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Frank Herbert Biography
Frank Herbert was born in 1920 in Tacoma, Washington. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. In 1939 he lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job on the Glendale Star.
There was a temporary hiatus to his writing career as he served in the U.S. Navy as a photographer during World War II. He married Flora Parkinson in 1941, but divorced her in 1945 after fathering a daughter.
After the war he attended the University of Washington, where he met Beverly Ann Stuart at a creative writing class in 1946. They were the only students in the class who had sold any work for publication—Herbert had sold two pulp adventure stories to magazines, and Stuart had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. They married in Seattle on June 20, 1946. Their first son, Brian Herbert, was born in 1947. Frank Herbert did not graduate from college, according to Brian, because he wanted to study only what interested him and so did not complete the required courses.
After college he returned to journalism and worked at the Seattle Star and the Oregon Statesman; he was also a writer and editor for the San Francisco Examiner's California Living magazine for a decade.
Herbert began reading science fiction in the 1940s, and by the 1950s he began to write it, with short stories appearing in Startling Stories and other magazines. During the next decade he published nearly twenty short stories.
His career as a novelist began with the publication of The Dragon in the Sea in 1955, where he used the environment of a 21st century submarine as a way 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 more wholeheartedly to his writing career because his wife returned to work full time as an advertising writer for department stores, becoming the main breadwinner during the 1960s. Herbert later related in an interview with Willis E. McNeilly that the novel originated when he was supposed to do a magazine article on sand dunes in Florence, Oregon, but he became too involved in it and ended up with far more raw material than needed for a single article. The article was never written, but it did serve as the seed for the ideas 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 be, it was serialized in Analog magazine in two separate parts, in 1963 and 1965. It was then rejected by nearly twenty book publishers before finally being accepted. One editor prophetically wrote back "I might be making the mistake of the decade, but..." before rejecting the manuscript. Finally, Chilton, a minor publishing house in Philadelphia, gave Herbert a $7,500 advance, and Dune was soon a critical success. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965 and shared the Hugo Award in 1966. Dune was the first ecological science fiction novel, containing a multitude of sweeping, inter-relating 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 (1970–2). 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.
By 1972, he was able to become a full-time writer. During the 1970s and 1980s, Herbert enjoyed considerable commercial success as an author. He divided his time between homes in Hawaii and Washington state. 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.
Herbert's change in fortune was shaded by tragedy. In 1974, Beverly underwent an operation for cancer that gave her ten more years of life, but adversely affected her health. She died on February 7, 1984. In his afterword to Chapterhouse Dune, Herbert wrote a moving eulogy for his wife.
1984 was a tumultuous year in Herbert's life. In the same year that his wife died, 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. The same year Herbert published the fifth book in the Dune saga, Heretics of Dune. After Beverly's death, Herbert married Theresa Shackelford later in the year.
In 1986 Herbert published Chapterhouse Dune, which tied up many of the saga's story threads. This would be Herbert's final single work. He died of pancreatic cancer on February 11, 1986, in Madison, Wisconsin, at age 65. A special pin-up page was dedicated to Frank Herbert by Michael Dooney in his 1986 Gizmo (comic book) series.
Continuation of the Dune series
In recent years, Frank Herbert's son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson have begun adding to the Dune universe, using notes left behind by Frank Herbert on both the history of the Dune universe before the events within Dune, as well as the novel he had planned to follow Chapterhouse Dune. They are now preparing the second of two post-Chapterhouse novels (Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune) based on the "Dune 7" outline Frank Herbert left behind at the time of his death.
Ideas and themes
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 used his science fiction novels to explore complex ideas involving philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and ecology, which have inspired many of his readers to become interested in these areas. The underlying thrust in Frank Herbert's work was his fascination with the question of human survival and evolution. Frank Herbert has attracted a sometimes fanatical fanbase, many of whom have tried to read everything Frank Herbert has written, fiction or non-fiction, and see Frank Herbert as something of an authority on the subject matters of his books. Indeed such was the devotion of some of his readers that Frank Herbert was at times asked if he was starting a cult, something he was very much against.
There are a number of key themes in Herbert's work:
- A concern with Leadership. He especially explored the human tendency for human beings to follow charismatic leaders slavishly. He delved deeply into both the flaws and potentials of bureaucracy and government.
- Herbert was probably the first science fiction author to popularize ideas about Ecology and Systems Thinking. He stressed the need for humans to think both systematically and long term.
- The relationship between religion, politics and power.
- Human survival and evolution: Herbert writes of the Fremen, the Sardaukar, and the Dosadi, who are molded by their terrible living conditions into dangerous super-races.
- Human possibilities and potential: Herbert offered Mentats, the Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilax as different visions of human possibilities.
- The nature of sanity and madness. Frank Herbert was interested in the work of Thomas Szasz and the anti-psychiatry movement. Often, Herbert questions, "What is sane?", and while there are clearly insane behaviors and psychopathies as evinced by characters, for example, Piter De Vries, it is often suggested that "normal" and "abnormal" are relative terms which humans are sometimes ill-equipped to apply to one another, especially on the basis of statistical regularity.
- The possible effects and consequences of consciousness altering chemicals, such as Spice in the Dune saga.
- How language shapes thought. More specifically, Frank Herbert was influenced by Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics.
- Sociobiology. How our instincts unconsciously influence our behavior and society.
- Learning, teaching and thinking.
Frank Herbert carefully refrained from offering his readers firm answers to many of the questions he explored.