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Frank Herbert at Octocon science fiction convention at the El Rancho Tropicana hotel in Santa Rosa, California, October 1978
|Born||Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr.
October 8, 1920
|Died||February 11, 1986
|Literary movement||New Wave|
Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. (October 8, 1920 – February 11, 1986) was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful American science fiction author. Though also a short story author, he is best known for his novels, most notably Dune and its five sequels. The Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, deals with themes such as human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics and power. Dune itself is the "best-selling science fiction novel of all time," and the series is widely considered to be among the classics in the genre.
Frank Herbert was born on October 8, 1920, in Tacoma, Washington, to Frank Patrick Herbert Sr. and Eileen (McCarthy) Herbert. Due to a poor home environment, he ran away from home in 1938 to live with an aunt and uncle in Salem, Oregon. He enrolled in high school at Salem High School (now North Salem High School), where he graduated the next year. In 1939 he lied about his age to get his first newspaper job at the Glendale Star. Herbert then returned to Salem in 1940 where he worked for the Oregon Statesman newspaper (now Statesman Journal) in a variety of positions, including photographer.
He served in the U.S. Navy's Seabees for six months as a photographer during World War II, then he was given a medical discharge. He married Flora Parkinson in San Pedro, California in 1941. They had a daughter, Penny (b. February 16, 1942), but divorced in 1945.
After the war Herbert attended the University of Washington, where he met Beverly Ann Stuart at a creative writing class in 1946. They were the only students who had sold any work for publication; Herbert had sold two pulp adventure stories to magazines, the first to Esquire in 1945, and Stuart had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. They married in Seattle, Washington on June 20, 1946 and had two sons, Brian Patrick Herbert (b. June 29, 1947, Seattle, Washington) and Bruce Calvin Herbert (b. June 26, 1951, Santa Rosa, California).
In 1952 Herbert's first science fiction story, "Looking for Something," appeared in Startling Stories.
Herbert did not graduate from the university; according to his son Brian, he wanted to study only what interested him and so did not complete the required curriculum. He returned to journalism and worked at the Seattle Star and the Oregon Statesman. He was a writer and editor for the San Francisco Examiner's California Living magazine for a decade.
His career as a novelist began in 1955 with the publication of The Dragon in the Sea, in which he used the environment of a 21st century submarine to explore sanity and madness. The book predicted worldwide conflicts over oil consumption and production. It was a critical success but not a major commercial one.
Herbert began researching Dune in 1959 and was able to devote himself wholeheartedly to his writing career because his wife returned to work full time as an advertising writer for department stores, becoming the breadwinner during the 1960s. He later told Willis E. McNeilly that the novel originated when he was supposed to do a magazine article on sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon. He became too involved and ended up with far more raw material than needed for an article. The article was never written, but instead planted the seed that led to Dune.
Dune took six years of research and writing to complete. Far longer than commercial science fiction of the time was supposed to run, "Dune World" and "Prophet of Dune" was serialized in Analog magazine in eight parts, in 1963 and 1965. It was then rejected by nearly twenty book publishers. One editor prophetically wrote back "I might be making the mistake of the decade, but..." before rejecting the manuscript.
Sterling E. Lanier, an editor of Chilton Book Company (known mainly for its auto-repair manuals) had read the Dune in Analog magazine and he wanted to publish serialized Dune in a single hardcover edition. Lanier offered a $7,500 advance plus future royalties for the right to publish Dune World and Prophet of Dune in hardcover. Before the work appeared in book form, Herbert rewrote much of his text. Dune was soon a critical success. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and shared the Hugo Award in 1966 with ...And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny. Dune was the first major ecological science fiction novel, embracing a multitude of sweeping, inter-related themes and multiple character viewpoints, a method that ran through all Herbert's mature work.
The book was not an instant bestseller. By 1968 Herbert had made $20,000 from it, far more than most science fiction novels of the time were generating, but not enough to let him 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 studies and interdisciplinary studies at the University of Washington (1970 – 1972). He worked in Vietnam and Pakistan as social and ecological consultant in 1972. In 1973 he was director-photographer of the television show The Tillers.
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 detect the 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.
— Frank Herbert
By 1972, Herbert retired from newspaper writing and became a full-time fiction writer. During the 1970s and 1980s, Herbert enjoyed considerable commercial success as an author. He divided his time between homes in Hawaii and Washington's Olympic Peninsula; his home in Port Townsend on the peninsula was intended to be an "ecological demonstration project". 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 which were sequels to Destination: Void. He also helped launch the career of Terry Brooks with a very positive review of Brooks' first novel, The Sword of Shannara, in 1977.
Herbert's change in fortune was shadowed by tragedy. In 1974, Beverly underwent an operation for cancer. She lived ten more years, but her health was adversely impacted by the surgery. During this period, Herbert was the featured speaker at the Octocon II science fiction convention at the El Rancho Tropicana in Santa Rosa, California in October 1978; in 1979, he met anthropologist James Funaro with whom he conceived the Contact Conference. Beverly Herbert died on February 7, 1984, the same year that Heretics of Dune was published. In his afterword to 1985's Chapterhouse: Dune, Frank Herbert wrote a moving eulogy for his wife of 38 years.
1984 was a tumultuous year in Herbert's life. During this same year of his wife's death, his career took off with the release of David Lynch's film version of Dune. Despite high expectations, a big-budget production design and an 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.
After Beverly's death, Herbert married Theresa Shackleford in 1985, the year he published Chapterhouse Dune, which tied up many of the saga's story threads. This would be Herbert's final single work (the anthology Eye was published that year, and Man of Two Worlds was published in 1986). He died of a massive pulmonary embolism while recovering from surgery for pancreatic cancer on February 11, 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin age 65. He was raised a Catholic but adopted Zen Buddhism as an adult.
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.
— Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert used his science fiction novels to explore complex ideas involving philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and ecology, which have caused many of his readers to take an interest in these areas. The underlying thrust of his work was a fascination with the question of human survival and evolution. Herbert has attracted a sometimes fanatical fan base, many of whom have tried to read everything he wrote, fiction or non-fiction, and see Herbert as something of an authority on the subject matters of his books. Indeed such was the devotion of some of his readers that Herbert was at times asked if he was founding a cult, something he was very much against.
There are a number of key themes in Herbert's work:
Frank Herbert carefully refrained from offering his readers formulaic answers to many of the questions he explored.
Dune and the Dune saga constitute one of the world's best-selling science fiction series and novels; Dune in particular has received widespread critical acclaim, winning the Nebula Award in 1965 and sharing the Hugo Award in 1966, and is frequently considered one of the best science fiction novels ever, if not the best. According to contemporary Robert A. Heinlein, Herbert's opus was "powerful, convincing, and most ingenious."
Dune is considered a landmark novel for a number of reasons:
Herbert wrote more than twenty novels after Dune that are regarded as being of variable quality. Books like The Green Brain, The Santaroga Barrier 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 as being subpar.
Herbert never again equalled the critical acclaim he received for Dune. Neither his sequels to Dune nor any of his other books won a Hugo or Nebula Award, although almost all of them were New York Times Best Sellers. Some felt that Children of Dune was almost too literary and too dark to get the recognition it may have deserved; others felt that The Dosadi Experiment lacked an epic quality that fans had come to expect.
Largely overlooked because of the concentration on Dune was Herbert's 1973 novel, Hellstrom's Hive, with its minutely worked-out depiction of a human society modeled on social insects, which could be counted a major utopia/dystopia.
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.
The Sci Fi Channel produced a commercially successful 2000 television miniseries called Frank Herbert's Dune. The Dune saga continued with a sequel miniseries in 2003 entitled Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, which combined the novels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.
In recent years, Frank Herbert's son Brian Herbert and author Kevin J. Anderson have added to the Dune universe, stating that they in part used notes left behind by Frank Herbert and discovered over a decade after his death. Brian Herbert and Anderson have written two prequel trilogies (Prelude to Dune and Legends of Dune) exploring the history of the Dune universe before the events within Dune, as well as two post-Chapterhouse Dune novels that complete the original series (Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune) based on Frank Herbert's own Dune 7 outline.
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