Frank Herbert, 1978.

    Frank Herbert, 1978.

As promised, we made Hawai’i our destination on our usual get-somewhere-out-of-the-cold trip one winter. Frank and Beverly Herbert had built themselves a house in the district of Hana, on the island of Maui, an area renowned for its beauty even in the state where there is very little that isn’t. Betty Anne and I had talked about taking a look at Hana before, but never as a serious plan, because Hana wasn’t easy to get to. You had to drive for a long time on a bad road through tropical near jungle to get there and that didn’t sound like much fun. But now a brand-new puddle-jumper airline that linked Hana to the capital of the island had just become available. It required no use of that unlovable road, and anyway, that’s where the Herberts were.

So we booked the flight and a hotel. Hana was indeed a particularly interesting area to see, home to a few movie stars and once a beloved retreat for, among others, Charles Lindbergh. When Lindy’s flying days were over, he spent the end of his life in Hana, and his family elected to bury him here. The area also has a waterfall nearly a hundred feet high and all sorts of beautiful growing things. Betty Anne saw most of them with Bev as a guide, while I mostly stayed near the hotel pool or my typewriter.

Of course, we were staying in the hotel, and not with the Herberts. We had known in advance that that wasn’t possible. Their multi-roomed house, though it had six baths, had only one bedroom, and that was their own. (They didn’t like the idea of houseguests.) At dinner, Frank conceded that they were beginning to believe that it might be nice to be able to put friends up now and then, after all, as long as they weren’t in the same house as the Herberts themselves. They were thinking that maybe, someday, they would put up a little guest house down the hill for that purpose

I don’t think that ever happened. Beverly’s health worsened and not long afterward she died. She and Frank had been married for nearly forty years.

In 1985, Betty Anne and I decided to take in the Worldcon in Australia, a continent I had never set foot on. We enjoyed it a lot, especially the sightseeing, although just as we were getting ready to leave our home, one of Ted Turner’s producers invited me to write a script for a new Turner project. It was an attractive prospect, but it meant I would have to write a treatment for the script while we traveled, and courier it back to America from somewhere along the way. But that seemed doable, and by the time we got to the con, we had had several really long flights. That sort of thing is good for my writing. I did some of my best work on airplanes, with my weird but lightweight and almost soundless Brother typewriter on my tray table.

At the con, we were happy to find that Frank had turned up there before us, in fact now equipped with a good-looking, brand-new wife to show off. Her name was Theresa, and they too had been exploring Australia as a sort of honeymoon. Frank was full of stories about the shooting of Dune, mostly in Mexico, and the two of them seemed about as happy as newlyweds are generally supposed to be. Well, with one exception. Somewhere along the trip, Frank said, he had picked up a touch of food poisoning, and he was going to have to watch his diet for a while.

That was a self-diagnosis and, sadly, it was wrong.

The next time I saw Frank was about a year later. I was at O’Hare Airport, waiting to board my flight to Seattle, where I was to take part in a brainstorming session about future small arms for the U.S. military when I heard my name called. It was Frank. He looked leaner and a bit tireder than when I’d last seen him, but his voice was strong.

That pain in the gut in Australia, he told me, hadn’t been food poisoning. It had been pancreatic cancer.

I knew what that meant. Nearly always, it meant dying quite soon. I must have looked as though that was what I was thinking, because Frank was shaking his head.

“I know that’s got a bad prognosis,” he said, “but the University of Wisconsin medical school has some new ideas about treatment, and that’s where I’ve been.”

The new ideas, he said, were pretty strenuous. Each period of therapy had to be followed by a stretch of recovery time at home. He had completed two therapy sessions and was on his way home to rest up for the third.

“Sounds like hard work,” I offered.

“It is,” he agreed, “but I’m going to beat this thing!”

I don’t know what else we talked about. Not much, I imagine, because they started boarding the flight. Our seats were not near each other. I thought of asking to change mine so I could have his company for a few more hours, but Frank already had one of his sons and one or two other men traveling with him … and, too, I didn’t want to risk tiring him out. When we reached Seattle, I looked around for him to say goodbye, but he was gone.

A few weeks later, I learned that he had died in Madison after undergoing cancer surgery.

Related post:
Frank Herbert, the Dune Man


  1. Julian says:

    How sad. Don’t worry, Herbert always knew you appreciate him.

  2. Bald Guy says:

    What a regular guy. The Orange catholic Bible quotes before each chapter sounded pretty presumptuous. I’m glad to know he was just a regular Joe.

  3. Jen says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of him- not only is he one of my favourite authors, but his tribute to Bev at the end of Chapterhouse: Dune is still one of the more moving things that I’ve read.

    (And as a side note, I re-discovered my old copy of Yesterday’s Tomorrows a few days ago, and have been thoroughly enjoying re-reading it. “Eco-Catastrophe” is unfortunately more painful to read now than it was the first time.)

  4. John Kremer says:

    Your two-part post was great. Really enjoyed reading about some of my favorite authors.

  5. Stacey says:

    Thanks for this little vignette of Mr. Herbert, and your friendship with him. His Dune series changed my life, opened my eyes to the power plays and machinations within the high control religion with which I was involved.

  6. Michael Walsh says:

    Nice piece on Herbert. I remember reading “The Prophet of Dune” in the bedsheet Analogs. And those John Schoenherr illos … oh my. They will stay with me forever.

  7. Lobo7922 says:

    Thanks it’s always interesting to know more details about Frank Herbert genius

  8. Neil in Chicago says:

    And speaking of digressions . . .
    Of the hundred Americans at Aussiecon I, two-thirds traveled in a group. Naturally, someone had one of the flat little portable typewriters on the flight from LA (on the New Zealand Airline, so in addition to the our stopover in Honolulu, there was another in Aukland), and by the time we got to Aukland, several people were on a mission to find suitable envelopes in the airport to mail home the mimeo masters which had been cut en route, for immediate repro back home. (for 1970’s values of “immediate”)

  9. Book Publishers says:

    The second part of your post was excellent. Also Really enjoyed reading about some of my favorite authors.