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Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert    by Brian Herbert order for
Dreamer of Dune
by Brian Herbert
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This biography of Frank Herbert is written by his son Brian, who quotes Joseph Campbell, saying that 'the search for one's father is a major hero quest'. Brian Herbert's quest certainly resulted in a detailed and fascinating view of a contradictory man, who seems to have been creative, impulsive and romantic, but also a strict disciplinarian who was impatient, intolerant and intimidating with children (his use of a WW II lie detector on his sons is at least bizarre).

Frank Herbert was born in 1920, and announced to the world at the age of eight his intention of being an author. He was a prolific reader and a popular scout camp storyteller. His childhood and teen years were independent and adventurous; the account reminded me of Louis L'Amour's autobiography, Education of a Wandering Man. Brian Herbert ties in events and influences in his father's life to his published works, for example the fact that his Irish Catholic maternal aunts were a model for the Bene Gesserit sisterhood of Dune.

According to the author, money was always scarce. There are stories of ordering junk mail to use as fuel for the fire, and travels in Mexico in a second-hand hearse. I enjoyed the background on the writing of Dragon in the Sea (published under a variety of titles), the author's first work and one that I enjoyed even more than Dune. Apparently Frank Herbert was employed by a series of political candidates who invariably lost. He befriended fellow authors like Jack Vance, Poul Anderson and Robert Heinlein, and he lived in San Francisco in the 60s.

Brian Herbert gives an in-depth analysis of influences on the Dune series, from the origins of names to Frank Herbert's fear of charismatic leaders, and his research on the Mahdi and T. E. Lawrence. Brian mentions his, and his father's concern, about similarities that Star Wars bore to Dune - which I must say never struck me at the time, the two being so very different in style. And the author shares some of the advice that his father passed on as they grew closer and 'talked story' together, when he began to succeed as a writer himself.

It's a portrait of a brilliant, difficult man, who sounds like he was a terrible father. But what also comes across in this biography is the great romance of Frank Herbert's life - with his best friend and wife Bev - and the lengths that he went to, to support her after she contracted cancer in 1974, and during her subsequent long illness with heart problems. And though I'm sure that his son's account is partisan in many places, who would want it any other way?

If you have read Frank Herbert's works, then you'll want to read Dreamer of Dune, to glimpse the man whose passion and imagination brought such rich worlds into being.

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