Frank Herbert Long Fiction Analysis
Frank Herbert wrote science fiction because the genre allowed him to explore subjects such as philosophy, religion, psychology, and ecology. The issues of human survival and evolution particularly fascinated him. A number of themes recur in Herbert’s work.
First, much of his writing is concerned with leadership. (Herbert worked on four unsuccessful political campaigns during the 1950’s and once met U.S. president Harry S. Truman.) Although Herbert is usually associated with the political left, he was suspicious of President John F. Kennedy and the media’s comparison of his administration to King Arthur’s Camelot. He considered charisma an overrated and even dangerous quality. One of the complexities of the Dune books is that the protagonist, Paul Atreides, is a hero in Dune and an antihero in Dune Messiah. One of the models for Paul was Lawrence of Arabia, and another was Muhammad Ahmad, a late nineteenth century Islamic messianic figure who led an army to victory over the British in Sudan in 1885.
Second, Herbert displays an interest in the intersection of religion, politics, and power. In The White Plague, the president of the United States orders the assassination of the Roman Catholic pope when the latter announces a policy at odds with that of the president. In Dune Messiah, Paul is both the religious and the political leader of all humans on ten thousand planets. By God Emperor of Dune, his son Leto II has taken this position to an even higher level. In Destination and The Jesus Incident, a self-conscious computer demands to be worshiped as a god.
Third, Herbert was one of the first science-fiction authors to explore ecological ideas in his novels. He believed that people should think in the long term. In The Dragon in the Sea, he predicts the worldwide oil shortage. The planet Dune becomes a desert planet because human colonists brought with them an off-world creature that radically changed the planet’s ecology. In The Green Brain, Herbert postulates a powerful insect intelligence that develops in reaction to insecticides.
Herbert created the Fremen and the Sardaukar in the Dune books and the Dosadi in The Dosadi Experiment. These groups became violent peoples because of the harsh living conditions on their home worlds. Herbert modeled the Fremen after the Apaches, a Native American nation whose members live in...
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