by Timothy Doyle

#78, 25 September 2006

Fear is the Mind Killer
The Dune Series by Frank Herbert

Collecting Science Fiction

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Frank Herbert is something of an enigma. He is one of a small number of SF authors with substantial recognition outside of the genre, sharing this distinction with the likes of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. But, outside of Dune and its assorted sequels, most non-genre readers (and many SF fans) would be hard pressed to name one of Frank Herbert's other 17 novels. This dichotomy between the novel and the author is further demonstrated by looking at award patterns.

Dune won both the Hugo and the Nebula award in 1966 - the only time Herbert won either of these awards. Dune has been named in numerous Best SF Novel lists, including David Pringle's Top 100 SF Novels, Strange Horizons Top 5 SF Novels, and the Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy Novels. Locus Magazine conducted All-Time Favorite SF Novel surveys in 1975, 1987, and 1998, and Dune took first place all three years. On the other hand, the Locus All-Time Author list for 1977 puts Herbert near the bottom of the list at number 19, and he doesn't place at all in the 1973 survey.

One reader at Amazon characterizes Heretics of Dune (the fifth book in the series) as "More and Deeper into the Rabbit's Hole." This seems an apt description of the Dune series, which indeed seemed to get "curiouser and curiouser" with each new installment. Many of those who read and admired Dune found themselves losing interest later in the series. I finished Children of Dune (third in the series), but gave up less than fifty pages into God Emperor of Dune. Some thought that Herbert should have heeded his own advice when he wrote about the planet of Dune (also known as Arrakis): "Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife - chopping off what's incomplete and saying: 'Now, it's complete because it's ended here.'"

However, sales figures don't lie. The continued success of the Dune franchise, with additional novels in the series written by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson after Frank Herbert's death, shows that there are plenty of readers who stayed with the series after those like me gave up. The phenomenal sales records for Dune are particularly interesting given the fact that nearly 20 publishers rejected the original manuscript.

Dune is a classic, perhaps even quintessential, example of world building in science fiction. Ecology is a primary theme of the novel, with well-developed explorations of how geography, environment, biology and culture form a reciprocating network of interactions and where seemingly minor events can propagate through the system to have literally galactic repercussions. This theme of the interdependence at all levels of existence and reality is iterated throughout the novel, from the purely natural world of the desert and the Fremen to the complexly artificial world of the inter-House political rivalries of Atreides and Harkonnen and the religious machinations of the Bene Gesserit. A major plot element in the Dune series is the evolution of the human mental ability to perceive and comprehend these multitudes of complex interactions and in doing so be able to "see" the future.

A comparable title from the same time period is Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Both Dune and Stranger are big, sprawling novels that tackle complex issues of human thought and existence. Both have developed fervent fan bases, which in some cases border on cult status. But, where Stranger's major theme is the difference an individual can make in the course of human events, Dune puts forth a more complex vision of how the individual and the culture are inextricably linked: Cultural forces shape Paul Atreide's evolution, who in turn introduces change into the culture in an evolving reciprocal relationship. These cultural and individual changes are manifested in the physical changes that the planet Dune undergoes over the course of time, from desert to semi-arid world, to lush garden paradise.

Dune's importance as a classic in science fiction is unquestioned. It was the first major SF novel to explore ecological concepts and to use them as a major structural element in the plot and as a guiding force in character development. Dune, like Stranger in a Strange Land, showed that an SF novel could tackle very complex sociological and philosophical themes and have something of substance to say about them. Dune raised the bar for every SF novel that followed. And, even if those who say Herbert's later works fell short of that mark are correct, this in no way lessens the importance of Dune.

Frank Herbert Bibliography

Portions of the following are based on the Wikipedia article on Frank Herbert at

Dune Novels

Note that there is collector interest in sets of the Analog and Galaxy magazines in which Dune novels were originally serialized. Complete sets sell for varying amounts but are still worth pursuing.


Serial publication: Analog, December 1963-February 1964 (Part I, as "Dune World"), and January-May 1965 (Parts II and III, as "The Prophet of Dune").

First edition: Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965. Price of $5.95 on upper front flap. Blue cloth boards, with white lettering to spine.

From Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors, LW Curry, 1979:

"Copyright page of the first printing of the first edition reads Copyright 1965 by Frank Herbert / First Edition / All Rights Reserved / Published in Philadelphia by Chilton Company and simultaneously in Toronto, Canada, by Ambassador Books, Ltd. / Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 65-22547 / Manufactured in the United States of America

The book has been reprinted at least once with the first edition statement retained on the copyright page, but no indication of later printing."

Curry goes on to describe the copyright page of this later printing with the First Edition statement, tentatively identified as the 5th printing. The most relevant point is that the copyright page of this later printing includes an ISBN number (0801950775); the 1965 first printing predates the use of ISBN numbers.

Dune is one of the major high spots of SF collecting, yet there appears to be a great deal of confusion in identifying the true first printing. In a recent eBay auction the seller identified the copy as a first edition in the title, though confessed in the description that it might not have been a first.

Photos clearly show a DJ with the lower corner of the inner flap clipped - where the book club id would have been. The upper corner is intact and shows no price. The book is clearly a book club edition, and to the seller's credit the auction includes statements from two eBay members positively identifying it as such. It still sold for almost $150 with 10 bids. A more realistic figure for a Fine/Fine BCE would be in the $20 to $40 range - at most. A true first printing of the Chilton hardcover with a dust jacket could sell for $2500 to $5000, if not more. Later printings of the trade edition sell for widely varying amounts, depending on which printing, price-clipped or not, condition - and apparently the phase of the moon.

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