Author Biography: Frank Herbert

The most influential book in Science Fiction is arguably Frank Herbert’s Dune. Before Dune, no Science Fiction book every achieved the level of detail in terms of world building and character development that Dune so easily achieved. With Dune, Frank Herbert proved that a Science Fiction novel need not be driven by the futuristic technology the work would portray, but instead could be driven by the characters and the world (or worlds) they inhabited.

Frank Herbert was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington. Because of a poor home environment he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Salem, Washington. He graduated from high school there in 1939. He had a short stint in the Seabees in the early years of the Second World War, but after a few months he was granted a medical discharge. In 1940 he entered into a short lived marriage to one, Flora Parkinson. This marriage resulted in the birth of a daughter, but in 1945 they had divorced. Not too long after this he met Beverly Ann Stuart in a creative writing class that they were both attending at the University of Washington. They were married in 1946. This marriage resulted in the birth of two sons, Brian Herbert (b. 1947) and Bruce Herbert (b. 1951 d. 1993). Brian would go on to become a Science Fiction writer in his own right and continue his father’s series. Bruce would become a Gay Rights Activist and would unfortunately die in 1993 of AIDS.

For the early part of their long marriage, Beverly Herbert would be the main breadwinner of the family due to Frank’s focus on his novels. She made money by writing advertisements for department stores. By all accounts they had a loving relationship which lasted more than 30 years. When she died of cancer in 1984 he wrote a heart wrenching eulogy for her at the end of his book Heretics of Dune which was published that same year.

Dune took six years to research and write and the final version was considerably longer than most other Science Fiction Novels of the time. It was because of its length, and Herbert’s refusal to shorten it that many publishers refused to publish the novel. It was finally published in 1965 by the Chilton Book Company which was known for mostly publishing auto-repair manuals. While Dune was not an immediate financial success it was an immediate critical success. Because of this Herbert was soon offered the job of Education Writer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and also became a lecturer for General Studies at the University of Washington. It should also be noted that he worked in both Vietnam and Pakistan as an ecological consultant. By 1972 he was able to pursue writing as his main source of income.

By the mid-70s his novels were enjoying considerable success. Other books besides Dune and its successive series included The Dosadi Experiment, The Jesus Incident, and The Saratoga Barrier. His novels, besides discussing the effects of ecology on humanity and vice versa, also discussed the beauty of planning over the long term, the tendency for large groups of people to blindly follow charismatic leaders, and the effects politics and religion had on one another. Before Herbert many of these themes had not been explored in-depth in the field of Science Fiction.

Dune enjoyed a considerable revival during the release of its film version David Lynch’s Dune in 1984. Sadly the movie was a critical and financial failure in the US, but was a success elsewhere. Due to its failure in the home markets a sequel was not made.

Sadly, on 11 February 1986 Frank Herbert died of a pulmonary embolism at age 65. While he was never able to fully complete the Dune Series (which was later completed by his son) he was successful in changing the face of Science Fiction as well as building numerous worlds which will continue to fascinate and inspire many for years to come. Wikipedia and Frankherbert.org helped contribute to this post.

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