If Neil Armstrong’s arrival on the moon was one giant step for mankind, the Viking I landing on the Golden Plains of Mars is a literary bonanza for science-fiction writers.
“You have to stay right up on the edge of what is going on in math, psychology and biophysics—all the hard sciences,” says sci-fi author Frank Herbert. “I’ve followed the NASA findings very carefully. Now the data being gathered by Viking I will give us a new edge. It’s all very exciting.”
For Herbert fans the exciting news is also the publication of Children of Dune, the third and final volume about a technologically advanced people called the Arrakisians who inhabit a desert planet known as Dune. For the Arrakisians, Herbert has created a complex civilization with its own history, language and mythology. Book one, Dune, came out in 1965 and was followed by Dune Messiah in 1969.
Because he has made ecology a central theme of Dune—the inhabitants have to cope with limited resources on their planet—Herbert became a counterculture hero and Dune a cult book. Now being filmed in Europe and North Africa, Dune sold more than a million copies and won the World Science Fiction Convention Hugo Award and the Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Award. His first book, Under Pressure, a sci-fi tale which accurately predicted a worldwide oil shortage and suggested a means of getting oil from the sea, was published in 1955 and was co-winner of the International Fantasy Award. Herbert, who has written 20 sci-fi novels in 21 years, is the only writer to win all three science-fiction awards.
A reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until 1971, Herbert came across the idea for Dune while doing a story on a government experiment to control shifting sand dunes in Florence, Oreg. “That got me to thinking about what we knew about planets and growing things, technology, and how we inflict ourselves on the planet earth.” He began extensive research into desert cultures.
Born in Tacoma, Wash., Herbert, now 56, grew up in the Pacific Northwest. In 1946 he met his wife, Beverly, in a writing class at the University of Washington. “Bev and I were the only two writers in the class who were selling. For her it was confession stories and for me, pulp adventures.”
For the last four years, home for the Herberts has been a cedar A-frame house on six acres near Port Townsend, Wash. From 6 a.m. to noon Herbert writes in his loft office above the living room. After lunch he turns farmer as part of the Herberts’ plan to become self-sustaining.
They produce enough vegetables for their own table (and some surplus to give away), keep chickens for eggs and meat and have stocked a pond with trout. They also are planning to heat their swimming pool with solar energy and to build a windmill for electric power.
Herbert would like to see others follow his example. “It’s not so much a back-to-the-land concept as it is a back-to-the-use-of-your-own-hands,” he says. “It’s nice, feeling the earth—like Atlas.”