Frank Herbert was born 90 years ago

Frank Herbert in 1978
Frank Herbert in 1978

Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr., better known as Frank Herbert (picture ©Robert E. Nylund) was born 90 years ago.

Herbert’s first career was in journalism starting from the ’40s, when he got married for the first time though he divorced after just a few years. To improve his skills Herbert started studying creative writing in college where he met Beverly Ann Stuart, who became the real love of his life: they got married in 1946.

Only in 1952 his first science fiction story was published. His first novel was “The Dragon in the Sea”, published in 1955: the novel describes a war fought by the western block against the eastern block with a wide use of submarines and among the other things it foresaw the conflict for oil. The novel also introduces some of the subjects common in Frank Herbert’s novels with the attention to psychological and religious topics.

Herbert started a research for a magazine article about the sand dunes near the city of Florence, Oregon, but he ended up with far too much material to write about and the interest for the desert derived from the research led him to develop during the early ’60s what became his masterpiece: “Dune”, a very long novel for the standards of the time, one of the reasons why after it was serialized in Analog in two parts it was then published in book only by a small publisher after being rejected by many other ones.

Dune (Italian edition)
Dune (Italian edition)

The novel “Dune” cleverly mixes all the subjects dear to Herbert: it’s a novel written on different levels as beyond the surface of the adventurous plot that anyway reveals the topic of human evolution there’s the planet Arrakis, whose ecology is developed in a way never seen before with the culture of its natives derived from that environment; besides in the development of the events lived by the characters there’s a meticulous attention to the problems concerning political and religious powers with their interlacements. The empire whose events turn around the planet Arrakis is described with great attention and consistency as well with the various factions, each with its own agenda they stop at nothing to pursue.

“Dune” success grew slowly and Herbert kept on being a journalist until 1972: anyway until that year he published the novels “The Green Brain”, “The Eyes of Heisenberg”, “The Heaven Makers” and “The Santaroga Barrier”. After committing full time to his career as a writer he published various other novels such as “The Godmakers”, “Hellstrom’s Hive”, “The Dosadi Experiment” and “The White Plague”. Besides he wrote some more novels together with Bill Ransom.

The Hugo and Nebula awards received for the novel “Dune” led Frank Herbert to write its first sequel “Dune Messiah” already during the ’60s then he dedicated full time to what became a true saga writing the other novels: “Children of Dune”, “God Emperor of Dune”, “Heretics of Dune” and “Chapterhouse Dune”.

Unfortunately his wife’s sickness and consequent death in 1984 had a negative effect on Frank Herbert, particularly on the last Dune saga book, whose quality is inferior, besides this novel ends with a cliffhanger as the author intended to write a further novel but a pancreatic tumor forced him to undergo surgery and while he was recovering he died from a pulmonary embolism on February 11, 1986.

The Dune saga has become so famous during the decades that Frank Herbert’s son Brian, together with his fellow writer Kevin J. Anderson, developed the notes left by his father not only to end the pending story but also to write some prequels but honestly the quality is indeed not as good as the original novels’, which remain unmatched in their depth: today more than ever we must admire Frank Herbert’s cleverness in describing the events of a jihad led by – though at a certain point it ends up leading – a charismatic leader.


  1. Great article. Dune is my all-time favorite book series. The density and depth of the writing, particularly the first 3 books, is unmatched. The “leap-of-faith” element(s) all science fiction stories require (the “Spice”, in this case) is fully explored and helps show how the attributes of a single resource can alter the course of history. The parallels with our own demand for certain natural resources and the affects that’s had on our civilization is not missed by me.


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