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Herbert, Frank

Entry updated 18 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1920-1986) US author born in Tacoma, Washington, and educated at the University of Washington, Seattle; he was Brian Herbert's father. Herbert worked as a reporter and editor on a number of West Coast newspapers before becoming a full-time writer. He lived in Washington State.

He began publishing sf with "Looking for Something?" for Startling Stories in April 1952, and during the next decade was an infrequent contributor to the sf magazines, producing fewer than twenty short stories (which nevertheless constituted a majority of his short fiction; he never made a significant impact with work below novel length); much of this material was assembled in various collections, including The Book of Frank Herbert (coll 1973) and The Best of Frank Herbert (coll 1975) [see Checklist for vts]. At this time he also wrote one novel, The Dragon in the Sea (November 1955-January 1956 Astounding as "Under Pressure"; 1956; vt 21st Century Sub 1956; vt Under Pressure 1974), a much praised sf thriller concerning complex psychological investigations aboard a submarine of the Near Future whose Cold War mission is to steal oil from America's foes. His emergence as a writer of major stature commenced with the publication in Analog from December 1963 to February 1964 of "Dune World", the first part of his Dune series. It was followed by "The Prophet of Dune" (January-May 1965 Analog); the two were amalgamated into Dune (rev as fixup 1965), which won the first Nebula for Best Novel, shared the Hugo, and became one of the most famous of all sf novels.

Dune is a novel of extraordinary complexity. It encompasses intergalactic Politics of a decidedly feudal nature, the development of Psi Powers, Religion – specifically the reluctant but inevitable evolution of its protagonist into a Messiah – and Future War. Its primary impact, however, lay in its treatment of Ecology, a theme which it brought into the forefront of modern sf readers' and writers' awareness. The desert planet Arrakis, with its giant sandworms and its Bedouin-like human inhabitants, the Fremen, clinging to the most precarious of ecological niches through fanatical scrupulousness in water conservation, is possibly the most convincing Planetary-Romance environment created by any sf writer. With its blend (or sometimes clash) of complex intellectual discourse and Byzantine intrigue, Dune provided a template for Herbert's significant later work. Sequels soon began to appear which carried on the arguments of the original in testingly various manners and with an intensity of discourse seldom encountered in the sf field. Dune Messiah (July-November 1969 Galaxy; 1969) elaborates the intrigue at the cost of other elements, but Children of Dune (January-April 1976 Analog; 1976) recaptures much of the strength of the original work and addresses another recurrent theme in Herbert's work – the Evolution of Man, in this case into Superman; both these novels, along with the original, were assembled as The Great Dune Trilogy (omni 1979). God Emperor of Dune (1981), set after 3500 years under the idealistic sway of the sandworm-cum-emperor Leto Atreides II, was followed by Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapter House Dune (1985; vt Chapterhouse: Dune 1985), these three being assembled as The Second Great Dune Trilogy (omni 1987). The last volume of the sequence may have the recapitulatory air of a long coda, but God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune, like the enormously extended sonata-form development section in the first movement of a great symphony, work and rework the initial material into more and more elaborate presentations of the initial themes. As a whole, the sequence almost fully justified Herbert's decision – certainly astute in marketing terms – to so comprehensively draw out his original inspiration. A continuing set of routine Sequels by Other Hands by Brian Herbert (whom see for details) with Kevin J Anderson has not seriously diminished the effect of the original series.

Dune dominated Herbert's career from 1965, and the original novel remains his best-known work. Much later a film based on it was released, Dune (1984) directed by David Lynch; still later the first half of the novel was filmed as Dune: Part One (2021) directed by Denis Villeneuve, followed by Dune: Part Two (2024), which climaxes just before the next novel begins. But despite his focus on Dune, Herbert began in the mid-1960s to publish other novels and series with admirable regularity. The Green Brain (March 1965 Amazing as "Greenslaves"; exp 1966) features mutated insects which achieve corporate intelligence (see Hive Minds), defeating the Ecological mutilation through "Resettlement Plan farms" of Near Future Brazil by (in an odd insertion of American political doctrine) "socialist" corporations, a mission that aims at the eradication of any biodiversity; those who oppose this are labelled "Carsonists", an early homage to Rachel Carson (1907-1964), author of Silent Spring (1962). Destination: Void (August 1965 Galaxy as "Do I Wake Or Dream?"; 1966; rev 1978), a clotted novel on a Cybernetics theme, concentrates on the construction of an AI aboard a Starship, an entity which eventually becomes indistinguishable from the ship and concludes that it is God (see Gods and Demons). The Pandora sequence, all written with Bill RansomThe Jesus Incident (1979), The Lazarus Effect (1983) and The Ascension Factor (1988) – follows on from Destination: Void, exploring in exhaustive detail the implications of the earlier book, while placing in a Planetary-Romance frame the complex and developing relationship between God-"protected" human stock and the natives of Pandora. The Eyes of Heisenberg (June-August 1966 Galaxy as "Heisenberg's Eyes"; 1966) is about Genetic Engineering and Immortality, and The Heaven Makers (April-June 1967 Amazing; 1968; rev 1977) again copes with immortality. The Santaroga Barrier (October 1967-February 1968 Amazing as "Santaroga Barrier"; 1968), describing a higher order of Intelligence developed within an isolated, near-Utopian community with the aid of a fungal Drug, served to emphasize the thematic centrality of intelligence throughout Herbert's work, in which consistent attempts are made not only to suggest different, or evolved, types of intelligence but to describe them in detail. Among contemporary sf writers only Ian Watson has addressed this theme as frequently and as convincingly. Alien intelligence (see also Living Worlds) is further examined in the Jorj X McKie/Consentiency sequence comprising "The Tactful Saboteur" (October 1964 Galaxy), Whipping Star (January-April 1970 If; 1970; rev 1977) and The Dosadi Experiment (May-August 1977 Galaxy; 1977) – the last of which, orchestrated through a plot of multi-levelled intrigue, searchingly describes several different alien species in detail, examines the effect of an experiment in extreme Overpopulation, and gifts its hero and heroine with advanced Psi Powers, including total mind transference (see Identity Exchange).

Herbert's other sf novels include: the wildly uneven The God Makers (stories May 1958-May 1959 Astounding and "The Priests of Psi" February 1960 Fantastic; exp rev as fixup 1972), in which the central character in three linked tales of planetary socio-political troubleshooting (see Cultural Engineering) abruptly changes career to become a god reified through human endeavours involving a mystic fusion of Psi Powers and Religion; the rather surly The White Plague (1982), in which a man driven into mad misogyny destroys almost all the women of the world with a gender-specific Pandemic brewed up by home-lab Genetic Engineering; and the minor Man of Two Worlds (1986) with his son Brian Herbert. More important than any of these, however, is Hellstrom's Hive (November 1972-March 1973 Galaxy as "Project 40"; 1973), which derives its title and part of its theme from the film The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971) but otherwise has little connection with it. Arguably Herbert's most successful novel after Dune, this presents in persuasive detail an Underground colony of humans selectively bred, on insect-hive principles, into various specializations. In this society the individual's existence is of minor importance; the continuation of the hive as a functioning entity is paramount. The novel points up the contradictions of a society which in its own terms is a successful Utopia, but which from an outside human viewpoint is horrific. The posthumously published High-Opp (written circa 1960; 2012) is a Dystopia in which social status and quality of life are determined by opinion polls; the harshly treated "low-opps" rebel.

Much of Herbert's work taxes the reader, mostly for good reasons. 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, so that much of his writing seemed dense and opaque. His best novels, however, were the work of a speculative intellect with few rivals in modern sf, and were passionate with thought. He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. [JC/MJE/DRL]

see also: Astounding Science-Fiction; Communications; Computers; Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty; ESP; Fantasy; Force Field; Galaxy Science Fiction; History in SF; Linguistics; Longevity in Writers; Music; Paranoia; Poisons; Singularity; Rays; Seiun Award; Spaceships; Telepathy; Torture; Under the Sea; Weather Control.

Frank Patrick Herbert

born Tacoma, Washington: 8 October 1920

died Madison, Wisconsin: 11 February 1986





Jorj X McKie/Consentiency

  • Whipping Star (New York: Putnam, 1970) [Jorj X McKie/Consentiency: hb/John Schoenherr]
    • Whipping Star (New York: Berkley Books, 1977) [rev of the above: Jorj X McKie/Consentiency: pb/Paul Alexander]
  • The Dosadi Experiment (New York: Berkley/Putnam, 1977) [Jorj X McKie/Consentiency: hb/Paul Alexander]
    • Four Complete Novels (New York: Avenel, 1984) [omni of the above two plus The Santaroga Barrier and Soul Catcher: Jorj X McKie/Consentiency where applicable: hb/Frederic Marvin]

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