Frank Herbert, His Fiction, and Me

The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert by Frank HerbertBy David G. Hartwell

For five years in the 1970s I was Frank Herbert’s editor, and we maintained contact for the rest of his life. I liked him a lot.

By the time I got a job as science fiction editor at Berkeley Books (then a division of G.P. Putnams, and along with Coward-McCann, sharing the same offices), I had been reading Frank’s work for more than twenty years, having admired it since high school. One of my early favorite SF novels is The Dragon in the Sea, a prescient story about international oil theft from undersea wells in an oil-starved future. But I read all his books and many of his stories, and liked them all. Destination: Void, an early artificial intelligence novel, in another favorite. Then, of course, came Dune, his monumental classic.

To be in science fiction in those days was to be in the same social circles as everyone else in the field (well, I never met the pseudonymous Cordwainer Smith, but I knew someone who had, and I did get to visit Alice Sheldon—James Tiptree, Jr.), to go to the same parties as Arthur C. Clarke and Judith Merril and Isaac Asimov and Anne McCaffrey and, well, just about everyone. The field was just not that big and SF people were often isolated and yearned for the company of other SF people, and traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to hang out for a weekend at one of the few conventions held each year, fans and pros alike. So by the time I got a job that included being his editor, Frank and I had mutual friends, and I already knew his agent. The contract I inherited was for the third Dune book, Children of Dune, and that was the first one I worked on with him. I went to his house in Port Townsend, Washington a couple of times, and we got to know one another better.

Frank was in those days kind of a big blond-bearded Santa Claus figure who had immense enthusiasms, often about new technologies, but always about ideas, and about stories. He was clever and inventive. I could tell stories about publishing Children of Dune, and more about publishing his book on using home computers, and how no one really believed that they would sell well. But some of my favorite moments were visiting Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s when Frank was in town and having dinner at sunset on the water, sometimes also with my friend Vonda McIntyre, long friendly evenings of gossip and ideas. By that time Frank was a public figure, a bestselling writer, and there was a film adaptation of Dune coming out.

One of the things I always wanted to do, and could not because of the publishing situation in the 1980s and 1990s, was to edit and publish a collection of Frank’s short stories. And it began to become possible; my fine assistant at Berkeley from the Herbert days, John Silbersack, had grown into one of the major literary agents in New York, and now represented the Herbert estate. We could talk.

And so began a nearly five year process of finding a way to do the book, for the record but also for the entertainment of the vast Frank Herbert audience, which was still being cultivated by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson in the Dune world continuations. It’s here at last, The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert, and I feel as if another piece of my own life is happily completed too.

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3 thoughts on “Frank Herbert, His Fiction, and Me

  1. This article says you were an editor. I think “Children of Dune” also has many instances where ‘is’ would be appropriate but ‘in’ was used in its stead. And the following is just atrocious… “Frank was in those days kind of a big blond-bearded Santa”, commas would help, but a rewrite would be best.

    Sincerely,

  2. It struck me that the column was deliberately oral/chatty in tone, the kind of rambling we do when talking, and so that passage didn’t bother me at all.

  3. I already bought the book but it didn’t arrived yet (I’m in Brazil), and I’m really curious about something that I don’t know the book itself will answer: “The Daddy Box” mentions ‘ferosslks’ in it… Is this story the same as “The Accidental Ferosslk”, from the unpublished “The Last Dangerous Visions”?
    (and, if not, will the readers ever see it come to light someday?)

    And, by the way, many thanks for the effort! It took me a long while to buy all the books so I could have all FH’s stories, but I couldn’t pass this one, with all of them at the same place! A book like this was long overdue. Really nicely done.

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