An English professor interviews Frank Herbert in 1969

Sunday, February 18th, 2018

In 1969, English professor Willis E. McNelly interviewed Frank Herbert on the origins of Dune:

Herbert does in fact sound just like a sci-fi geek. At this point, the first novel had been quite successful — pulling in fifteen thousand dollars — and the second novel was about to come out under a new publisher. I found Dune oddly compelling.


  1. L. C. Rees says:

    McNelly also edited and contributed to The Dune Encyclopedia, still a superior version of the Dune Universe than any crap vomited forth by Herbert fils and ilk (of course the decreasing quality of Herbert pere‘s work as the original Dune series limped to its end suggests that Herbert isn’t falling too far from the tree).

  2. Kirk says:

    If I had to pick a most-read, most-favorite book before I turned 21, I would have been hard-pressed to pick between Dune, The Lord of the Rings, Starship Troopers, and Ezell’s last edition of Small Arms of the World… All of them were re-read into near-oblivion, and I can’t even give you a count on how many times I read those individual titles, in their entirety, given the paucity of other worthwhile reads in my backwoods cultural hole.

    The thing about Herbert’s work that most struck me, over the years, is that Dune is a most singular work, one that he never quite managed to better. Everything else in the “series” was, in my humble opinion, dreck that was churned out to take advantage of the popularity of the original. His kid basically shat all over the legacy of that one really good book, and I find it hard to even read the synopsis or cover blurbs for his crapfests.

    What’s interesting about Dune is the fully immersive world he creates, which is so deeply conceived as to be something you’d almost consider divinely inspired, because there isn’t the wealth of other supporting work that Tolkien created along with the initial work and the trilogy. Herbert managed to be nearly as deep, without actually producing the depth–If Tolkien had written Dune, I’m fully certain that he’d have written the Orange Catholic Bible in its entirety, merely as a supporting work…

    As a world-creator, Herbert did exceedingly well. I just wish that the rest of his work matched the initial book, in terms of quality.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I didn’t realize McNelly was behind The Dune Encyclopedia! I love the way it presents “ancient” history through its feudal lens:

    The practice of maintaining stockpiles of atomic weapons as an integral part of a House’s defenses began when primitive nuclear weapons were invented on Old Terra on the eve of the Little Diaspora, by the “Raw Mental,” Einstein, who was working for House Washington. When Einstein succeeded in his attempts to construct these weapons, two of the first were used to settle a trade dispute with House Nippon. These weapons were of such a primitive nature that fewer than a million casualties were caused by the explosions — but one must remember that the entire empire at this time had only three billion subjects, all on one planet. The demonstration, though unremarkable by later standards, served two purposes: the destruction of two small cities and the threat of the destruction of others forced House Nippon to concede the lucrative Pacific trade routes to House Washington; and possession of the Empire’s only atomic weapons gave House Washington the prestige and power it needed to displace House Windsor.

  4. Buckethead says:

    I purely loved The Dune Encyclopedia — and agree that it was far superior to what Brian Herbert excreted after his father’s death.

    I really wish, though, that Frank Herbert had lived long enough to write the seventh Dune book. God Emperor of Dune was the low point of the series, and I think that the fifth and sixth books were better than all but the original.

    There’s an online version of the Encyclopedia here.

  5. Isegoria says:

    You’ve got me wondering, Kirk, if the book I checked out of the library multiple times as a kid was Small Arms of the World. It seems likely.

    Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and Starship Troopers all seem to come up regularly around here. (I even have a category for Robert Heinlein.)

  6. Kirk says:

    If it was a large-format book, with breakdowns of weapons by nation of origin… Then it probably was Small Arms of the World.

  7. Isegoria says:

    The other book I definitely checked out often was Weapons, by the Diagram Group. I now have a copy of that one on the shelf.

  8. Sam J. says:

    I can’t remember how I heard of Dune. I got the book in a used paperback store. I read it in one day and devoured the next two in a day a piece also. After that I read all I could of his I think all of his works are good but Dune was superb.

  9. L. C. Rees says:

    Then there’s BuSab.

  10. Sam J. says:

    As long as we’re talking about Sci-fi and weapons I want to recommend a series,”There Will Be War” Series, the “War World” Series and “Imperial Stars” series by Jerry Pournelle.
    Really great stuff.

    Destinies Series by Jim Baen

  11. Graham says:

    Great series!

    Imperial Stars, at least, can be had as e books from Baen’s website. Last time I checked, they were even in the Baen Free Library. DRM-free files, all.

    There Will be War, I couldn’t find but want. Though the 1980s paperbacks live on in my parents’ basement. And I will be retrieving them, even at this late date.

    Both series were great combinations of old and some new fiction with speculative and technical essays. Some probably show their age, but still interesting.

  12. Isegoria says:

    Imperial Stars and There Will Be War are both available as Kindle ebooks. There Will Be War Volumes I & II have been collected into a single hardcover.

Leave a Reply