the Little Red Reviewer

Final Vintage SF Author bio: Frank Herbert

Posted on: January 30, 2012

Vintage SF wrap up coming soon. . . in the meantime, let’s learn a little more about one of my favorite science fiction authors, Frank Herbert.

I’ve been reading Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986) my entire adult life. I picked up Dune sometime when I was in high school, and never looked back.  Yes, he is famous for the Dune series, but Frank Herbert wrote a ton of stand alone science fiction as well.  Most of his works carry at least some of his trademarks: dialog and plots on many levels, commentaries on ecology and how society responds to it’s environment, and (mis)communications between disparate groups.

Although he’d been selling pulp adventure short stories starting in the mid 40’s, Herbert’s first science fiction sale wasn’t until 1952, and like many of his contemporaries, his earliest sales were to short story magazines. His first novel, published in 1955 was The Dragon in the Sea (also published as Under Pressure), about the crew of a submarine who suspect one among their number is a traitor. I read this novel a few years ago, and I remember it being incredible tense and suspenseful.


Herbert’s famous work, Dune, was published in 1965, after being rejected by over 20 publishers. It was eventually published by a small press known for educational materials.  As many of you guessed, Dune became a best selling award winning science fiction novel, with a story of such complexity that readers are able to return to it time and time again to glean new meanings and experiences.  To this day, Dune is still one of the rare books to have won both the Hugo and the Nebula award. The idea of a desert planet had been partially inspired by research he had done on shifting sand dunes on the west coast.  During the 60’s, Herbert was able to work full time as a writer, as his wife Beverly was now working full time.

During the next 20 years, Herbert would work on the rest of the Dune saga, and publish another twenty or so stand alone science fiction novels, many dealing with similar themes as Dune, namely charismatic leaders, the relationships between religion and politics, and ecology.

In a time of pulp fiction, Frank Herbert was writing literary science fiction, with massive amounts of world building and culture development. Readers who were used “science fiction adventure” were often taken aback, but this more literary style was to be the direction speculative fiction would start to to follow.

Other than the Dune series, which has never been out of print, much of Herbert’s more obscure works are not easy to find. Even if you haven’t read Dune, even if you have no interest in reading Dune, I highly suggest making the effort to find Herbert’s stand alone novels.  I recently reviewed Hellstrom’s Hive, which is definitely one of his better works, but I can say from experience that Dragon in the Sea (Under Pressure), The Green Brain, Soulcatcher, and The White Plague are all well worth the read.

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4 Responses to "Final Vintage SF Author bio: Frank Herbert"

As you well know I finally got around to reading Dune this past year and it far surpassed the very high expectations I had for it. It is one of the most unique and complex science fiction novels that I have ever read and there is no mystery why it has remained in print for so many decades. It was an incredible reading experience, enhanced by the group read that we did. Being able to read it and discuss it in depth with so many others, new readers and long-time fans, was a singular pleasure.

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Frank Herbert has also been one of my favorite authors since highschool. The White Plague was absolutely eerie in how plausible the story line was. And I am reading the Dune saga, again, for the 3rd time, through Audible.com. Each time I read a F. Herbert book, I gain a little more insight into the human nature.

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“In a time of pulp fiction, Frank Herbert was writing literary science fiction, with massive amounts of world building and culture development. Readers who were used “science fiction adventure” were often taken aback, but this more literary style was to be the direction speculative fiction would start to to follow.”

Though I’m not sure I entirely agree that “science fiction adventure” and “literary science fiction” are necessarily mutually exclusive, I do think you have a good point here about culture development. Dune stands out as a well-built, well-realized world while perhaps other sci-fi books of the time focused more on the plot development.

I have only read Dune and most of its sequels which were fairly disappointing, decreasing in quality as the series progressed. This mostly discouraged me from seeking out Herbert’s stand-alone novels, but I’m reconsidering now – which would you say is best to start with?

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They aren’t mutually exclusive, or at least they shouldn’t be. Perhaps I should have said “pulp scifi” instead? Even when Herbert attempts pulp, it comes out pretty high-end.

Luckily, other than the Dune books, most of what Herbert wrote was stand alone short novels. If you can find a copy, Hellstrom’s Hive, and Man of Two Worlds are very good starting points.

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