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Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. (October 8, 1920 – February 11, 1986) was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful American science fiction author. Although 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 October 8, 1920 in Tacomamarker, Washingtonmarker to Frank Patrick Herbert Sr. and Eileen McCarthy Herbert. He graduated from high school in 1938, and in 1939 he lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job at the Glendale Star.

A temporary hiatus occurred during his career when he served in the U.S. Navy's Seabees for six months as a photographer during World War II until he was given a medical discharge. He married Flora Parkinson in San Pedro, Californiamarker in 1941. They had a daughter, Penny (b. February 16, 1942), but divorced in 1945.

After the war he attended the University of Washingtonmarker, 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, the first to Esquire in 1945, and Stuart had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. They married in Seattlemarker, Washingtonmarker on June 20, 1946. They had two sons, Brian Patrick Herbert (b. June 29, 1947, Seattle, Washington), a best-selling novelist, and Bruce Calvin Herbert (b. June 26, 1951, Santa Rosamarker, Californiamarker).

In 1947 Frank Herbert sold his first science fiction story, "Looking for Something", to Startling Stories.

Frank Herbert did not graduate from college, according to his son Brian, because he wanted to study only what interested him and so did not complete the required courses. After leaving college 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 with the publication of The Dragon in the Sea in 1955, where he used the environment of a 21st century submarine as a means 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 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 the Oregon Dunesmarker near Florence, Oregonmarker, but he became too involved in it and ended up with far more raw material than needed for a single article. The article, entitled "They Stopped the Moving Sands," 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 run, it was serialized in Analog magazine in two separate parts ("Dune World" and "Prophet of Dune"), 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.

Chilton, a minor publishing house in Philadelphia known mainly for its auto-repair manuals, 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 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 Vietnammarker and Pakistanmarker as social and ecological consultant in 1972. In 1973 he was director-photographer of the television show The Tillers.

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 Hawaiimarker and Washingtonmarker's Olympic Peninsulamarker; his home 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.

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. 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 (though ending with a cliffhanger intended to lead into his planned Dune 7). 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 Madisonmarker, Wisconsinmarker age 65.

Ideas and themes

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:
  • A concern with leadership. He keenly explored the human tendency to slavishly follow charismatic leaders. 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 potential.
  • The nature of sanity and madness. Frank Herbert was interested in the work of Thomas Szasz and the anti-psychiatry movement. Often, Herbert poses the question, "What is sane?", and while there are clearly insane behaviors and psychopathies as evinced by characters (Piter De Vries for instance), 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 the 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 formulaic answers to many of the questions he explored.

Status and impact in science fiction

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:
  • Like Heinlein's 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land, Herbert's 1963 novella and 1965 novel, Dune, represented a move toward a more literary approach to the science fiction novel. Before this period, it was often said that all a science fiction novel needed to be successful was a great technological idea. Characterization and great story took a distant second place.
  • Dune is a landmark of soft science fiction. Herbert deliberately suppressed technology in his Dune universe so he could address the future of humanity, rather than the future of humanity's technology. Dune considers the way humans and their institutions might change over time.
  • Dune was the first major ecological science fiction novel. Frank Herbert was a great popularizer of scientific ideas; many of his fans credit Frank Herbert for introducing them to philosophy and psychology. In Dune he helped popularize the term ecology and some of the field's concepts, vividly imparting a sense of planetary awareness. Gerald Jonas explains in the New York Times Book Review: "So completely did Mr. Herbert work out the interactions of man and beast and geography and climate that Dune became the standard for a new sub-genre of 'ecological' science fiction." As popularity of Dune rose, Herbert embarked on a lecture tour of college campuses, explaining how the environmental concerns of Dune's inhabitants were analogous to our own.
  • Dune is considered truly epic world-building. The Library Journal reports that "Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy." Frank Herbert imagined every facet of his creation. He lovingly included glossaries, quotes, documents, and histories, to bring his universe alive to his readers. No science fiction novel before it had so vividly realized life on another world.

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 Bestsellers. 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.

Malcolm Edwards in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction wrote:

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.

Film adaptations

A film of the novel, Dune, was directed by David Lynch in 1984. Although panned by many fans and film critics, Frank Herbert was pleased with the movie. It has done well on video and DVD.

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.

Production is underway at Paramount Pictures for a new film based on Dune, directed by Peter Berg and with the participation of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The studio hopes the remake will be a "tentpole film," and potentially lead to a new franchise based on Herbert's series.

Continuation of the Dune series

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.


Books about Frank Herbert and Dune

  • Cliffs Notes on Herbert's Dune & Other Works, by L David Allen, Lincoln, NE: Cliffs Notes, 1975, ISBN 0-8220-1231-6
  • Frank Herbert, by Timothy O'Reilly Serial publication: none First edition: New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.
  • Starmont Reader's Guide 5: Frank Herbert, by David M Miller, Mercer Island, WA: Starmont, 1980, ISBN 0-916732-16-9
  • The Dune Encyclopedia, compiled and edited by Dr. Willis E. McNelly, New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1984 (trade paper), ISBN 0-425-06813-7 (US edition).
  • The Maker of Dune, edited by Timothy O'Reilly, New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1987 (trade paper).
  • Dune Master: A Frank Herbert Bibliography, by Daniel JH Levack and Mark Willard, Westport, CT: Meckler, 1988, ISBN 0-88736-099-8
  • SparkNotes: Dune, Frank Herbert, by Jason Clarke, New York: Spark Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-58663-510-7
  • Dreamer of Dune : The Biography of Frank Herbert, by Brian Herbert, New York: Tor Books, 2003.
  • The Science of Dune, by Kevin R. Grazier, PhD, Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2008, ISBN 1933771283


  1. "During the next decade, he was an infrequent contributor to the sf magazines, producing fewer than 20 short stories (which nevertheless constituted a majority of his short fiction; he never made a significant impact with work below novel length). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Clute & Nicholls.
  2. Touponce, William F. (1988), Frank Herbert, Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers imprint, G. K. Hall & Co, pg. 119, ISBN 0-8057-7514-5. Locus ran a poll of readers on April 15, 1975 in which Dune "was voted the all-time best science-fiction novel...It has sold over ten million copies in numerous editions."
  3. - Chronology
  4. "With its blend (or sometimes clash) of complex intellectual discourse and Byzantine intrigue, Dune provided a template for FH's more significant later works. 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 (1969) elaborates the intrigue at the cost of other elements, but Children of Dune (1976) recaptures much of the strength of the original work and addresses another recurrent theme in FH's work - the evolution of Man, in this case into SUPERMAN;..." "Frank Herbert," The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
  5. Omni Magazine, June 1980
  6. "His dominant intellectual impulse was not to mystify or set himself up as a prophet, but the opposite – to turn what powers of analysis he had (and they wree considerable) over to his audience. And this impulse is as manifest in Dune, which many people consider the all-time best science fiction novel, as it is in his computer book, Without Me You're Nothing. ppg 2, Touponce 1988
  7. HT Syndication. "Peter Berg to direct Dune adaptation." Hindustan Times. 18 March 2008.
  8. The Science of Dune (January 2008) -

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