Book Reviews    April 6, 2015     Eric Larkin

This is what happens when you Google “Frank Herbert” and select “Image”.

There’s the famous photo that has been on the back of every edition of Dune and its sequels I’ve ever seen. There it is, top center and left middle and corner – Frank Herbert as Russian Playwright. It’s a classic. There’s Visionary Frank, bottom right corner. There’s Popped-collar Frank, dead center – a mash-up of Hemingway and Roy Batty – and to his left, Chief Justice Frank. Doting Uncle Frank, in the warm peach ambience just below that and towards the left, and Kick-Your-Ass Frank bottom row, towards the left- yes, same guy. Hipster Frank hoists a can of Milwaukee’s Finest. Soup Kitchen Frank in the upper right corner and Frank as My Dad On a Saturday Morning, center right, in the t-shirt. Frank Herbert is Everyman. Just look at that name: Frank Herbert. Seriously. May as well be Jim Fred or Bob Mike.

This tabula rasa of personality is reflected in The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert, especially if you’ve only met Dune Frank. Master of worms and jihad, he can do everything else, too. He can… uh … dammit – what’s the verb for “chameleon” without any nuance of “copy cat”? Match? Emulate? Parallel? Whatever it is, he does that for everything from Isaac Asimov to Philip K Dick (ah – there’s another name), Star Trek to Twilight Zone. Versatility, man. You see a playful side, like the Religion Of The Month Club, “Subscribe now and get these religions absolutely FREE! Complete text of the Black Mass plus Abridged Mysticism!” Or a ravenous, 600 kg, built-for-the-kill alien bug tramps through the jungle with one thought:  “What happened to my birthday party?”  From straight rocket-n-laser adventures to high concept techno-geekery, his range is incredible. And the ideas….

Each container held twenty female rabbits. In the rabbit uteri, dormant, their metabolism almost at a standstill, lay two hundred human embryos nestled with embryos of cattle, all the domestic stock needed to start a new human economy. With the rabbits went plant seeds, insect eggs and design tapes for tools. The containers were rigged to fold out onto the planet’s surface to provide a shielded living area. There the embryos would be machine-transferred into inflatable gestation vats, brought to full term, cared for and educated by mechanicals until the human seed could fend for itself.

So cool. And this is way before “plan B” in Interstellar.  Even in his short stories, his world building is as grand as it is intimate; his characters are as likely to be in danger from alien codes of etiquette as from bug-eyed monsters.

These stories date from between 1952 and 1979, during the conception, gestation, growth of the Dune universe. Without getting into a chicken or egg thing, how about a semi-secret society of women and/or vast religious organ working to redirect the path of civilization? Sound familiar? “The Tactful Saboteur” and “A Matter of  Traces” are from the Consentiency Universe, of the novels The Dosadi Experiment and Whipping Star – so, you get a good dose of Jorj X McKie, Saboteur Extraordinary. Also here are the four stories which form the basis for the novel The Godmakers, featuring I-A agent Lewis Orne. This intergalactic  Carnivale wraps up with the never-before-published “The Daddy Box”, which reads like one of the good episodes of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories.

Note: Frank Herbert was a Buddhist. What is it about Buddhism and sci-fi, Mr. Lucas?


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