When I look back on my first published novel, a lot comes to mind. Sidney’s Comet is the only one of my fictional works that my mother read, before she passed away of lung cancer in 1984. It was also a novel that enabled me to become close to my legendary father Frank Herbert, since he critiqued it. In Dreamer of Dune, my biography of him, I wrote of his love story with my mother Beverly, of my journey to understand this complex father, and of his own remarkable writing career. As I wrote in that biography, I did not always get along with him, since he was such a disciplinarian and he spent so much time in his study creating his great novels. For me, Sidney’s Comet became a bridging work. The writing process helped me to understand him better, and it set me on the course of a fascinating new career as an author.

The novel is semi-autobiographical, since it depicts a character who feels oppressed by his career. At the time of the book’s first publication (1983), I was in the insurance business, but I dreamed of a more interesting and glamorous life, a longing I instilled in the main character of the story, Sidney Malloy. In the tradition of science fiction, I also extrapolated and took my concepts to extremes. Thus I put Sidney in a malaise, forcing him to engage in “job-sharing” where the tasks of a solitary position are shared with hundreds of other workers. He also lives in a world of overindulgence and rampant consumer consumption, so that garbage and even bodies must be catapulted into deep space.

I had written other novels before this one, but they had not gone far beyond the confines of my study. Concerning one of those stories, my father gave me bad news. It seems that I had written a plot that was too similar to “Soylent Green,” even though I had never seen the Charlton Heston movie prior to that. Dismayed, I had to set all of my work aside. Afterward I wrote an entirely new novel about consumer consumption gone amok. But again I stumbled, since I had not read the 1952 classic The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. When my agent pointed out the similarities (my title was even The Dream Merchants), I decided to tear the story apart and completely rewrite it.

Working hard to be as original as possible, I then came up with a concept of catapulting garbage from consumer products into outer space . . . and for the technology I studied scientific information on mass driver systems. Because I wanted to include an ecological message, I went on to depict a fiery comet filled with garbage that was coming back from outer space -- heading toward Earth like an avenging angel that did not want us to litter the cosmos. My title became Sidney’s Comet, since my central character Sidney Malloy -- against all odds -- was the only person who could possibly save the planet. Now I had something unique, linked to my own experiences and to my view of society.

During the writing process I went to my father for help on several occasions, at the suggestion of my wife, Jan. She thought that Dad and I might become closer in the process, and she proved to be right, as we eventually became best friends. At one point, after rewriting Sidney’s Comet extensively, I thought it was pretty good. Dad was living in Hawaii at the time, so I shipped the manuscript off to him, more than 300 pages. He agreed that the story was coming along well, and mailed back several pages he had marked up, along with a sagacious comment: “This shows you how editing tightens the story. Go now and do likewise.” I followed his advice, and also added more material, to flesh out the story more.

To my delight a major American publisher quickly accepted Sidney’s Comet for publication, and another one picked it up in the United Kingdom. The novel also received a glowing review from the prestigious Publishers Weekly, in which they said my work was “unusually inventive and original.” (Finally, I was original!) In the two decades that have passed since then, the novel has withstood the test of time. On numerous occasions, I have noticed how other writers and film makers have been influenced by ideas from Sidney’s Comet, and they have even done their own satires of it. Fine compliments, indeed.

This satirical novel is not intended to be trivial. Some aspects of it might make you chuckle, but my father taught me that the entertainment must come first, with important messages immersed into the tale. . . .

Brian Herbert
Seattle, Washington
July 7, 2006


Special Dedication for the new edition of Sidney’s Comet

It was a warm day in July of 2006. I had just completed a novel (The Web and the Stars), but I was still rushing around the house, getting some papers together. Accustomed to seeing me like this, my wife Jan asked, “What are you doing now?” To that I answered, “Oh, I’m writing introductions for two of my novels that are being reprinted, and doing other things I didn’t get around to while I was working on my novel.” With a gentle smile, Jan pointed to herself and said, “I’m one of those things.”

My darling Jan, for your infinite patience, understanding, and love, this book is dedicated to you. As you know, Sidney’s Comet was my first novel, so it has many fond memories for both of us. In your amazing way -- focusing me on what is important in life - - you have just added another memory.

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