Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986)

Frank Patrick Herbert (October 8, 1920 � February 11, 1986) was an American science fiction author.

As an author Herbert was both critically acclaimed and a worldwide commercial success. He is best known for the novel The Godmakers.

Frank Herbert was born in 1920 in Tacoma, Washington. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer, and in 1939 he lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job on the Glendale Star.

There was a temporary hiatus to his writing career as he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He married Flora Parkinson in 1941, but later divorced her in 1945 after fathering a daughter.

After the war he attended the University of Washington, where he met Beverly Ann Stuart at a creative writing class in 1946. At the time they were the only students in the class who had as yet sold any work for publication�Frank had sold two pulp adventure stories to magazines, and Beverly had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. They married in Seattle on June 20, 1946. Their first son, Brian Herbert, was born in 1947. Frank Herbert did not graduate from college, according to Brian, because he only wanted to study what interested him and so didn't complete the required courses.

After college he returned to journalism and worked at the Seattle Star and the Oregon Statesman; he was also a writer and editor for the San Francisco Examiner's California Living magazine for a decade.

Herbert began reading science fiction in the forties, and in the fifties decided that this was the type of fiction he wanted to write. In the 1950s his short stories appeared among others in Startling Stories. During the next decade he was an infrequent contributor to science fiction magazines producing fewer than 20 short stories.

Herbert relates in an interview with McNeilly that the novel Dune originated when he was supposed to do an article on sand dunes in Florence, Oregon, but he got too involved in it and ended up with reams more raw material than he would ever need for a magazine article. Indeed he never actually handed in this article, but it served as the seed for the ideas that created Dune.

Herbert started his career as a novelist with the publishing of The Dragon In the Sea in 1955, where he used the environment of a 21st-century submarine as a way to explore sanity and madness. The book predicted worldwide conflicts over oil consumption and production. It was a critical success, but it was not a major commercial one.

He began researching Dune in 1959 and was able to devote himself more wholeheartedly to his writing career because his wife returned to work full time as an advertising writer for department stores, becoming the main breadwinner during the sixties.

After six years of research and writing, Dune was completed by 1965. But Dune was rejected by more than twenty publishers before one finally accepted it. One publisher prophetically wrote back "I might be making the mistake of the decade, but...," before rejecting the manuscript. But publisher number twenty made a wiser choice � and Herbert received a $7500 advance, and Dune was soon a critical success. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and shared the Hugo Award in 1966. Dune was the first ecological science fiction novel, containing a multitude of big, inter-relating themes and multiple character viewpoints, a method which ran through all Herbert's mature work.

The book was not an instant best seller. By 1968 Herbert had made only $20,000 from it and was not yet able to take up full time writing. However, the publication of Dune did open doors for him. He was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's education writer from 1969 to 1972 and lecturer in general and interdisciplinary studies at the University of Washington (1970�2). He worked in Vietnam and Pakistan as social and ecological consultant in 1972. Herbert was only able to take up full-time writing in 1972. In 1973 he was director-photographer of the television show The Tillers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Herbert finally enjoyed commercial success as an author. He lived between Hawaii and Washington State. During this time he wrote numerous books and pushed ecological and philosophical ideas. He continued his Dune saga, following it with The Ascension Factor.

But his change in fortune was shaded by tragedy. In 1974, Beverly underwent an operation for cancer which gave her gave her ten more years of life, but adversely affected her health. She died on February 7, 1984. In his afterword to Chapterhouse Dune, Frank writes a moving elegy for his wife.

1984 was a tumultuous year in Herbert's life. In the same year his wife tragically died, his career ironically took off as well with the release of David Lynch's film version of Dune. Despite high expectations, big-budget production design and A-list cast, the movie drew mostly poor reviews in the United States. However, despite a disappointing response in the USA, the film was a critical and commercial success in Europe and Japan. Also in 1984 Herbert published the fifth book in the Dune saga, Heretics Of Dune, which many readers believe to be as good as Dune itself. Finally, following the passing away of Beverly, Frank married Theresa Shackelford later in the year.

Beverly apparently made Frank promise to finish the sixth book in the Dune sequence. In 1986, Herbert published Chapterhouse: Dune, which tied up many of the saga's story threads. This was to be Herbert's final single work � he died of pancreatic cancer on February 11, 1986, in Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of 65.

Frank Herbert left a rich posthumous legacy for his readers. He left behind notes for both the history of the Dune universe before the events of Dune and the novel he had planned to follow Chapterhouse: Dune. In recent years, Brian Herbert (Frank's son) and Kevin J. Anderson, have used those notes to write a very successful series of novels based on the pre-Dune materials and are preparing to write the post-Chapterhouse novel which fans refer to as Dune 7.

The film version of Dune is now a cult classic, doing very well on video and DVD and his Dune saga is as of 2003 being serialized by the Sci-Fi Channel. Dune the mini-series has been released to considerable acclaim and commercial success, and the channel have recently released a new mini-series called Children Of Dune which merges the plots of the novels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

Herbert's books have grown more popular as time passed thanks to a growing fanbase inspired by the release of the Dune 1984 film, the television mini-series and the aforementioned "Prelude to Dune" series. Dune remains his most successful and popular novel � it has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold almost 20 million copies. Herbert's other books have also sold well, particularly the subsequent novels in the Dune saga, which have been reprinted year after year.

Frank Herbert used his science fiction novels to explore complex ideas involving philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and ecology, which have inspired many of his readers to become interested in these areas. The underlying thrust in Frank Herbert's work was his fascination with the question of human survival and evolution. Frank Herbert has attracted a fanatical fanbase, many of whom have tried to read everything Frank Herbert has written, fiction or non-fiction, and see Frank Herbert as something of a guru. Indeed such was the devotion of some of his readers that Frank Herbert was at times accused of trying to create a cult.

There are a number of key themes in Herbert's work:

* A concern with Leadership. He especially explored the human tendency for human beings to follow charismatic leaders slavishly. He delved deeply into both the flaws and potentials of bureaucracy and government.
* Herbert was probably the first science fiction author to popularise ideas about Ecology and Systems Thinking. He stressed the need for humans to think both systematically and long term.
* The relationship between religion, politics and power.
* Human survival and evolution: Herbert writes of the Fremen, the Sardaukar, and the Dosadi, who are molded by their terrible living conditions into dangerous super-races.
* Human possibilities and potential: Herbert offered Mentats, the Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilaxu as different visions of human possibilities.
* The nature of sanity and madness. Frank Herbert was interested in the work of Thomas Szasz and Anti-psychiatry.
* The possible effects and consequences of consciousness altering chemicals, such as Spice in the Dune saga.
* How language shapes the way people think. More specifically Frank Herbert was influenced by Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics
* Sociobiology. How our instincts unconsciously influence our behaviour and society.
* Learning, teaching and thinking.

Frank Herbert carefully refrained from offering his readers firm answers to many of the questions he explored.

Herbert is acknowledged as one of the finest science fiction (SF) writers of all time � his Dune is recognized as a seminal novel of the genre. It is the best-selling science fiction novel, and the Dune saga is the best-selling science fiction series of all time. In addition, Dune has received widespread critical acclaim, winning the Nebula Award in 1965 and sharing the Hugo Award in 1966. According to contemporary Robert A. Heinlein, Herbert's opus was "Powerful, convincing, and most ingenious." Arthur C. Clarke wrote that Dune was "unique among SF novels...I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings."

Dune is also considered a landmark novel for a number of reasons:

* It was perhaps the first literary science fiction novel. Up until Dune, it was often said that all a SF novel needed to be successful was a great technological idea. Characterization and great story took a distant second place. Spark Notes write that the "legacy of Dune is that it represented, for the first time, a literary science fiction novel that was not a thinly veiled social satire�like George Orwell's A Clockwork Orange...Herbert provides a novel for those readers looking for a fulfilling literary and classic science fiction experience. "
* Dune is also one of the first truly philosophical science fiction novels. Previously science fiction had been concerned with the hard sciences, however, Frank Herbert deliberately suppressed technology in his Dune universe so he could address the future of humanity, rather than the future of Humanity's technology. Dune considers the way humans and their institutions might change over time.
* Dune was the first major ecological SF novel. Frank Herbert was a great populariser of scientific ideas; many of his fans credit Frank Herbert for introducing them to philosophy and psychology. In Dune he helped popularized the term, ecology, and some of its concepts, vividly imparted a sense of planetary awareness. Gerald Jonas explains 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.
* Finally Dune is considered simply epic world building. The Library Journal reports that "Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy." Frank Herbert imagined every facet of his creation � lovingly including glossaries, quotes, documents and histories � to bring his universe alive to his readers, and no science fiction novel before it had such a deeply realized reality.

Spark Notes conclusion about Dune is that:

"Dune is the masterpiece by which all other science fiction novels are judged just as Lord of the Rings is to the genre of modern fantasy. While its significance in the more general literary canon is debatable, Dune is unquestionably one of the most important works of science fiction, and perhaps of American literature in general, in the twentieth century."

Herbert wrote over twenty novels after Dune that some regard being of variable quality. Books like Hellstrom's Hive seemed to hark back to the days before Dune when a good technological idea was all that was needed to drive a sci-fi novel. And some fans of the Dune saga are critical of the follow-up novels � particularly Children of Dune and God Emperor Of Dune � as being sub-par.

Herbert never equalled the critical acclaim he received from Dune. Neither his sequels to Dune nor any of his other books won a Hugo or Nebula. Some felt that Children of Dune was almost too literary and too dark to get the recognition it may have deserved, and that The Dosadi Experiment lacked an epic quality fans had come to expect. Critics point out problems in Herbert's difficult writing style which they contend was inconsistent, and that Herbert sometimes let his enthusiasm for interesting ideas get in the way of the story.

To conclude, Malcolm Edwards in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction wrote:

"Much of [Herbert]'s work makes difficult reading. His ideas were genuinely developed concepts, not merely decorative notions, but they were sometimes embodied in excessively complicated plots and articulated in prose which did not always match the level of thinking...His best novels, however, were the work of a speculative intellect with few rivals in modern [science fiction]."

Since his death the main controversy within the science fiction community is whether the new Dune books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson should be considered canonical. Critics argue that these books do not have the quality of the original series, especially with regard to the articulation of complex ideas about human life that was such a concern of Frank Herbert.

Also Herbert's close friend Dr. Willis E. McNelly (1920�2003) compiled a Dune Encyclopedia in 1984. It was written by fans of Dune, including McNelly. There's a considerable debate about how "canonical" the encyclopedia is: Herbert wrote the introduction and read and approved every essay, but in subsequent books of the Dune series he contradicted a few points. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, offended many diehard fans when they decided against using The Dune Encyclopedia as a reference for their new Dune books, so their series often contradicts material presented in McNelly's work.

Be that as it may, the new books are enormously popular among fans. Aficionados of the original series await the seventh book with anticipation � eager to discover where Herbert intended to take the landmark series, but concerned that the new book would be a major departure from Herbert's original vision.

Books by Frank Herbert