Friday, June 1, 2007

Frank Herbert Remembered

In the late Sixties, I was an educational film writer in Seattle, where science fiction author Frank Herbert was still making his steady living as a newspaperman. (Dune had been published, but had not yet become recognized as a modern sf classic and model of ecological awareness.) One short documentary--I hadn't written it but was producing--required an outside expert on environmental matters, and somehow King Screen Productions found Frank. Working together on the film led to us progressing from slight acquaintances to casual friends.

Frank and I were both living atop Queen Anne Hill in those days, and one winter’s night a year or so later, Seattle was experiencing such near-blizzard conditions that I was forced to park at the base of that steep, half-mile-climb hill and then proceed to hike up and over to my house a mile away, arms laden with bags of groceries. After several blocks of slipping and falling in the blowing, 10" inch-deep snow, I finally staggered onto Frank and Bev’s porch and into their living room, exhausted and half-frozen. They cheerfully warmed and fed me, and finally I was able to stagger on for the last several blocks home.

Later the Herberts came to my house for a sort-of payback dinner--enchiladas, frijoles, and guacamole that I prepared--and after the meal and some great sobremesa conversation (did we have margaritas too?), Frank studied the bookshelves, found my copy of Dune--only a paperback, but at least I had it there at the right moment!--took it down and inscribed it with a friendly message that also kidded me about "being so Mexican."

Frank and Bev soon moved over to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where they constructed an early attempt at a self-sustaining "green" home, using a tall windmill as well as solar batteries to generate their electricity, for example. Frank was also proud of his live chickens, free-ranging before that term was introduced (I think), there to eat the bugs and supply chickenshit for... fuel, was it? He had big ideas, as any fan of the Dune books knows!

We saw each other less frequently then, but I did conduct interviews with him for a couple of magazines as his reputation grew. And long before the movie of Dune ever appeared I also adapted with Frank's approval a portion of that novel--Paul’s exhilarating first worm ride--as a comic book story for a Marvel Comics b&w sf magazine, but poor art guaranteed its failure. Yet pause to consider that the heroic people of Arrakis, in a resistance movement often resorting to terrorist measures, seem to be descended from Arabs.

Increasing fame, movie deals and such, plus Bev’s cancer, diagnosed as terminal, finally led to their departure from the Northwest. I know they tried cancer cures in Mexico and then wound up in Hawaii, but we lost touch. Thinking critically now, I believe Frank should have stopped the Dune series after the third book, but it's hard to argue with such huge success; and I believe the Herberts likely needed all the money they could gather in the face of approaching death.

Anyway, Frank Herbert was a fine man, genial and thoughtful, and clearly ahead of his time. His like is not to be seen in these sad days of global warming, global economics, and yet another now-global war.

Makes you wonder if Arrakis might not be our future too...


Anonymous said...

Another nice piece. Thanks.

firstofmany said...

thank you for sharing your memories of Frank Herbert. We moved to Port Townsend a few years ago and have had a few people mention that they used to see him in town. Now I am curious where on the peninsula he had his farming project.

Anonymous said...

His EDP (Ecological Demonstration Project) was on his property at 2145 Ivy St. outside the town center. The 6 acres was adequate for his project which included: methane for cooking and heating produced from chicken manure, solar and windmill power for electricity and water, composting food waste for fertilizer for food production including orchard and greenhouse growing, and sustainable small scale forestry for firewood.