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.