Frank Herbert (Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr., October 8, 1920 – February 11, 1986) was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels. Though he became famous for his long novels, he was also a newspaper journalist, photographer, short story writer, book reviewer, ecological consultant and lecturer.
The Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, deals with complex themes such as human survival and evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics, and power. Dune is the best-selling science fiction novel of all time and the
series is widely considered to be among the classics of the genre.
- WorShip Novels
- ConSentiency Novels
Frank Herbert was born on October 8, 1920, in Tacoma, Washington, to Frank Patrick Herbert, Sr. and Eileen (McCarthy) Herbert. Because of 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 1940. 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 d. June 15, 1993, San Rafael, California)
In 1949 Herbert and his wife moved to California to work on the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Here they befriended the psychologists Ralph and Irene Slattery. The Slatterys introduced Herbert to the work of several thinkers who would influence his writing, including Freud, Jung, Jaspers and Heidegger; they also familiarized Herbert with Zen Buddhism.
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.
In a 1973 interview, Herbert stated that he had been reading science fiction “about ten years” before he began writing in the genre, and he listed his favorite authors as H. G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson and Jack Vance.
Herbert’s first science fiction story, “Looking for Something”, was published in the April 1952 issue of Startling Stories, then a monthly edited by Samuel Mines. Three more of his stories appeared in 1954 issues of Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories. His career as a novelist began in 1955 with the serial publication of Under Pressure in Astounding from November 1955; afterward it was issued as a book by Doubleday, The Dragon in the Sea. The story explored sanity and madness in the environment of a 21st-century submarine and predicted worldwide conflicts over oil consumption and production. It was a critical success but not a major commercial one. During this time Herbert also worked as a speechwriter for Republican senator Guy Cordon.
Herbert began researching Dune in 1959. He 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. McNelly 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 and it was much longer than commercial science fiction of the time was supposed to be. Analog (the renamed Astounding, still edited by John W. Campbell) published it in two parts comprising eight installments, “Dune World” from December 1963 and “Prophet of Dune” in 1965. It was then rejected by nearly twenty book publishers. One editor prophetically wrote, “I might be making the mistake of the decade, but …“.
Sterling E. Lanier, an editor of Chilton Book Company (known mainly for its auto-repair manuals) had read the Dune serials and offered a $7,500 advance plus future royalties for the rights to publish them as a hardcover book. 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, interrelated themes and multiple character viewpoints, a method that ran through all Herbert’s mature work.
Dune was not an immediate 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 a 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 the end of 1972, Herbert had retired from newspaper writing and become 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.
Success, family changes, and death
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 affected by the surgery. During this period, Herbert was the featured speaker at the Octocon II science fiction convention held 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 eulogy for her.
In 1983, British heavy metal band Iron Maiden requested permission from Herbert’s publisher to name a song on their album Piece of Mind after Dune, but were told that the author had a strong distaste for their style of music. They instead titled the song “To Tame a Land”.
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 US, 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 collection 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.
Criticism of government
Herbert was a strong critic of the Soviet Union. He was a distant relative of the controversial Republican senator, Joseph McCarthy, whom he referred to as “Cousin Joe.” Herbert was appalled to learn of McCarthy’s blacklisting of suspected Communists from working in certain careers and believed that he was endangering essential freedoms of citizens of the United States. Herbert believed that governments lie to protect themselves and that, following the infamous Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon had unwittingly taught an important lesson in not trusting government.
In Chapterhouse: Dune, he wrote:
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune