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"Dad used to say, 'Get your science right when you're building a world.' Well, we had to get our facts right to write in the Dune universe. But dad would say he didn't want to receive a letter that began, 'Dear Jerk.'"
These are huge shoes to fill. And, recently, when book-related interests everywhere -- including January Magazine -- were compiling their lists of the best books of the century, the epic science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert, originally published in 1965, was a frequently mentioned candidate. It had to be. It had everything. Transcending genre, Dune managed to capture the imagination of generations of readers and it catapulted Frank Herbert's name into the realm of classic authors. At the time of his death in 1986, Herbert had completed a body of work that included six books in the well-loved Dune saga.
According to his son, Brian, when he died Frank Herbert was laying plans for a seventh book in the series but Brian -- himself a well respected author of science fiction -- didn't think it was a project he'd ever want to tackle. "It was hallowed ground," says Brian now. At various times, he says, he contemplated the possibility of adding to the series, but he'd put the thoughts aside for other projects. There was all that stuff about huge shoes and Brian wasn't sure he wanted to try them on.
The last book in the series that Frank Herbert wrote, Chapterhouse Dune, seemed to promise another book. It felt as though a lot of the questions that had burned throughout the series would be answered in the unwritten seventh book. Herbert's series had a huge following that lamented the author's death before the adventure could continue and somehow conclude. Among these fans was Kevin J. Anderson, a young Colorado science fiction writer who, in Brian Herbert's words, was "a Dune fan and he wants to know where the series is going, even if he has to write it himself."
Though he had been approached by other writers to collaborate on a Dune project, Brian had resisted. "The energy was never right." Meanwhile, Brian had projects of his own to work on. His published work includes the novels Sidney's Comet; Sudanna, Sudanna; Prisoner's of Arion; The Race for God and had co-written Man of Two Worlds with his father.
From his first telephone meeting with Kevin J. Anderson, he could feel that this would be a winning partnership. Both men had a genuine passion for the Dune universe that Frank Herbert had created. It was, in some ways, Brian Herbert's birthright: the echo of his childhood and the world whose creation forced a household that demanded tiptoe quiet. For Anderson, the author of 25 national bestsellers, it was the chance to work on what would grow to be the most exciting project of his career in a world that had enthralled him since his own youth.
Published in the autumn of 1999, the first Herbert/Anderson collaboration, Dune: House Atreides is actually a prequel to the original Dune novel. It is the first book in a trilogy that the two authors have planned involving the time before Dune's Paul Atreides comes to Arrakis. Both authors feel that the trilogy will be followed by other books set in the universe of Frank Herbert's Dune. The long awaited Dune 7 will just have to wait, though both authors are looking forward to working on it one day. "Dune 7 should be the grand finale," says Anderson. "And you don't do the grand finale and then add a few more books."
Their passion for the world of Dune is obvious: the two fairly brim with delight for the project that they've found themselves working on together. "Neither of us was eating bologna sandwiches," says Anderson of the time before they decided to collaborate on a Dune book. "We weren't starving. We weren't desperately looking for some way to make a nickel. We did this because we really wanted to do it."
The two writers collaborate on their new Dune novels at a distance. Brian Herbert, 52, lives on an island off the coast of Washington state. Kevin J. Anderson, 37, lives near Denver, Colorado and the two work mostly by telephone, fax and e-mail.
Linda Richards: I know you guys are hearing this all over the place, but I can't resist asking. These are such big shoes to fill. And I know that some people are going to hate this book without having read it. Some people will buy it in order to hate it. And that must be a little scary. Are you finding any of that?
Brian Herbert : Well, Dune is sacred ground and we were very careful before we tackled this project. For about 10 years I avoided the project. Dad passed away in 1986 and there were rumors that I would continue the Dune series. But I read the dedication in Chapterhouse Dune to my mother -- Chapterhouse was the very last Dune book and she died while the book was being written and there's a three page dedication to her at the end of the book. They were a writing team. They'd done this project together. She listened to everything that he read out loud. She told him what to cut. What worked and what didn't work. So, I thought that possibly it should end right there. I hesitated continuing the series.
I was approached by other authors -- well known authors -- who wanted to continue the project in collaboration with me, but I didn't feel the energy that would be required to do a project like this. I knew that my father had been working on a Dune book when he died and he had been using a yellow highlighter on Heretics of Dune -- which is book five -- and Chapterhouse which is book six. After he passed away, those yellow highlighted books were gone, so I didn't even know what he was thinking. They disappeared. And there were no notes.
Over the years it was in the front of my mind sometimes to write a Dune book, but most of the time it would keep sliding back. But in 1991 I started writing a biography of Frank Herbert that took me five years. And that included researching the origins of Dune and tying together everything dad had written -- published and unpublished -- of any kind and tying it together with what he'd written in the Dune series. So I think I was unconsciously on the path to write a Dune book, but I was on a very slow path. It might have taken 20 years.
Kevin J. Anderson : I was the swift kick.
BH: In 1996, I was approached by Ed Kramer. And Ed is an editor of anthologies. Ed talked me into editing an anthology of new Dune short stories written by well known authors. I reminded Ed that I didn't want to write a Dune book and I told him the reasons why. It was hallowed ground and my mother and father were a writing team and it should end right there. He convinced me to at least edit a collection of new short stories and one of the people invited was Kevin J. Anderson. Kevin said in a letter, "Not only would I love to write a Dune short story, but if I may be so bold as to suggest it, I'd be interested in writing a new novel." Because, as Kevin says, he's a Dune fan and he wants to know where the series is going, even if he has to write it himself.
I received the letter regarding the novel in January of 1997 and I didn't reply to it for about a month. I was kind of afraid to reply, because I was afraid we'd hit it off and I'd have to write this project. And, sure enough, Kevin and I did hit it off immediately and there was a huge amount of energy, just over the phone. His wife said that Kevin started talking another language, you know: Kwisatz Haderach and Mentats and the Bene Gesserit and all of this stuff that's so wonderful in the Dune universe.
For four months from January of 1997 to May of 1997 we started trying to figure out where Frank Herbert was intending to go with the unpublished Dune book and he'd died before he could get much into it. We had a lot of theories. In Chapterhouse Dune, the dark side of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood is.... chasing the Bene Gesserit across the universe. One by one they're killing our heroines off and they're wiping out entire planets of Bene Gesserits and driving them into a corner. But dad said that there is something even worse than them in the universe.... But he doesn't tell you what it is.
And so he passes away and we're left with this incredible mystery. By May of 1997, I'd met Kevin and Rebecca [Kevin's wife, the writer Rebecca Moesta] and we had an incredible proposal. Two weeks after that a safety deposit box appeared that had been missing for 11 years and it just seemed very karmic. But I think it was my mother involved because she was in touch with other realms. In fact, she would tell dad when it was safe to travel and when it wasn't and various other things. She could find things that were lost: she was definitely in touch. And I think my mother was telling me that it was OK. That this was the right team to do the project. I really believe that.
I started looking through my attic. I hadn't intended to write a Dune book, but I had some of dad's manuscripts. So I started looking through them and not only were there manuscripts, but there was 1300 pages of working notes up in my attic. So my mother not only directed us to the safety deposit box, but to the notes.
Enter Kevin J. Anderson.
KJA: Yes. You mentioned about the expectations and stuff for this book and some of the fans would be skeptical and I have to emphasize that I don't think that there's any person in the world that's putting more pressure on us than we've put on ourselves. The is Dune! And I say that with this awe in my voice. My favorite science fiction book of all time.
I read all of Frank Herbert's Dune books many times. Not only did I just read the Dune books, I read everything that Frank Herbert had ever written. So that when Brian and I first talked on the phone, instantly we started throwing these references to obscure out-of-print paperbacks back and forth. Right away I think he knew that I wasn't just some guy coming in thinking that a Dune book could sell.
If you read House Atreides, I think you can see how much love and passion we have for this. Brian has been successful in his other novels and the Herbert estate is doing well. He's very successful in his own business. I've published 50-some Star Wars projects and X-Files books. I've had 25 bestsellers. Neither of us was eating bologna sandwiches. We weren't starving. We weren't desperately looking for some way to make a nickel. We did this because we really wanted to do it. This is the most impressive, exciting project I've ever done in my career.
As Brian was mentioning, when Frank Herbert passed away and left Chapterhouse Dune where it ended, clearly he had more he was going to add. He had talked to Brian about the two of them working together on a Dune novel. He left the outline for Dune Seven, he left all these notes. It's not like we're just jumping in and squeezing out another book that says Dune on the cover. This is really a book that's based in the universe of Frank Herbert. It's a companion to Frank Herbert's books, not in competition with them.
We have received -- there's no other word for it than -- overwhelming positive reviews on it. It's very gratifying, but the most gratifying thing is we've talked to so many people who begin their conversation with us by saying, "I approached this book with the greatest trepidation, but I loved it." The most common complaint we get -- which is certainly a complaint we can live with -- is that it wasn't as good as the first Dune book, but it's as good as a lot of the other ones. Since I don't think there has ever been a science fiction novel as good as the first Dune book, I can live with that criticism.
BH: I spent a year after Kevin and I started working together doing a concordance of all six Dune books. So we have an encyclopedic reference. We know what page number Duke Leto's eyes are described on. I have 50 or 60 pages single spaced just on the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. We know all the details. So it really is a Dune book because we really put a lot of work into it before we wrote one word.
Dad used to say, "Get your science right when you're building a world." Well, we had to get our facts right to write in the Dune universe. But dad would say he didn't want to receive a letter that began, "Dear Jerk."
KJA: One of the other things that has been very gratifying for us is that Frank Herbert's original Dune series was reissued by the original publisher to coincide with the release of House Atreides. And those books are skyrocketing up on sales because of the publicity and promotion of our book, the original Dune books are gaining a much wider readership. I have people who have read my Star Wars books who have never read Dune before, pick up House Atreides and say, "I love this!" and they're going to go read all of Frank Herbert's books. Dune was always my favorite science fiction book and if I can use this [House Atreides] as a vehicle to introduce a new generation of readers to picking up Frank Herbert's original stuff, I can't think of anything more exciting than that.
LR: You opted, in the end, not to continue the Dune saga. House Atreides is a prequel.
KJA: Being able to tell Duke Leto's story was cool. That was a story I wanted to tell. But what people don't understand about prequels is that, even though you know how the story ends, they ask how you can make it interesting. And I say that's like saying that history isn't interesting because you know that Napoleon lost at Waterloo. That doesn't mean it's not interesting. What you have is roadmap. So you have a starting point and an ending point, but you don't know anything in between.
LR: There are sure literary precedents for that treatment, as well. The ones I've been thinking of in relationship to this book is some of James Clavell's work with his Asian series.
KJA: It's interesting that you bring that up, because that's an example that I always use when people ask how you can write in someone else's universe. And I say, well, James Clavell wrote in Japanese history which -- to me -- he had to do all the same stuff and study all the background and figure out the details on Japanese history and Japanese culture -- or Chinese or Hong Kong or whatever he was doing at the time -- and set his story there. And that's the same thing with Dune. We just have to research everything that Frank Herbert left for us.
It's kind of funny that prequels seem to be a little trend in science fiction right now.
LR: Like Star Wars?
KJA: Star Wars but that's not all. There are lots of other prequels that have been coming out in books. I mean, I vaguely knew that George Lucas was going to work on prequels because I'm working on Star Wars, but we started working on ours before anybody knew that George was filming or writing Episode One.
BH: One thing we've tried to do with Dune: House Atreides is to go back and not only revisit the characters and settings of the original Dune book, as opposed to writing a direct sequel to Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune which occur thousands of years after Dune. So we've not only gone back to the original settings and people of Dune, but we have consciously tried to use a style that is more similar to Dune than to some of the later books. We don't have, for example, as in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune there's a lot of talking going on. There is more action here. And there is more action in Dune, too. But beneath the adventure level of Dune are all these wonderful other elements which make it a multilayered novel. There's philosophy, there's ecology, there's religion: it was an ecological handbook. So we have attempted to not only write the adventure story but to have some important messages below that. Governments can't be trusted. Leaders lie.
LR: Frank Herbert was very interested in politics, wasn't he?
BH: Absolutely. In fact, he was a speech writer. First of all he started writing for Guy Cordon who was a senator from Oregon in the early 1950s and dad got on his staff in 1952 or 53. And dad was actually in Washington, DC. We were living in Portland, Oregon at the time. But dad went to Washington, DC to work on the campaign and speeches and things. Guy Cordon was a Republican senator. Unfortunately, every campaign that dad was involved in was lost. So when Guy Cordon ran for re-election he lost.
And there was Phil Hitchcock who was a senatorial candidate for Oregon. He lost. And there was Phil Roth who lost. And on the fourth campaign that dad got involved in -- it was in Washington state -- and this candidate, Big Bill Bantz, was unfortunate enough to run against "Scoop" Henry Jackson in 1959 or 58. It must have been the 1960 election. So all four of them lost.
LR: I read the first two Dune books many years ago and loved them. But, when I started the third book, I found the political machinations to be quite heavy.
KJA: Yes. They get heavier as the series goes on.
BH: I found some of the origins of that. When Frank Herbert was growing up near Tacoma, Washington there was a town called Burley which is just north of Tacoma. Dad was born in 1920, so he was growing up in the late 1920s and early 1930s, going to Burley where his favorite grandmother and grandfather lived. And Burley had been a real political hotbed around 1900 to 1912 because it was a socialist community. It was one of the communities set up by Eugene V. Debs who intended to socialize the United States by colonizing it with socialist communities. There was another one in Washington state called Home. But there were several, and that was the way they were going to take over the whole country with socialism. By 1911 the community had failed in Burley and the whole thing fell apart. But prior to that they had their own economy, they printed their own money, they had a cigar store and a hotel and all kinds of other things going on. When dad was growing up there were still some of the people that had been involved in the Burley community and all the hotbed of political activity that it was. So he was immersed in that from a very young age.
LR: Because it was totally concerned with politics.
LR: And he was something of an ecologist as well. Because he knew the whole eco-structure of the desert. And I see Kevin snickering at the understatement.
KJA: I'm snickering because Dune itself became almost like an ecological handbook in the 60s because popularly it became a cult favorite and people started to read it and realized that Dune was not just a story. It also showed you the second and third order consequences of things. And people then didn't realize that if you diverted a major ocean current or dammed up some rivers and irrigated the desert that you were going to take that water away from someplace else that was using it now.
BH: Well, he wrote that ecology was the understanding of consequences. What more profound statement can there be?
KJA: And Dune was one of those first books that made you think: wow! There really is something that's going to happen if we do this grand thing. Because, of course, in the 1950s science could do everything and you could just go in and block this river and irrigate this valley.
BH: Frank Herbert saw the Sahara Desert growing. Look at the civilizations that used to be on the Sahara Desert. I know there have been some climatic changes, but also deserts have a tendency to encroach. And that was one of the origins of Dune.
There was a study in Florence, Oregon on the dunes along the coast and the USDA was finding that by planting grasses on the dunes they could prevent them from moving across the highways. So dad went there in 1958 to write a magazine article called "They Stopped the Moving Sands." That article was written -- and we intend to publish it some day -- but he quickly realized he had a lot more than a magazine article when he started to think of Messiahs leading desert people and the whole desert culture. He extrapolated, what if earth became a desert? What would the politics, the religion, the history, what kind of people would live on this planet? And what if this planet were the most important planet in the entire universe?
KJA: It's a metaphor for some of the Arab desert countries where there's these little wastelands that no one should ever be paying attention to and suddenly you discover oil underneath them. It becomes a very valuable substance that everybody has to have. But it's in this backwards desert country and that's the only place where you can get it.
LR: Do you think that was an intentional analogy?
BH: The great sandworm Shai-Halud guarding the melange is the dragon guarding the treasure. It's a mythological situation. Paul's journey is the journey of a hero. The points that occur in his life match heroic journeys of archetypical heroes. There's a book by Lord Raglan that touches upon 26 points that the archetypical hero will follow. He'll have an unusual birth, there'll be an attempt on his life when he's very young, he'll marry the king's daughter -- in this case Paul Atreides marries the emperor's daughter. But Paul Atreides hits on 20 or 21 of those points. So, on that level, it's very mythical. That's why so many people can identify with it.
LR: But do you think it was an intentional analogy to middle eastern cultures?
BH: Oh, yeah. He drew from everything. I mean Atreides is from Atreus which is an ancient Greek family. And the language is so immersed in middle eastern culture because it's a desert world so you'd have desert words. They'd seem to fit the best. And he drew in Navajo language and language from the tribes of the Gobi desert, too. It's just a whole potpourri of incredible information.
LR: Am I right in thinking that House Atreides is the first book in a trilogy?
KAJ: House Harkonnen is the second book and it's already been delivered. And we've pretty much finished brainstorming House Corrinno which is book three. House Harkonnen will be out next October [October 2000] and if we do our work as we anticipate, House Corrinno will be out the year after that.
LR: What about Dune 7?
KJA: Well, we have a full outline for Dune 7. We know where Frank Herbert was going but we've been talking to a lot of the fans and we've been talking to each other and we think that the next big story that needs to be told is the Butlerian Jihad -- the war against the thinking machines 10,000 years ago. It tells the original split between the families of Atreides and Harkonnen.
BH: Isn't that timely, also? Machines against humans? Artificial intelligence we're concerned about now.
KJA: So we have the outline for Dune 7 and we know where Frank Herbert is going and where he intended to end the story, but we find that there's a lot of things we need to set up before that. And also it seems kind of fitting that Dune 7 should be the grand finale. And you don't do the grand finale and then add a few more books. But, we have the notes. People should be able to have Dune books from now on.
BH: Every year for a while, but we're going to maintain the quality or else we won't write one.
LR: Did Frank Herbert set Dune 10,000 years in the future for a reason? To set it completely apart from any culture we would see now?
BH: Well, the way he set it up is that you have earth and then an undefined time after that is the Butlerian Jihad and the great schools are founded. Then 10,000 years after the Butlerian Jihad are the events in Dune.
KJA: So there's more than 10,000 years.
BH: And it refers to earth as Old Earth or Old Terra. Dad used to say what detritus, what remnants of today might survive. So, we have a few phrases in our novel that survived 10,000 years.
LR: Was Frank Herbert's work a big part of his life?
BH: Oh, absolutely. If he didn't work every day and constantly he was very surly and very hard to be around. But that's typical of writers. Kevin and I are the same way. He was very goal oriented and he had to have a certain amount done all the time. It wasn't easy as a child growing up in. But I did become close to my father later. It had to be very quiet in the household. You had to tiptoe. Couldn't have my friends over. Things like that. But I didn't know any other life and it was very interesting.
LR: Where did you grow up?
BH: 23 different places before I was out of high school. We lived in three villages in Mexico at various times. We spent 10 years in San Francisco. I went to high school in San Francisco. Prior to that we were moving every four months, six months, a year at the most. My mother was in advertising. My mother and father were both creative writers. They met in a creative writing class in the 1940s at the University of Washington. She had sold a romance story and he sold an adventure story. They were the only two people in the class that sold anything. But she gave up her creative writing career to support her family. So she was an advertising writer for department stores all up and down the west coast. We followed her jobs, usually. But dad was very impulsive. You know, we're off to Mexico in a hearse. Our family car was a hearse at that point. He went off and bought it at a funeral home and off we go. You never knew.
LR: Do you have siblings?
BH: A younger brother. Four years younger. And an older half sister from a previous marriage of my father's. So there's three of us.
LR: Are they writers as well?
BH: No. I'm the only one. Though one of my sister's sons is showing a lot of talent as a writer.
LR: Where do you live now?
BH: Bainbridge Island, Washington.
LR: What about you, Kevin?
KJA: I live near Denver, Colorado. So we do a lot of stuff by phone and fax and e-mail. We get together once or twice a year when we meet and completely spend weekends brainstorming like crazy and then we go off into our separate corners panting and exhausted and put the stuff together. But by meeting and interacting so much we managed to have the entire book in each of our heads. The identical book, so that when we wrote it we were just kind of dictating the story that was already there. And then we'd exchange computer disks and he'd rewrite my stuff and I'd rewrite his stuff. I think House Atreides went through 10 or 11 drafts.
LR: So then are you blending them together?
BH: Our styles are similar to start with, although we have different emphasis on what we write. Our styles aren't that far apart.
LR: So one of you is writing one storyline and then the other is writing another?
KJA: So by the time he rewrites everything in my chapters that doesn't sound like he would write it, and I rewrite everything in his chapters that doesn't sound like I would write it and you do it on computer so you never get to see who changes what so that really diminishes the friction about, "Why did he cut that word out?"
BH: Plus we've both collaborated with other writers on various other novels so we know what's required for this task. You have to set your ego aside and be willing to work things out. We've never had an argument in three years.
KJA: And we've done like 2000 pages together and we're now on our third book.
BH: We've had where we don't agree on a point, but it's quickly worked out.
LR: Do you guys ever have a sense of setting aside your own work to pick up this larger vision?
BH: We're doing both. When one of us has the manuscript, the other will work on a solo project. We both have solo novels that we're working on.
KJA: Oh, yeah. We can't just write one book a year. I did nine last year and 14 the year before that. It's almost like clearing your palate between drafts. I can get all refreshed and get my creative batteries recharged by working on something else. But while Brian's going through the 800 page manuscript to edit, I'm not going to sit there and twiddle my thumbs. I work on something else and he does the same thing when it's my turn. | January 2000
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine.