novels as: "We need to understand what we are doing to our own environment … because some of the things we've done may already be beyond redemption with disastrous consequences for the earth and for human life."

Dune was soon followed by 1970's Dune Messiah and 1976's Children of Dune. These novels continued the account of Paul-Muad'Dib's rise to power, his attempts to unify Arrakis's people and to control its harsh climate, and the destructive results that follow. Paul's failure illustrates a motif that appears throughout Herbert's fiction: the false, or flawed, messiah. He elaborated in Critical Encounters: Dune "began with a concept: to do a long novel about the messianic convulsions which periodically inflict themselves on human societies. I had this theory that superheroes were disastrous for humans, that even if you postulated an infallible hero, the things this hero set in motion fell eventually into the hands of fallible mortals. What better way to destroy a civilization, a society or a race than to set people into the wild oscillations which follow their turning over their judgement and decision-making faculties to a superhero?" Herbert further commented in Dream Makers: "The bottom line in the Dune [series] is: beware of heroes. [It is] much better to rely on your own judgement, and your own mistakes."

At the end of Children of Dune, Paul has been replaced by his son, Leto II, as ruler of Arrakis and the Galactic Empire to which it belongs. A powerful prescient, Leto has guided his people down the "Golden Path" that will ultimately lead to three millennia of peace; furthermore, he has merged his body with larval sandtrout, and as they develop he will be transformed over thousands of years into a giant half-human, half-sandworm—the ultimate fusion of man and environment. Though he had planned to close his "Dune Chronicles" here, Herbert returned to Arrakis with God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. While these later novels take place long after the rule of Paul-Muad'Dib, they continue to explore the themes first introduced in Dune. Although many critics echoed Leonard's complaint that "Frank Herbert should never have written a sequel to Dune, much less [five] of them," it is only when viewing the completed series that the importance of Herbert's work can be understood. As a writer for the West Coast Review of Books pointed out: "It's inevitable that sequels to a book as important as Dune would generate considerable controversy. The subjectivity of readers, measuring each new volume against their memory of the original, prevents them from properly appreciating the overall complexity and beauty of the series."

Later, many reviewers did begin to recognize the significance of Herbert's "Dune Chronicles." "In a very strict and limited way," commented Joseph M. Lenz in Coordinates, "the Dune books can be called classics…. I mean that they are classical, reminiscent of and belonging to a literary tradition that originates with Rome and The Aeneid." Jonas cited Herbert's refusal to treat the science fiction genre lightly as a source of the series' power and popularity. "The conspiratorial characters of Dune deal only with issues of transcendent importance—the fate of mankind, the possibility of free will, the existence of evil," he pointed out. "The strength of [Herbert's] series comes from its utter seriousness. There is not a trace of irony, not a whiff of self-mocking doubt." Jonas continued: "Whatever else the characters in Herbert's books have to worry about, none suffers from that common malady of our day: a sense of meaninglessness. Virtually every page in the trilogy contains a sentence that hints at the momentousness of the events being described."

Foster observed that, "with its emphasis on intrigue, consciousness, supernormal mental powers, and the functional meaning of abstractions such as peace," most of the "action" in the Dune series takes place on an intellectual level. The contemplative nature of Herbert's fiction makes it an ideal forum for many of Herbert's philosophical beliefs, and nowhere are those beliefs better represented than in the "Dune Chronicles." "Herbert's work is informed by an evolving body of concepts to which the Dune [series] holds the key," claimed Timothy O'Reilly in Frank Herbert. Herbert's work "shows the possibilities for good and evil of factors present, but unnoticed, in our culture. He gives his readers ideals and dreams, but not as an excuse for avoiding the realities of the present…. Most of all, he offers a chance to practice in fiction the lessons that are increasingly demanded by our lives: how to live with the pressure of changing times." O'Reilly concluded: "The end result of all this art is a novel packed with ideas that cannot easily be shaken from the mind, but which is never overburdened by their weight."

By infusing his fiction with philosophical and theological discussion, Herbert successfully transcended the limitations common to the science fiction genre. "Although Dune possesses a broad popular appeal which is often denied to the 'highbrow' novel, it reveals itself to formal literary analysis as a subtle, complex, and carefully crafted work of art," maintained John Ower in Extrapolation. "It thus constitutes an eloquent comment on the increasing maturity of science fiction as a form." O'Reilly, too, saw Dune as a step in the evolution of the genre. He wrote in Critical Encounters: "When [a science fiction novel] reaches the subconscious levels …, as Dune so clearly does, it goes beyond being even a cautionary fable and becomes, in Herbert's own words, a 'training manual for consciousness.'" Because of the tremendous success of the "Dune Chronicles," it has been the tendency of some reviewers to dismiss Herbert's other works of short and long fiction as inferior. However, these works often reveal to the reader a number of motifs only hinted at in the Dune books. Three such works are The Dragon in the Sea, Destination: Void, and The White Plague. The Dragon in the Sea is set in the foreseeable future, near the end of the next world war. Because the superpowers have fought for sixteen years, they have nearly depleted their supplies of natural resources, and must send submarine wolf packs to steal crude oil from ocean wells. The action and dialogue take place entirely within the confines of a four-man "subtug," the Fenian Ram, whose crew acts as a microcosmic representation of the dangerous and paranoid world above the waves; as the tension in the subtug increases, each crew member must adapt to his environment or be destroyed by it. "The subtug crew responds to these pressures with adaptations which are insane when judged by outside standards," Foster notes, adding that "as Captain Sparrow explains, 'I'm nuts in a way which fits me perfectly to my world. That makes my world nuts and me normal. Not sane. Normal. Adapted.'"

Many critics considered The Dragon in the Sea to be vastly underrated, for it succeeds as both an action novel and a psychological thriller. "It all works," according to Foster, "because the conceptual unfolding is matched step by step in the action of the plot. The ideas never interrupt the action; they are tightly woven into it." J. Frances McComas, writing in the New York Times Book Review, felt that Herbert's account of a future war "comes very close to matching—in suspense, action and psychic strain—any chronicle of real war." The drama played out within the cramped space of the Fenian Ram is the same one Paul Atreides is forced to play out in the deserts of Arrakis: adapt or die. "All of Herbert's books portray and test the human ability to consciously adapt," contended O'Reilly. "He sets his characters in the most stressful situations imaginable [because] there is no test so powerfully able to bring out latent adaptability as one in which the stakes are survival."

The concept of forced adaptation was also the basis for Herbert's 1967 novel, Destination: Void. In the future, scientists are desperate to develop artificial intelligence, or thinking machines. In order to bring about this breakthrough, a series of spaceships are launched, each manned by a four-man skeleton crew. Unbeknownst to the crew, the ship has been designed to fail halfway into their long journey; the only way to ensure survival is to somehow raise the ship's computer to a level of human consciousness before the ship's systems fail. Each of the four crew members is expert in a single discipline—psychology, biology, chemistry, and computer science—and approaches the problem through that discipline; however, each one also represents an aspect of humanity—intelligence, sensation, intuition, and religious devotion—the sum of which are secretly fed to the computer. The computer learns from both the crew's methods and their emotions, and eventually evolves to full consciousness. It repairs itself and delivers the crew to a habitable planet; salvation does not come cheap, however, for the ship demands that it be worshiped as a savior.

David M. Miller, writing in his book Frank Herbert, called Destination: Void "an essay rather than an entertainment [wherein] the 'hero' is really the idea, and the novel is a 'lab-report.'" Patricia S. Warrick expressed a similar view in The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction, though she stressed the point that the novel "never sacrifices plot to philosophical discussion; it is uniquely successful in dramatizing the issues rather than merely talking about them." Though Miller admitted that Destination: Void resembles The Dragon in the Sea and Dune in that it explores the concept of growth through forced adaptation, "the reader may discover that it reveals some facets of Herbert's vision more explicitly" than his previous novels. Warrick concluded: "[Destination: Void] is a unique literary accomplishment."

In 1982's The White Plague, Herbert yet again explored the ability of humans to overcome incredible changes in their environment. Described by Jonas as "a brilliant, brooding meditation on the war between man's tendencies toward self-destruction and his instinct for self preservation," the novel tells the story of a biologist, John O'Neill, who is driven mad by the death of his wife and children, victims of an Irish Republican Army bomb. Bent on revenge, he develops a DNA-based plague virus that affects only females; when his demands are ignored by the government O'Neill unleashes his creation, killing hundreds of thousands of women and girls. Their world in a shambles, scientists and governments must unite to protect the surviving women and find a cure for the plague.

Although Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Mark Rose called The White Plague "engaging entertainment, intriguing, wholly believable and even important," fellow critic Craig Shaw Gardner found certain flaws, particularly in Herbert's choice of narrator. Gardner commented in Washington Post Book World: "By writing most of the novel from the point of view of a mad man incapable of feeling … Herbert robs the reader of the opportunity for empathy, and the book falls flat." Still, Fantasy Newsletter's William Coyle maintained that "the basic situation is vintage Herbert: catastrophe averted or mitigated by man's willingness to discard traditional behavior patterns."

Though Herbert will largely be remembered as the author of Dune, he left behind a greater legacy than of his fiction. "The commercial success of Dune paved the way for large advances, bigger printings, best-seller status, and heavy subsidiary sales for many other writers," explained McNelly. "Every member of the [Science Fiction Writers of America] owes Frank Herbert and Dune considerable gratitude." Don D'Ammassa, writing in the Science Fiction Chronicle, agreed that Dune opened the door for many other writers, for it "introduced science fiction to readers outside the normal sci-ence fiction spectrum." He concluded: "[Herbert's] departure deprives us of one of the most significant voices in the field, as well as one of the more talented writers."



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AB Bookman's Weekly, March 24, 1986.

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Herbert, Frank 1920–1986

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