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Frank Herbert

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

As an author Frank Herbert was both critically acclaimed and a worldwide commercial success. He is best known for the novel, Dune, and the five other novels in the series that followed it. The Dune saga dealt with themes such as human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics and power. It is considered by many fans of the genre to be the best science fiction epic ever written, and is certainly one of the most popular. Dune itself was awarded the Nebula award in 1965 and shared the Hugo award in 1966. The film of the novel Dune, made by David Lynch, while flawed, remains a classic of the genre. Dune was made into a TV mini-series by the Sci Fi Channel (United States) in 2001. This was commercially successful and the Sci-Fi channel continued the Dune saga with a further mini-series in 2003 entitled Children of Dune. Other notable novels were The Dosadi Experiment, The White Plague and The Godmakers.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Legacy
3 Ideas and Themes
4 Status and Impact in Science Fiction
5 Controversies
6 Bibliography
7 Books About Frank Herbert and Dune
8 Artistic works set in the Dune Universe
9 External links


Frank Herbert was born in 1920 at Tacoma, Washington. He was a very precocious, intelligent young boy and from a very early age knew what he wanted to do in life. On his eighth birthday, Frank walked down to breakfast at his family home in a pompous and portentous fashion (his own retrospective opinion)announced "I wanna be a author."

As an initial career he chose the next best thing - journalism. He lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job on the Glendale Star in 1939.

There was a temporary hiatus to his writing career as he served in the US navy during World War Two. During this time his romantic life was eventful, 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 his life partner Beverly Ann Stuart. Frank and Beverly met 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, while Beverly had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. This connection grew into something greater and they got married in Seattle on June 20, 1946. Their first son, Brian, arrived in 1947. Frank Herbert did not graduate from college according to his son, Brian, because he only wanted to study what interested him and so didn't complete the required courses. One should also bear in mind he had the more demanding reason that he now had the parental responsibilities of bring up a young child.

After college he went back into journalism and took a number of different roles working all over the West coast, including posts at the Seattle Star and The Oregon Statesman, and was a writer and editor for the San Francisco Examiner's California Living magazine for a decade. Quite obviously the fifties and early sixties were a frustrating time professionally for Herbert, with two young children (Peter arrived in 1951) it meant he had to put more into his journalistic work than he probably liked, yet at the same time his part-time writing probably undermined his success as a serious journalist. Frank Herbert was never conventional and very independent. He switched from job to job, town to town, never really living the fully conventional life.

Frank Herbert started 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 the science fiction magazines, producing fewer than 20 short stories.

Clearly, Frank Herbert's turn of mind did not serve him well as a conventional breadwinner. He relates in an interview with McNelly that the novel Dune originated when he was supposed to do an article on sand dunes, 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, and so it did not really affect his life circumstances.

He began researching Dune in 1959 and from that point on he was able to devote himself more wholeheartedly to his writing career. It seems clear that with the children being older, his wife was more able to support the family, being able to work full time as an advertising writer for department stores, so becoming the main breadwinner during the sixties. Not that Beverly gave up writing entirely, she became Frank's editor in chief and sounding board, and though it seems fair to ascribe the books to Frank Herbert, Beverly played a role that ought not to be underestimated in the development of his novels.

Meanwhile Frank focused more single-mindedly on writing his masterpiece. After six years of research and writing, Dune was completed by 1965. But Dune was rejected by more than 20 publishers before one finally accepted it. One unfortunate publisher wrote back "I might be making the mistake of the decade, butÖ" Fortunately it was lucky twenty, and Herbert received a $7500 advance, and Dune was soon a critical success. It won the Nebula 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.

Dune was a slow burner initially, Frank Herbert only made $20000 from it by 1968, and so he was not able to take up full time writing. However, the release of Dune did open doors for him. He was 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. Frank 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 seventies and eighties, Frank Herbert was a commercial success as an author and so was able to live the good life. He lived between [[Maui , Hawaii]] and Washington. During this time he wrote numerous books and pushed ecological and philosophical ideas. He continued his Dune saga following it with Dune Messiah, Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune. Other highlights were The Dosadi Experiment, The Godmakers, The White Plague and the books he wrote in partnership with Bill Ransom - The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect and The Ascension Factor.

Unfortunately the good life was also marred with tragedy. His wife, Beverly, had to have an operation in 1974 for cancer; this operation gave her ten more years of life, but she was pretty much physically helpless latterly. She eventually died on February 7, 1984. In his afterword to Chapterhouse Dune, Frank writes a moving elegy for his soulmate.

1984 was a crazy year in Frank's life. In the same year is wife tragically died, his career ironically took off as well. Dune was released as a film in late 1984. But despite high expectations, ornate sets and a big budget cast that included a wonderful performance by Kyle Mclachnan as Paul Atreides, and a surpringly good performance from the rock star Sting, the movie drew mostly poor reviews in the USA. However, despite a disappointing response in the USA, it was a critical and commercial success in Europe and Japan. Also in 1984 he released the fifth in the Dune saga - Heretics of Dune, which many readers believe to be as good as Dune itself. Finally, with the passing away of Beverly, Frank married Theresa Shackelford later in the year.

Frank Herbert's final single work was the completed sixth novel in the Dune sequence: Chapterhouse: Dune, which thankfully pulled together many of the various strands of the Dune saga and gave some sort of resolution. Beverly apparently made Frank promise to finish the sixth book in the Dune sequence. Frank Herbert himself died of pancreatic cancer on February 11th 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin. He was 65 years of age. He was survived by his third wife, Theresa, a daughter and two sons.


Frank Herbert left a wonderful posthumous legacy for his fans. 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, his son Brian Herbert and an associate, 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 actually merges the events in Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

Frank Herbert's books have grown more and more popular as time as passed. As of 2003 the Dune has never been more popular, with new readers continually discovering it and the other writings of Frank Herbert via the film, the mini-series and the aforementioned new Dune series' by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold almost 20 million copies. Other books by Frank Herbert have also fared well - especially the other books in the Dune Saga - and the books in his collection are often reprinted year after year.

Ideas and Themes

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 had to be careful to avoid attracting followers, having at times to vigorously discourage such slavishness.

One could say that the underlying theme in Frank Herbert's work was his fascination with the question of human survival and evolution. There are a number of key themes in Herbert's work:

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

On Writing

A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing. for example. or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detectthe difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write." There's no difference on paper between the two.

On Science Fiction

I think science fiction does help, and it points in very interesting directions. It points in relativistic directions. It says that we have the imagination for these other opportunities, these other choices. We tend to tie ourselves down to limited choices. We say, "Well, the only answer is...." or, "If you would just. . . ." Whatever follows these two statements narrows the choices right there. It gets the vision right down close to the ground so that you don't see anything happening outside. Humans tend not to see over a long range. Now we are required, in these generations, to have a longer range view of what we inflict on the world around us. This is where, I think, science fiction is helping. I don't think that the mere writing of such a book as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction. We may be contriving a strictly controlled police culture. B. F. Skinner worries the hell out of me. He is right out of Huxley. He is standing there like a small boy saying, "Please let me have a world like this because I feel safe in it!" He is saying, "I want to control it." He may be very accurate in his assessment that our total society is going in that direction and that maybe he is opting for the lesser of numerous evils, in his view. But what kind of a society would that produce?

Other Quotations

Litany Against Fear
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear is gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Bene Gesserit litany against fear. (Page 19, Dune)

On Systems Thinking/Ecology/Long Term Thinking
The thing the ecologically illiterate donít realize about an ecosystem is that itís a system. A system! A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams the flow, order collapses. The untrained miss the collapse until too late. Thatís why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.
Kynes (Page 570, Dune)

On Belief
Remember your philosopherís doubts, Miles. Beware! The mind of a believer stagnates. It fails to grow outward into an unlimited, infinite universe.
Taraza (Page 164, Heretics of Dune)

On Life
Confine yourself to observing and you always miss the point of your own life. The object can be stated this way: Live the best life you can. Life is a game whose rules you learn if you leap into it and play it to the hilt. Otherwise, you are caught off balance, continually surprised by the shifting play. Non-players often whine and complain that luck always passes them by. They refuse to see that they can create some of their own luck.
Darwi Odrade (Page 45, Chapter House Dune)

On Learning
Many have marked the speed with which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis for the speed. For the others, we can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries a lesson.
from "The Humanity of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan (page 83, Dune)

On Self deception
Anything outside yourself, this you can see and apply your logic to it. But itís a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, these things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing thatís really chewing on us.
Jessica speaking to Thufir Hawat (Page 182, Dune)

On Leadership
Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders.
Law of Governance,The Spacing Guild Manual (page 141, Children of Dune)

Status and Impact in Science Fiction

Frank Herbert is acknowledged as one of the finest Science Fiction writers of all time. He has written the best selling Science Fiction novel, Dune, and the best selling series, the Dune saga. Dune is recognised as a landmark novel in SF. Dune won the Nebula Award in 1965 and tied for the Hugo Award of 1966. It was "Powerful, convincing, and most ingenious." according to Robert A. Heinlein. While Arthur C Clarke wrote of Dune that it was: "unique among SF novels...I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings."

Dune was a SF landmarks for a number of reasons:

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."

After Dune, Frank Herberts wrote over twenty novels of variable quality. These books always managed to be interesting, were often of high quality and were occasionally brilliant. However, In the late sixties and early seventies his books seemed to almost completely lack the literary quality of Dune. Books like The Green Brain, The Sarotoga Barrier and Hellstrom's Hive seemed to hark back to the days before Dune when all you needed was a good technological idea to drive a novel. Even Dune Messiah (1969), the sequel to Dune failed to match its quality, though as part of the overall series is highly effective. This run of average novels ended with Children of Dune in 1976. From then on Herbert's novels were always of consistent high quality, but few of these novels could be seriously considered to approach the standards of Dune.

Much of the problem was Frank Herbert's writing style. It was difficult style which he wasn't always capable of pulling off. Sometimes he let his enthusiasm for interesting ideas get in the way of the story. God Emperor of Dune, for instance, is a magnificient but flawed effort. Herbert focused so much in perfecting his realization of the immortal God Emperor Leto, that he forgets to properly develop the rest of his characters and so unwittingly creates a overly one pointed story.

Frank Herbert didn't perhaps get the critical acclaim he deserved None of the sequels to Dune or any of his other books won either a Hugo or Nebula. Children of Dune was almost too literary and too dark to get the recognition it may have deserved. The Dosadi Experiment was an extremely fine Science Fiction novel, but lacks an epic quality. Heretics of Dune and Chapter House Dune however were the fruits of his mature work and compare favourably to Dune. In all fairness none of these novels were truly landmark novels in the manner of Dune, which was perhaps was what critics had been waiting for, they were merely great Science Fiction. In the end the critics waited too long and Frank Herbert did not receive the further recognition his 40 year career probably deserved.

To conclude, Malcolm Edwards writing in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says: "Much of FH'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 sf."


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 the two are usually in contradiction.

Be that as it may the new books are enormously popular among Science Fiction fans. Fans of the original series await the Dune 7 book with anticipation but some concern; pleased that they will discover where Frank intended to take the series, but worried that the new book would let down the original vision.




Short Fiction Collections:

Short Fiction

Non Fiction Books:

Non Fiction Books:

Essays and introductions

Significant Newspaper Articles

Other Publications


Some Audio Recordings

Limited Bibliography by universe

Dune series:

Pan-sentiency series:
Destination: Void universe:

Books About Frank Herbert and Dune

Artistic works set in the Dune Universe

The original series by Frank Herbert:

Prelude to Dune There is also a prequel trilogy to Dune, known as the Prelude to Dune. It was written by Brian Herbert (son of Frank) and Kevin J. Anderson and based in part on Frank Herbert's notes, found after his death. These books have been extremely successful and have introduced the Dune universe to a new generation of fans. This trilogy is set in the years leading up to the events in Dune.

Legends of Dune Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson followed this with a second prequel trilogy called the Legends of Dune This trilogy is set at the beginning of time - in regard to the Dune universe - when Humans and sentient machines fight a devastating war.

Other Artistic works based on Frank Herbert's books:

External links