Authors: Frank Herbert

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Dragon in the Sea, 1955-1956 (also known as Twenty-first Century Sub and Under Pressure)

Dune, 1965

The Green Brain, 1966

Destination: Void, 1966, revised 1978

The Eyes of Heisenberg, 1966

The Heaven Makers, 1968

The Santaroga Barrier, 1968

Dune Messiah, 1969

Whipping Star, 1970

The God Makers, 1972

Soul Catcher, 1972

Hellstrom’s Hive, 1973

Children of Dune, 1976

The Dosadi Experiment, 1977

The Jesus Incident, 1979 (with Bill Ransom)

Direct Descent, 1980

God Emperor of Dune, 1981

The White Plague, 1982

The Lazarus Effect, 1983 (with Ransom)

Heretics of Dune, 1984

Chapterhouse: Dune, 1985

Man of Two Worlds, 1986 (with Brian Herbert)

The Ascension Factor, 1988 (with Ransom)

Short Fiction:

The Worlds of Frank Herbert, 1970

The Book of Frank Herbert, 1973

The Best of Frank Herbert, 1975

The Priests of Psi, and Other Stories, 1980

Eye, 1985


Frank Herbert’s Dune novels form one of the most popular science-fiction series produced in the United States. Dune, first in this series, was translated into fourteen languages and became an international best-seller.{$I[AN]9810001177}{$I[A]Herbert, Frank}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Herbert, Frank}{$I[tim]1920;Herbert, Frank}

Herbert was born in Tacoma, Washington, on October 8, 1920. He decided to become a writer on his eighth birthday, but the road to a successful career was neither short nor straight. He began writing as a journalist in Southern California. After a brief marriage and service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned to journalism and began publishing short fiction. In 1945, Herbert spent a year at the University of Washington, where he met his second wife, Beverly, with whom he had two sons, Brian and Bruce. A decisive event in Herbert’s career was meeting Ralph and Irene Slattery in 1949. These two psychologists with broad intellectual backgrounds stimulated and encouraged Herbert’s creativity. His first science-fiction story, “Looking for Something,” appeared in 1952.

In 1954, as a speech writer in Washington, D.C., Herbert did research for Dragon in the Sea (now usually known as Under Pressure), establishing a pattern that typified his science fiction: His best work is characterized by carefully researched details that make his imagined worlds seem complete and real. This first novel appeared serially in Astounding Science Fiction beginning in 1955. Also while in Washington, D.C., Herbert witnessed at first hand the uses and abuses of power, notably by attending the 1954 Joseph McCarthy hearings to seek out communists. Political power became a central theme in his fiction.

Dune appeared in 1965, winning for Herbert both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for science fiction. Though parts of the novel had appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, the book had been rejected by twenty publishers. This novel rapidly captured the imaginations of science-fiction enthusiasts. Reviewers tended at first to be skeptical, seeing the novel as derivative of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1955), sharing features such as the completely imagined world, maps, imaginary languages, and quotations from “other” writings produced by the imagined culture. Yet Herbert’s readers recognized that his world was a careful extrapolation from known cultures, and they were impressed by his concerns with themes that were timely in the 1960’s: ecology, hero worship, cynicism, and the abuse of power.

The Dune series is about a family of heroes who, for more than a millennium, struggle with and against various centers of power to create viable social orders in a galactic empire while avoiding social and genetic stagnation. The series is remarkable for richly realized characters and environments, notably the desert world of Arrakis, familiarly known as Dune. The plots proceed mainly as thrillers centered on political intrigue and warfare. The reader must struggle to attain a complete view of events by piecing together interwoven subplots in which various characters and organizations try to control their destinies and impose their visions of order or ambition upon humanity. The reader’s success produces a godlike vision of the sweep of a richly imagined history.

Herbert once said that one aim of the Dune series was to explode the myth of the hero-as-savior that he believed was so dangerous in human history. Belief in heroes produces individual passivity as well as cycles of revolutionary destruction and despotic, often bureaucratic, stagnation. Other themes that pervade the series are the unrealized potentials of the human mind, especially for nonverbal communication and intuitive perception, and the importance of seeing systems in their wholeness in space, time, and function in order to manipulate their parts successfully.

Herbert continued the Dune series throughout his career, completing six Dune novels: Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. He died as a result of complications from cancer on February 11, 1986. His son Brian later began writing about the Dune universe, publishing (with Kevin J. Anderson) such volumes as Dune: House Atreides (1999) and Dune: House Harkonnen (2000). Though several of his other works remain of interest to science-fiction readers, Frank Herbert’s reputation rests mainly on the Dune series.

Critics find Herbert’s work uneven, often overburdened with ideas at the expense of character and plot. He was indeed a writer of ideas, and even his least satisfying works stimulate the reader’s imagination and curiosity about the workings of political, social, and religious power, encouraging panoramic views of contemporary humanity. Readers generally agree that in the Dune series he found the ideal balance among his considerable powers as social philosopher, extrapolative imaginer, and storyteller.

BibliographyCollings, Michael R. “The Epic of Dune, Epic Traditions in Modern Science Fiction.” In Aspects of Fantasy, edited by William Coyle. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. Herbert’s Dune novels are considered as a manifestation of the epic tendency in science fiction.Herbert, Brian. The Dreamer of Dune: A Biography of Frank Herbert. New York: Tor, 2003. A biography written by Herbert’s eldest son.Levack, Daniel J. H., comp. Dune Master: A Frank Herbert Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1988. Guide for further research.McNelley, Willis E., ed. The Dune Encyclopedia. New York: Berkley Books, 1984. A guide to Herbert’s complex world.Miller, Miriam Y. “Women of Dune: Frank Herbert as Social Reactionary?” In Women Worldwalkers: New Dimensions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jane B. Weedman. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1985. A feminist assessment of Herbert’s work.Stratton, Susan. “The Messiah and the Greens: The Shape of Environmental Action in Dune and Pacific Edge.” Extrapolation 42 (Winter, 2001). Environmentalism is a major theme in Herbert’s Dune novels; this article compares Dune with Stanley Robinson’s novel Pacific Edge.Touponce, William F. Frank Herbert. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A critical overview.
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