Frank Herbert
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Sci-Fi


Alia, a telepathic four-year-old girl who, in the bestselling science fiction novel of all time, roams the battlefields of Arrakis slitting the throats of imperial stormtroopers, gained her powers in utero because her mother drank the “Water of Life” — i.e., the bile of a drowned sandworm. Was there something in the water the year FRANK HERBERT (1920-86), author of Dune (1965) and its five sequels, was born? After all, his exact contemporaries Mario Puzo, Isaac Asimov, and Richard Adams also wrote — respectively — a violent potboiler about one family’s declining empire, an epic SF series spanning thousands of years of future history, and a mythology-saturated fantasy about the founding of a new social order. The superheroic Paul Muad’Dib might have been invented by any number of members of Herbert’s generational cohort, which gave us Superman, Captain America, and the Silver Surfer; while Paul’s ragtag band — Thufir Hawat, the human computer; Gurney Halleck, the troubadour warrior; and master swordsman Duncan Idaho — are straight out of The Great Escape or The Magnificent Seven. However! The influence of Herbert’s secret muse — environmentalist Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring appeared shortly before Analog began serializing Dune — distinguishes his own from these other entertainments. Inspired by Carson’s defense of the balance of nature, her criticism of man’s despoliation of the planet in the name of progress, the desert ecosystem portrayed in Herbert’s Dune is far more than a setting: it’s a mise en scène, a worldview.

NEW WAVE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: 75 Best New Wave (1964–83) Sci-Fi Novels | Back to Utopia: Fredric Jameson’s theorizing about New Wave sci-fi | Douglas Adams | Poul Anderson | J.G. Ballard | John Brunner | William Burroughs | Octavia E. Butler | Samuel R. Delany | Philip K. Dick | Frank Herbert | Ursula K. Le Guin | Barry N. Malzberg | Moebius (Jean Giraud) | Michael Moorcock | Alan Moore | Gary Panter | Walker Percy | Thomas Pynchon | Joanna Russ | James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) | Kurt Vonnegut | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics | REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD: a series of posts featuring deconstructed heads from New Wave sci-fi book covers.

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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.