BOOKS BY BRIAN HERBERT
Excerpts from DREAMER OF DUNE
For the five years previous to tackling the PRELUDE TO DUNE project with Kevin, Brian Herbert researched and wrote an exhaustive personal biography of his father, DREAMER OF DUNE. We are pleased to offer these excerpts taken from the book.
DRAGON IN THE SEA
That spring (1955) Dad received a job offer to do promotional work for the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (DFPA) in Tacoma. The position didn't pay much, but with these earnings we could afford a nicer place to live—not much of a step upward. We moved into an old ramshackle house on the tide flats of Marine View Drive, across the bay from Tacoma. The weather-beaten house, with a porch that ran around most of it, stood on a narrow stretch of land some twenty feet below the road level, reached by going down two sets of steps. Part of the structure was on pilings, and below the house was an old dock.
For his study, Dad set up a desk in what had once been the living room. This afforded him a view of the industrial waterway, filled with tugboats and log booms. Each evening after work at the DFPA and every weekend I heard his portable typewriter going constantly—a rapid, machine gun rhythm of keys.
Tacoma had long suffered a reputation for its poor air quality, known as the "Tacoma aroma." A number of pulp mills were in and around the city and the tall stack of giant smelter across the bay was visible from our house. From the dumping of arsenic, heavy metals and other industrial wastes in the ba\y, the tide flats by us had a distinctive, unpleasant aroma, especially when the tide was out.
For the six months that we lived in that house, Bruce and I slept on thin mattresses, on a pair of toboggans set up on an unheated, enclosed porch. The porch had small, square window panes in three walls and exterior siding on the common wall with the house, evidence that this had been an addition to the original structure. The toboggans, purchased secondhand by our father for reasons known only to him, were somewhat like cots in this incarnation, with pieces of leather stretched taut and secured by leather laces.
Two of Dad's science fiction short stories were published that year, "Rat Race" (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1955) and "Occupational Force" (Fantastic, August 1955). Earnings from them were minimal.
In our new house in Tacoma, with every moment of spare times, my father labored on his submarine novel. He finished the 75,000 word book UNDER PRESSURE in April 1955, and mailed t to his agent, Lurton Blasingame. It was organized into several story breaks, making it easily adaptable to serialization.
When he wrote the book, he had in mind the legendary editor at Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell. Among his other accomplishments, Campbell was a science fiction writer himself.
Frank Herbert's title, UNDER PRESSURE, had double meaning: the obvious submarine reference and the underlying psychological inference, with respect to stresses exerted on the boat crew.
In the mid-1950s, a large new medical facility was opening in Tacoma, the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. When Mom's freelance copywriting assignments ebbed, she took a part-time job with the facility, writing promotional literature for hospital fund-raising.
At the dinner table, my father sometimes spoke of writing and his attempts to sell stories, complaining about particular editors. Sometimes as he ate, he read passages he had written to my mother, from manuscript pages stacked by his plate, and asked for her opinion. She always provided it, and he would make pencil notations on the pages. At other times, Dad and Mom sat in the little living room, overlooking the tide flats, and he read short stories and chapters to her.
Only nine years before, in college, my mother had dreamed of becoming a professional writer herself. With the demands of married life, this dream was fading. Reality told her there couldn't be two creative writers in one family. How would they support a household?
In the midst of our pressing need for income, she told Dad not to worry, that if necessary she would work for department stores or wherever she had to until his writing became successful. In this and countless other ways Beverly Herbert was totally selfless, and made an incredible sacrifice—giving my father a true gift of love. She believed in his writing ability, and always said he had more talent than she did, that she only had a flair for writing.
In my mother's heart, she was sure he would become tremendously successful one day. He had such a powerful need to write, such a drive for it, that she knew she could never stand in his way, could never exert pressure on him to earn more money, at the expense of his creative potential. He wasn't happy unless he was writing.
Aside from sacrificing a creative writing career, she was giving up a traditional home life. Mom enjoyed tinkering around the house, making a snug nest out of it, but with her necessary career there was less time for this. Still she sewed, knitted, wove, crocheted, and baked pies. She made clothes for us and darned our socks. She was essentially a homebody, and might have done well as a writer working out of the house if she'd been married to anyone else—to someone who would permit her the luxury of staying home near the typewriter. Instead she was forced out of her element into the workplace, at a time when the vast majority of women did not work away from the home.
Her faith was rewarded. Within two weeks of sending UNDER PRESSURE to New York, John W. Campbell made an offer to serialize it in Astounding Science Fiction. This was a remarkable response time for an editor. Campbell's offer was four cents a word, meaning the author would receive around $2,700 net after the deduction of Lurton's 10% commission. Dad accepted right away.
Campbell asked for two synopses. He planned to run the story in three installments of around 25,000 words apiece, and synopses were needed to procede the second and third segments, filling the readers in on prior action. The serialization was scheduled to run from November 1955 through January 1956.
Lurton turned immediately toward selling the novel in book form. Walter I. Bradbury, Managing Editor of Doubleday, liked the book, and snapped it up in June 1955. This resulted in an additional $3,600 net to the author, so the book was starting to earn pretty good money for the mid-1950s. It allowed Dad to pay old debts, including some of the money owed to his ex-wife, Flora.
Doubleday was so impressed with the novel that they copyedited it right away and scheduled it for publication in February of the following year. This was one short month following the serialization in Astounding Science Fiction, the earliest possible date Doubleday could publish it. The Science Fiction Book Club also picked the title up, but only paid a small amount for the rights.
Inspired by Dad's success, Mom spent every available moment writing a 64,000 word mystery novel, FRIGHTEN THE MOTHER. It was dispatched to Lurton in the summer of 1955. While he like portions of it, he felt the manuscript needed more work, and told her it was not ready for submission to publishers. Dejected, Mom set it aside. She didn't have Dad's perseverance.
THE FAMILY CAR
In late August 1955, Dad decided it was time to get rid of our rickety old car, a Dodge, in favor of more reliable transportation. He became aware of a most unusual set of wheels that was being advertised for sale by a funeral home in Tacoma. Terms were agreed to, and my parents purchased a used hearse for $300. A 1940 Cadillac LaSalle, it only had 19,000 miles on it. Dad wrote an unpublished 1,000-word piece about the vehicle, which he entitled, "The Invisible Car." In explanation of the title, he wrote:
Nobody looks at a hearse unless he absolutely has to. They see you, but they don't look. The eyes refuse to change focus. There's no glimmer of recognition.
Our "car" was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I hadn't even been familiar with the word "hearse," but soon learned the meaning. I don't recall being that surprised. After all, I slept on a toboggan, while other kids had beds. How was this so unusual? Dad claimed the big heavy vehicle got 27 miles per gallon on some stretches of road. My father was known to exaggerate on occasion, but he held firm on this.
The front compartment smelled of dust and old leather. A little electric fan sat on the dashboard, and a cracked leather seat stretched across the front—a seat that was, as Dad wrote, "as darkly blue-black as a pallbearer's suit." A pair of small glass sliding windows separated this compartment from the rear, so that anyone groaning inside a coffin probably could not be heard.
When we went for our first Sunday drive, Dad took the wheel and Mom rode shotgun. As she smoked her usual Lucky Strikes, she rolled her window down so that smoke could escape. My brother Bruce and I fidgeted in the back while our father recounted macabre one-liner jokes, laughing lugubriously. A week after acquiring the vehicle, Mom announced, "You aren't going to school here in September, Brian. Your father and I will tutor you in Mexico."
We were going to Mexico in the hearse.
The hearse, which became like a van or panel truck to our family, was black, with big rounded front fenders. It had chapel-shaped doors and pewter scrolls and candelabra on the sides of the rear compartment. Dad painted the top silver, concurring with Mom's opinion that it would reflect tropical heat better than the original black. He and Mom also painted the chapel doors bright yellow, just for fun. This would distinguish the vehicle (they thought) from a normal working hearse.
While making preparations for the trip, Dad enjoyed driving around Tacoma in a dark suit, impersonating an undertaker. At the Cadillac dealership, where he had the car checked and tuned up, he forced the service manager to shake his hand. To his glee, he noticed the fellow then wiped his hand on his coveralls, assuming the man with the hearse had been handling bodies. So Dad fiendishly maneuvered another handshake with the poor fellow, and soon afterward saw him make a bee-line for the washroom.
Frank Herbert was not a patient man. In restaurants while waiting for food, he often turned into a grouchy bear. To his delight he discovered that restaurant operators were uncomfortable with a hearse parked outside, and set everything else aside to get food for the driver. Hearses in front of restaurants brought to mind images of food poisoning … of salmonella, ptomaine, hepatitis, and choking on chicken bones. Maybe the mortician was picking up someone who'd been unfortunate enough to eat there.
"Wouldn't you prefer take-out, sir?" one manager asked, after Dad went in and requested a table. The manager glanced nervously outside at the hearse, parked by the front door.
"No, thank you," Dad replied, in a halting voice. "My doctor says I need to slow down. I wouldn't want to end up …" He cast a sidelong glance at the hearse. "Well, you know!"
Even fast food drive-in restaurants accelerated when he drove up. He and Mom liked fried chicken from one take-out place in Tacoma, and over a couple of weeks he pulled up to the window several times, to order either two or four complete chicken dinners. It reached the point where he saw employees running around inside before he even reached the window! Someone would see him pulling in, and the order would go out for chicken. Fast!
Around this time, Dad was waiting at a stoplight in the right hand lane of a four lane road, an event he described in "The Invisible Car":
Up from behind came a hot rod packed with eight teenagers. They turned the corner behind me on two wheels thundered to a stop in the lane at my left. I looked down, met eight pairs of staring eyes.
"Drive carefully," I said, voice sepulcher.
The light turned green.
Gently, with the most delicate and sedate application of throttle, they eased across the intersection.
I chose that moment to prove the Invisible Car would go from stop to 65 in nine seconds.
The Tacoma News Tribune ran a story on us, with a wonderful photo of Mom and Dad standing in front of the family car. Dad wore a short-sleeved blue and white striped shirt and smirked as he looked directly into the camera. Mom, with her hair cut stylishly short, wore her favorite colors, an emerald green blouse with a matching green and white skirt. She was smiling, but in her shy way, not looking at the camera.
Into the big heavy vehicle we loaded double-wall cardboard boxes and trunks of our personal property, stacking them up to the bottom of the little sliding glass windows that separated the front and rear compartments. We took an old green Elna sewing machine, a pair of Olympia typewriters, several boxes of typing paper, two footlockers that had been up Kelly Butte by mule, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, tools and spare parts for the car, tape recordings of my parents' favorite music, fishing gear, camera equipment, toys, clothes … and maybe even a kitchen sink somewhere in the midst. Dad brought a complete medical kit, with antibiotics, hypodermics, tourniquets and snake bite paraphernalia, as well as several brand-new medical books, including CECIL'S TEXTBOOK OF MEDICINE and the MERCK MANUAL.
On top of our belongings, Dad placed a layer of DFPA plywood, and above that several soft blankets. Bruce and I rode back there, with lots of room. I had my dog with me, my best buddy, and he scrambled around happily, licking our faces. In "The Invisible Car," Dad referred to our hearse as "a traveling arena, a wrestling mat with wheels."
Dad installed a top rack on the hearse, where we carried a spare tire. Two gray canvas water bags were tied to the grill, draped across the front.
Since we were moving out of the rental house, arrangements had to be made for every article of personal property we owned. Items were sold or donated to charity, books were left in storage with friends.
On the September morning that we set out, Dad was in an incredibly good mood, singing and making witty quips about road signs. Whenever he saw a sign that read, "Stop Ahead," he exclaimed, "Stop! A head in the road!"
Dad did all the driving, since Mom was afraid to drive and didn't have a license. As the days wore on, he grew tired and increasingly testy, largely because Dusty was not waiting for rest stops to do his doggy duty. Instead he picked a corner in the back, and by the second day a distinct, unpleasant aroma wafted from that vicinity. His feces and urine had soaked through the blanket, and some got around the plywood onto our things below.
By the time we reached Ralph and Irene Slattery's place in Sonoma, California, Mom and Dad had endured enough of Dusty. They arranged to leave him with the Slatterys.
The hearse had a tendency to slip out of low gear, from having constantly been driven in first gear during funeral processions. Dad had to hold the gear shift down at times to keep it from popping out of place. Sometimes when Dad wanted to keep the hearse in low gear he had Bruce or me hold the gear shift down, pressing on it so that it wouldn't slip. It was a "three on a tree" shift on the right side of the steering column.
I remember warm California and Southwest nights on the highway, with my parents' heads silhouetted against low evening light, from headlights on the road. There were flea-bitten motel rooms with no air conditioning and the windows left open. Crickets sang outside, and I smelled dry grass, cattle, fertilizers, and warm, sweltering earth.
At the border, the Mexican officers performed a cursory inspection of our belongings. Luckily they didn't remove the door panels, or they would have discovered Dad's concealed automatic pistol, which he carried for protection.
As our hearse rolled through Mexico on its journey south, some devout Catholics fell to their knees or held straw hats over their hearts. They undoubtedly thought we were carrying a poor departed soul on its final earthly journey. As soon as we left the first village in which this occurred, and were on the open highway, Dad and Mom broke out laughing. They laughed so hard that tears streamed down their faces, and Dad had to pull the car over.
We didn't have much money with us, only around $3,000 in U.S. currency and travelers' checks. But prices were so low that we could live quite well, much better than in the United States. Some of the Mexican hotels in which we stayed were almost palatial, with floral-decked central patios and fine furnishings.
Dad was sure he would be able to write in Mexico to boost our monetary reserve, though years later he would refer to this belief as founded in myth. One day he would become a student of modern mythology—involved in studies that were linked, inextricably, with individual and mass psychology. Myths were all around us, he said. The myth of owning a sailboat or a ranch, for example, or of being a great writer without having to work hard at the craft.
Or the idyllic myth he found himself seeking now: Frank Herbert envisioned himself in a remote tropical village, pounding out a literary masterpiece on a manual typewriter.
He'd sold several short stories in 1954. There were less short story sales in 1955, but that year he made the important novel sale, UNDER PRESSURE. And before leaving for Mexico, he received word from his agent that a movie producer was interested in the book.
We passed through the bustling shopping town of Toluca, just west of Mexico City, then followed a highway northwest. Our destination was the mountain village of Tlalpujahua, in the state of Michoacan. This had been recommended by Mike Cunningham, an American friend with whom we had rendezvoused in the last few days. He was ahead of us in his old wood-paneled station wagon, kicking up clouds of dust on a long dirt road leading to the village.
Near Tlalpujahua the road narrowed and jungle closed in around us. A number of houses dotted the overgrowth, in tiny carved-out clearings. Some were tin-roofed shacks while others were constructed of more sturdy adobe, with tile roofs. Some had outdoor kitchens in the form of lean-to arrangements against the houses. I smelled the acrid odor of cookfires from the burning of dry brush, grass and burro dung. Daylight faded and we arrived in Tlalpujahua after dark, checking into a small hotel.
Soon we rented a one-story adobe and white stucco house with a wrought iron gate and a heavy, carved wooden door. It was set up in a U-shaped arrangement of rooms around a central outdoor courtyard. The fourteen-room home belonged to Seņorita Francisca Aguilar, a large woman known as "Seņorita Panchita." Since costs were so low, we could afford to hire a maid, a live-in cook, and a gardener.
Almost every day, Dad wrote from early in the morning until early afternoon. From 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., he liked to take a siesta, an afternoon nap that by practical custom prevented people from going out in the hottest part of the day.
Each day, Mom set up her own portable typewriter on the dining room table and worked on revisions to her mystery novel, FRIGHTEN THE MOTHER. She didn't put in as many hours as Dad, since she spent more time than he in managing household affairs, including the household help and the children. Unfortunately, she was having trouble with the story.
When my parents' work was finished for the day they enjoyed taking walks through town together. I remember playing marbles and looking up to see them across the street holding hands and talking. They waved to me and smiled, and went on their way. They had a spot they liked to visit at sunset, where they could look across the burnt orange tile roofs of the town at a magnificent sky filled with color.
As in every other place we lived, the mail was critically important to my father. Here it was more essential than ever, since we had no telephone. Contract offers, documents and checks were expected to arrive in the mail, he told us, and for that reason all mail was to be treated with extreme care. We got to know our mailman, Jesus Chako, very well. A slender, affable man, he was always courteous. When he delivered a check one day in payment for an article Dad had written ($125 U.S.) my father said to my mother, "Jesus brings manna from Heaven!"
A mail snafu occurred despite Frank Herbert's tight controls, when Doubleday mailed the galley proof on UNDER PRESSURE to our previous address in Tacoma, and it wasn't forwarded to us in Mexico. Consequently, a duplicate galley had to be mailed to Dad. This became a matter of extreme urgency due to the publisher's schedule, so the moment Dad had the galley, he worked without sleep until it was corrected and in the mail back to New York.
Doubleday did not like the title UNDER PRESSURE, and asked the author for an alternate. He preferred the original title, but suggested THE DRAGON IN THE SEA nonetheless, which was used for the hardcover Doubleday edition.
In many respects the new title was superior, for the mythology it suggested. There is an ancient Chinese legend concerning a ferocious, terrifying "dragon that lives in the sea." The Bible (Isaiah 27:1) contains a similar description: "… and (the Lord) shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." These passages, particularly the latter for Western readers, added subconscious depth and meaning to the title.
In my father's tale, the "dragon" was a nuclear-powered subtug that transported precious oil through wartime waters, a craft that guarded the cargo against anyone who would harm it. This craft was reminiscent of mythological beasts of legend guarding a great treasure.
The mythology of such beasts was described by Sir James George Frazer in his massive 19th century magnum opus, THE GOLDEN BOUGH, one of my father's favorite and most closely studied works. Frazer described the golden fleece of the sacred ram sacrificed to Zeus, given by Phrixus to his wife's father and nailed to an oak tree, where it was guarded by a dragon that never slept. In BEOWULF, also read by my father, a ferocious fire dragon occupied a lair under the cliffs at the edge of the sea, guarding a great treasure hoard.
This theme would later become central to Frank Herbert's DUNE, a world in which massive and ferocious sandworms guarded the greatest treasure in the universe, the spice melange. As in THE DRAGON IN THE SEA, the treasure was beneath the surface of a planet.
Oil and melange were alike, because whoever controlled the precious limited resource controlled the known universe, as described in each novel.
Copyright 2008 The Herbert Limited Partnership