Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert

I met Frank Herbert and his wife Beverly at the home of Poul and Karen Anderson in the early 1960s, where we had all been invited for dinner. It was a great evening. There weren’t many people more fun to share a meal with than those four, especially when Karen was creating one of her original recipes (this time with Japanese black beans and I have no idea what else).

We became friendly quickly. I should mention that the Andersons’ home was in those unexpectedly precipitous hills across the Bay from San Francisco, because when it became going-home time the Herberts and I were driven back to the city by another diner, a local resident who knew every hill and curve and preferred to take them all at high speed while turned halfway around in the driver’s seat in order to have a friendly conversation with us. When we got out, the Herberts and I agreed that we had just been through a life-changing experience, and we would be lifelong buddies from then on.

Still, we managed to get together only rarely because of problems of geography, except for the occasional fortuitous occasion — for example, the day in the early ’80s, when I was in Seattle on a book tour. As I was crossing a street on my way to a TV interview, a car pulled up in front of me and a woman stuck her head out the window. “Hello, sailor,” she called. “Looking for a good time?” It was Bev, with Frank grinning over her shoulder from the steering-wheel side.

It wasn’t the best of opportunities for a lengthy chat, but I was glad to see them both looking well; Bev had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and, I knew, was facing surgery. Before the other drivers began honking, the Herberts mentioned that they were building a house in Hana on Maui, and I promised that the next time we were in Hawai’i we’d look them up.

Meanwhile Frank, working as a newspaperman, had started to research an article about the sand dunes of Oregon, and that changed his life. The dunes fascinated him. He never finished the article, but he began writing science-fiction stories for John Campbell’s Astounding, starting with a three-part serial about a dune planet and its inhabitants.

Herbert himself thought it might make a pretty good hardcover book but was disappointed by the responses when he tried offering it to publishers. No book publisher was interested in acquiring the hardcover rights to this rapidly expanding mass of manuscript, however, until an editor at the quite small publishing house of Chilton Books managed to stitch the several existing stories into a single huge novel. He called it Dune, and when he published the result, it became a runaway bestseller, said to be the most profitable sf book ever written.

Frank had written with real people and places in mind, though he gave them invented names for his stories, just as Cordwainer Smith had for his own stories of the imperfectly concealed Middle East. Arrakis was Frank Herbert code for Iraq, The Baron was Dick Cheney, Selusa Secundis was Afghanistan and so on. (I’m sorry to say that I don’t know all the identities for either author.)

To be continued. . . .

Related post:
Frank Herbert, the Dune Man, Part 2


  1. mike says:

    How could the Baron be based on Dick Cheney? The book was published in 1965 and Cheney was, what, just graduating college? I wonder if I might be missing a bit of (appropriately) dry humor here.

    Did you ever talk with Mr. Herbert about whether or not the film version of Lawrence of Arabia influenced the stories?

  2. Tanya says:

    I’m a huge fan of both you and Mr. Herbert, and it’s great to hear some personal tidbits – can’t wait for the next installment! :)

  3. sm says:

    Mike, you indeed missed a joke. I’ve been told the Fremen were based on the Almoravids, the Muslim N. Africans who fought El Cid; on the other hand C. Smith’s expertise was the far east.

  4. Chad Thorson says:

    I’m not sure if the Dick Cheney thing was tongue-in-cheek or not, but he was only 24 years old when Dune was published. And he didn’t enter politics until 1969, and wasn’t really well known until the late 70’s.

  5. Stefan Jones says:

    Man, you’ve met damn near everybody . . .

    I look forward to more on Herbert and anyone else you care to write about.

    * * *

    Karen Anderson is on the “CONTACT” mailing list for world-builders, and regularly digs up wonderful science story nuggets for us.

  6. Jeff says:

    The Baron was Dick Cheney, of course, and that makes Bush the Beast Rabban.

    But then that means Obama is either Paul or Feyd. At first I thought he was Paul, but he looks more like Feyd every day.

  7. Toni says:

    He was a genius, there is way more to Dune than worms, the berbers or drugs, it’s a story of religious manipulation of the masses, the paradigms and much, much more.

  8. Bald Guy says:

    What Stefan said.

    I’m getting goosebumps reading all of these tales of hanging out with Anderson, Herbert, Heinlein, Clarke. Please, keep ’em coming! 😀

  9. Julian says:

    I just found this article by accident. If you really are Mr. Frederik Pohl, i want to congratulate you, mi english is very poor so i will do it in my native languaje:

    Mi más sinceras gracias por escribir libros como los Mercaderes del espacio y Homo plus, muy pocas veces un lector puede agradecer al escritor y voy a aprovechar esta oportunidad. Estos libros, junto con los de su amigo Frank Herbert incaron profundo en mi desde mi niñez, me fascinaron y abrieron mi mente a posibilidades insospechadas. Muchas gracias por todo su trabajo y sus obras. Saludos desde Argentina y por favor continue escribiendo.

  10. bostonEddie says:

    And I always thought Dune was based on ideas from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence, from that famous literary family of TE, Gertrude, Sarah and Merrychristmasmister Lawrence.
    As soon as I saw the watermistress was named The _Shadouf_ Mapes, I knew there were Arabic influences.

  11. Karen Anderson says:

    I wasn’t sure (since I haven’t commented here before) whether I’d find a place to comment closer than this to comment on the entry about your dinner with Poul and me. Glad you have such pleasant memories of it!

    I’m surprised to hear that Frank hadn’t written SF before his encounter with dune ecology. Did Campbell keep him re-writing it for ten years? Wouldn’t surprise me. Herbert’s first big work was _Dragon in the Sea_, aka _Under Pressure_, in 1956.

    The black bean dish was probably what I called “Osaka baked beans” — cooked kuro mame reheated with bacon, bacon grease, sugar, and soy sauce. Hm, I haven’t made that in a while . . .

  12. Frederik Pohl says:

    My eagle-eyed blogmeister, Leah Zeldes, caught the fact that Dick Cheney was from a different historical period than the others Frank mentioned. We talked it over for a while, but I remained convinced that it was what Frank had said (I can be wrong, but it doesn’t keep me from being positive) so we let it stand.

  13. E.P. Grondine says:

    Any rememberances about L. Ron Hubbard you could share?

  14. the blog team says:

    E.P. Grondine: Over at the right is the tag cloud, click on “L. Ron Hubbard” and it will bring you several posts on Hubbard. Or use the search box.

  15. Serkanner says:

    I am an avid fan of Frank Herbert’s work and would like to invite other fans to discuss his work at

  16. CWickenkamp says:

    I enjoyed Dune, and it is interesting that Herbert was inspired by real places and people, but please check your facts. Dick Cheney was but a college boy in his early twenties when Dune was written, as a number of people have pointed out. Just doesn’t make sense.

  17. Jeff says:


    It’s a joke, folks.

    Please reinsert sense of humor before continuing.

  18. Askaris de Dar says:

    Hi Mr Pohl ! I found this in “Son of Space Opera”,an extract from “History of the Science Fiction Magazine” by Mike Ashley:

    « For Galaxy it was also a time of change and 1969 proved to be a watershed year. In March 1969 Robert M. Guinn finalized a deal to sell Galaxy to Arnold Abramson of Universal Publishing and Distributing Corporation (UPD). The deal went through while Pohl was at an International Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro, so it took him a little by surprise, but it provoked him into an action he had long been considering. Rather than go with the magazine to the new publisher, Pohl quit and decided to return to writing.(…)

    The change should have been effective from the June 1969 issue but printing problems caused a slippage and the June issue became the July issue. This issue was effectively still Pohl’s. He wrote the editorial and had selected the stories. The coup for that issue was the start of Frank Herbert’s serial, ‘Dune Messiah’ (July-November 1969), the latest in the Dune saga which was already starting to take on mythic proportions. The serial was too mystical for John W. Campbell, but ideal for Galaxy.»

    …So, I was wondering who was the “Dune Messiah” editor ? Only you or you AND Mr Jakobsson ? And Mrs Del Rey ? Any comments ? Thanks in advance.

  19. Jeffri says:

    what a perfect poem. I have been reniadg and reniadg through your blog and, although our situations are different I truly recognize the rawness of your grief. I lost my daughter four years ago and I remember that first year of pain like it was yesterday. It will always be difficult but not like those early days. I will keep you in my thoughts, wishing you strength and moments of peace.