Frank Herbert Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How are Frank Herbert’s ecological interests reflected in his fiction?

Do Herbert’s satires on other science-fiction writers’ works intimate the principles that govern his own work in this genre?

What is an epic? Does a series of novels produced over a twenty-year period such as Herbert’s Dune novels qualify as an epic?

How is Herbert’s attitude toward technology expressed in his fiction?

What dimensions do the later Dune novels add to the first?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Frank Herbert is best known for his long fiction, especially the Dune series, he started to write short stories when he was eight years old and was in a hospital working on another story the day he died. He sold more than forty short stories in his lifetime, most of which have been reprinted in book form. He made his first sale to a Western magazine under a pseudonym while he was still in high school. Unfortunately, the pseudonym, the story, and the magazine itself have been lost. His first sale under his own name was the story “The Survival of the Cunning,” which he had published in Esquire in 1945. In 1952, Herbert sold his first science-fiction story, “Looking for Something,” to Startling Stories.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Dune and its sequels comprise one of the best-selling science-fiction series of all time. Dune won the Nebula Award in 1965 and tied as the winner of the Hugo Award in 1966. A 1974 Locus poll voted Dune the best science-fiction novel of all time. The book is assigned reading for courses in a wide array of fields, including philosophy, psychology, English, and ecology.

Dune has achieved notoriety for several reasons. First, it was one of the first science-fiction novels to apply high literary standards to the genre. Before the 1960’s, most of the best science-fiction stories were based on interesting scientific or technological premises and were plot-driven. After the 1960’s, writing style and characterization became equally, if not more, important. Second, Dune was one of the first great “soft” science-fiction novels. Herbert intentionally minimized the technobabble when he wrote the Dune books so he could concentrate on the characters rather than on their technologies. Third, Herbert created a world with its own unique history, languages, religions, customs, geography, ecology, and economic, social, and political systems, comparable to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and C. S. Lewis’s Narnia.

Herbert’s other writings also won critical acclaim. His only mainstream novel, Soul Catcher, was nominated for a National Book Award, and the French edition of Hellstrom’s Hive won the Prix Apollo.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Collings, Michael R. “The Epic of Dune, Epic Traditions in Modern Science Fiction.” In Aspects of Fantasy, edited by William Coyle. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. Herbert’s Dune novels are considered as a manifestation of the epic tendency in science fiction.

Herbert, Brian. The Dreamer of Dune: A Biography of Frank Herbert. New York: Tor, 2003. A biography written by Herbert’s eldest son.

Levack, Daniel J. H., comp. Dune Master: A Frank Herbert Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1988. Guide for further research.

McNelley, Willis E., ed. The Dune Encyclopedia. New York: Berkley Books, 1984. A guide to Herbert’s complex world.

Miller, Miriam Y. “Women of Dune: Frank Herbert as Social Reactionary?” In Women Worldwalkers: New Dimensions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jane B. Weedman. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1985. A feminist assessment of Herbert’s work.

Stratton, Susan. “The Messiah and the Greens: The Shape of Environmental Action in Dune and Pacific Edge.” Extrapolation 42 (Winter, 2001). Environmentalism is a major theme in Herbert’s Dune novels; this article compares Dune with Stanley Robinson’s novel Pacific Edge.

Touponce, William F. Frank Herbert. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A critical overview.