All Abut Dune and Franks' Interviews


Prelude to Dune


Bantam Books purchased the rights to a prequel trilogy to DUNE, written by Frank Herbert's son Brian (an acclaimed science fiction novelist in his own right) and internationally bestselling author, Kevin J. Anderson. These novels will be based in part o Frank Herbert's unpublished notes as well as conversations he had with his son. Putnam, the original publisher of the DUNE series, had the option on the project; they made a pre-emptive seven-figure bid for the trilogy, which Simon & Schuster then topped, and Bantam topped that, with what is believed to be the largest single scienc fiction contract in publishing history. Agents for the deal were Robert Gottlieb and Matt Bialer of the William Morris Agency, and Mary-Alice Kier of the Cine/Lit Agency. The trilogy -- HOUSE ATREIDES, HOUSE HARKONNEN, and THE SPICE WAR -- is an immediate prequel going back to the heart of DUNE's readership, to the core characters and situations that made this the best-selling science fiction novel of all time: The love tory of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica, their first battles with Baron Harkonnen, the planetologist Kynes sent to the desert world of Dune to investigate the precious spice and the sandworms and the Fremen . . . and the power-hungry Crown Prince Shaddam, wh would do anything to secure the Imperial throne. The first novel, HOUSE ATREIDES, is completed and will be published in hardcover in October 1999. Brian and Kevin are currently writing HOUSE HARKONNEN. We expect the PRELUDE TO DUNE Trilogy to reach a worldwide audience, read by DUNE fans everywhere. T date, the prequel trilogy has been accepted for British publication by Hodder & Stoughton (with HOUSE ATREIDES due to be released in September 1999). French publication will be by Editions Laffont, Italian publication by Mondadori, and abridged audio c ssette (simultaneous with U.S. hardcover release) by Bantam Doubleday Dell. Unabridged audio versions of all three books will be released by Books on Tape. (Books on Tape also has unabridged editions of DUNE, DUNE MESSIAH, and CHILDREN OF DUNE available )



Vertex Interviews Frank Herbert

interviewer / Paul Turner

October 1973

Volume 1, Issue 4

VERTEX: What got you started in science fiction?

VERTEX: Had you been reading science fiction before that?

HERBERT: Well, I didn't cut my teeth on science fiction. I began reading science fiction, I would guess, in the forties, the early forties. I'd been reading science fiction about ten years before I decided to write it.

VERTEX: Who were your favorite authors?

HERBERT: Well, I did read some Heinlein. I shouldn't really tie it down to ten years because I had read H. G. Wells. I'd read Vance, Jack Vance, and I became acquainted with Jack Vance about that time. Jack came along about six months or so after I'd dec ided to write science fiction. I heard he was in the area where I was living, and just walked in on him one day. We wound up, about six months later, our two families, going to Mexico. We lived in Mexico for a while and plotted several stories together. We're still very close friends. I read Poul Anderson. You know, we could list names here for a long while. I read the field when I started writing it. I wanted to see what was being done.

VERTEX: What were you doing at the time you started writing science fiction?

HERBERT:I was a newspaper editor, but I was also writing fiction. I was writing short stories. I decided very early I was going to write fiction. I came down to my birthday breakfast on my eighth birthday and announced, formally and portentously, to my f amily that I was going to be an author. My mother still treasures several hand-scribbled, badly misspelled, early eight-year-old attempts at fiction. One of them doesn't have a bad lead on it. Even now I can appreciate that I had the sense to put a narra tive hook on the beginning of a story. even at age eight.

VERTEX: Dune is probably your most well-known science fiction novel.


VERTEX: What caused you to write Dune?

HERBERT: Well, I had been nurturing the idea to write a treatment of the messianic impulse in human society for a long while, and my technique is to collect material. I collect file folders of material. A character idea interests me, and I put that in a folder appropriately labeled. Along the way I went to Florence, Oregon, to do an article about the U. S. Department of Agriculture's test station there, on the control of sand dunes. The U. S. pioneered in the control of sand dunes by planting specially developed grasses and other plants to hold a dune in the wind. You see, a sand dune is just a kind of fluid, only it takes longer for it to move. It creates waves that, when you see them from the air, are analogous to waves m a sea.

VERTEX: A slow-motion sea.

HERBERT: Yes, that's right. So, I did this magazine article and I started collecting material on the control of sand dunes. That lead me into ecological matters what we were doing to the planet. One day I woke up to the fact that I had a filing drawer fu ll and that I just couldn't do anything else but write that book. So I sat down and I plotted a much longer work than Dune.

VERTEX: Dune is a pretty long work to begin with.

HERBERT:I know! It was much longer. I cut it up into three parts, and held out more than a third of it for the first book. I sat down and took about a year and a half putting it together, writing it. My reports from the New York market were very poor and my treatment by some of the publishers back there was just outrageous. Then I went back, even before I knew that Dune was being so successful, and wrote Dune Messiah, which was planned as a pivotal book, pointing both backward and forward, because I had a long range concept of the treatment of this messianic impulse in huma n society. I'm at work on the third and last one, which will probably turn out to be as long as Dune. How soon I can finish it, I don't know, because life and other immediate and urgent jobs keep intruding. But I'll get to it and I'll get it out, probabl y this year.

VERTEX: Do you have a title for it?

HERBERT: No. I have a working title, but I try not to talk about work in progress. My advice to any writer is not to use the energies of creation in talking about what he's working on; put it into the typewriter. You use the same energies to talk about y our work that you use to write it. So I'm very cagey on these things, very secretive, and I hold all this back and then when I sit down at the typewriter it sort of pours out.

VERTEX: Talking about your technique, are there any special requirements that you use to write? For instance, do you need special environments?

HERBERT: Oh, I think we all need special environments for various things we do. A writer needs time, uninterrupted time, with the tools of his trade: paper and a writing instrument of some kind. Jack Vance uses pencil or pen. I think he has a rather inte resting technique. He uses various colored pens; he has a dish of them beside him. When he gets tired of blue he writes with green, or red, or orange, or black. I use a typewriter. I think that's the newspaper training. I learned to type at about age fou rteen and I touch-type. You train the thoughts to come out of the ends of your fingers in this particular mechanical way. I think you get a kinesthetic link right through the body. The thought comes into your head and goes right through your hands onto t he paper, you see. So I need a place where I can sit down and not be interrupted for at least four hours a day, or six, and often much more.

VERTEX: Do you write long hours when you get inspired?

HERBERT: Oh, I don't wait for inspiration. I just sit down and work at creating the thing that has interested me from the start. The three books of the Dune series still interest me very much because of the way these impulses form in the organism we call human society.

VERTEX: There've been a lot of changes in our human society, our human culture, since you first wrote Dune. Are you incorporating these changes?

HERBERT: Oh, yes. The book is being changed by experience. A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes eve n longer. I'd much rather go fishing. for example. or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write." There's no difference on paper between the two.

VERTEX: That sounds like it might stem from your early newspaper experience, where you had to write regardless of the conditions or how you felt.

HERBERT: Yeah, you sit down and you just have conditioned yourself to: now it's writing time and you have a deadline sitting out there somewhere and you're going to do the very best you can right here at this moment: and so You do It.

VERTEX: What other things are you writing now, besides the last of the Dune novels?

HERBERT: Well, I've been doing the narrative script for a documentary about the navy demonstration flight team, the Blue Angels. It attracted me because it wasn't a conventional documentary; it wasn't just 'here we're going to do some groovy things flyin g.'' I am a pilot. so I was interested from the flying point of view, but I was also interested he cause here were these fellows flying very hot aircraft and doing extraordinary things with them, and it struck me that they didn't really know what they we re doing. They knew flying; they knew they were doing a great thing and they were getting all this elation out of it, but they didn't understand their relationship to themselves and the airplane and the rest of the world. What they were demonstrating to people was that a human being could actually do these really extraordinary things: flying two aircraft towards each other, for example, at a closing speed of eighteen hundred feet a second. You think about that eighteen hundred feet a second And pass wit hin three feet of each other. They train themselves so that the aircraft flies them as much as they are flying it, only we had to tell them that they were doing this. They thought they were controlling the aircraft, you see. The idea of absolute control is a hang up of Western culture. It is built into our language; it's part of the verb (o be: "Well, you either do it or you don't!" It's the old Cartesian dichotomy--the separation between body and mind. Well, there is no separation between body and mind .

VERTEX:You talked earlier about the world culture, a composite of all the cultures on the Earth. Apparently you've thought about this at some length. Do you see lines, trends, things that are common to all cultures, a trend that this culture is following now?

HERBERT: Well, I don't see trends if you're thinking of "where are we going,'' but I see many, many influences which are going to be mutually interactive, creating something new. Of course, you can talk then about certain things that are going to happen. I think that, barring a tremendous breakthrough in energy sources. which is always a possibility (it's our hope, our belief in miracles, you see), we are going to see animal dieback in human populations in some areas of the world. Specifically, in at le ast one area, I have other areas in mind, but the island of Java, which I visited last summer, now has a population of more than 80 million effectively living on land which is about the size of one-third of the state of Washington . . . 80 million people . They have urban density in the countryside. Now, they do not occupy all of the available land on Java, all of the available surface, but some of it is non-usable for human purposes under present circumstances. So, again barring some tremendous breakthr ough in energy and food sources, an animal dieback will happen there because they are doing nothing about their growing population. They still have one of the largest population growth rates in the world. Now, and let's be conservative about it, if they double their population before the year 2000 that land will not be able to support them with present energy sources. It is barely able to support them now. So they are very close to a crash, to a population crash. Now, I think that the rest of the world will effectively be helpless in the face of it. You could not get enough food there and if you did you would only exacerbate the problem if you just gave food.

VERTEX: Why is that?

HERBERT: Because the pressures on a society, the pressures of danger, including the pressures of starvation, tend to increase the population. There is a thrust of procreation.

VERTEX: That's what happens during war times.

HERBERT: Yes, we come out of a war with more population than when we go into it, despite the losses in the war. So I am predicting that Java is going to experience a population dieback, a population crash, within at most fifteen years. That's going to ha ve one hell of an effect on the rest of the planet. Not just the inability to cope with it in conventional terms; that is, produce food and give it to them, or whatever. But people are then going to look inward. at their own populations. Whole societies are going to look inward at their own efforts. I really believe that what we popularly call 'the change in morality.' that is, sex as recreation rather than procreation, is a social effort to cope with the necessity to limit the population and still deal with sexual drives.

VERTEX:So it's a high speed evolution.

HERBERT: Yes, I see it that way. Japan has been able to deal with its rate of growth rather dramatically. I see the same sort of thing happening in the United States. I do not see the same sort of thing happening in Muslim countries or in Latin America. Latin America is another area we want to look at in this respect, where the potential of population crashes exists because they are failing to deal with the problems in the face of the necessity to do so. If they do not limit population they must find ot her ways to deal with the increase, you see.

VERTEX:To get back to science fiction, what do you feel is the role of science fiction? Do you feel that science fiction can help, or is helping to solve some of these problems?

HERBERT:I think science fiction does help, and it points in very interesting directions. It points in relativistic directions. It says that we have the imagination for these other opportunities, these other choices. We tend to tie ourselves down to limit ed choices. We say, "Well, the only answer is...." or, "If you would just. . . ." Whatever follows these two statements narrows the choices right there. It gets the vision right down close to the ground so that you don't see anything happening outside. H umans tend not to see over a long range. Now we are required, in these generations, to have a longer range view of what we inflict on the world around us. This is where, I think, science fiction is helping. I don't think that the mere writing of such a b ook as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction. We may be contriving a strictly controlled police culture. B. F. Skinner worries the hell out of me. He is right out of Huxley. He is standing there like a small boy saying, "Please let me have a world like this because I feel safe in it!" He is saying, "I want to control it." He may be very accurate in his asse ssment that our total society is going in that direction and that maybe he is opting for the lesser of numerous evils, in his view. But what kind of a society would that produce?

VERTEX: We'd like to touch on some of the personal aspects of your life. You mentioned earlier that some of your hobbies included electronics. What are some of the other things that you do for recreation?

HERBERT:I like to do cabinetry; I like to do things with my hands when I'm not writing. I feel that I'm getting as far away as I conveniently can from the activity of sitting at a typewriter and putting words on paper by doing these other things. It's he lpful to me; it's a kind of a catharsis. I garden. I have six and a half acres in the northeast corner of the Olympic peninsula in the state of Washington. I am in the process of developing what, I hope, will be a demonstration plot of land in which the demonstration will be that one can live a relatively high quality of life without an enormous, irreplaceable energy drain. I am going to do some hand work on the land. I shovel dirt and move rocks. I am in the process of creating a very small lake/pond/marsh combination by staggering the depth of it. I am going to plant wild rice and a new upland rice which has been developed for high altitude use in the Phillipine Islands. I am not one of those people who believes in the "hot" gospel of ecology that man should keep his hands off the land. I b elieve that when he changes the land he ought to do it with an eye to the future, and with a little loving care so that when he has finished changing the land something is there that is more sustaining than what was there before. I will be able to plant trout in this pond and frogs and that sort of thing. It will attract birds that feed on the rice. That's why I'm planting it there. I'm going to build a kind of meeting house there--a guest house for friends to come m and have seminars and that sort of t hing so that we can rap and exchange ideas. I hope to build it out of stabilized adobe, which is a very fine insulating material. As I dig the adobe out of the ground it will provide me with a basement in this guest house. Some of the land we scoop back for this lake-cum-pond will also provide us with adobe. I felt I had to put my hands where my mouth was. I was going around speaking about these things and it's one thing to say, "We ought to be doing," and it's another thing to just go ahead and do it a nd say, "Well, this is the way I think we ought to do it and here is the example. I wasn't right about this aspect of it. I found that to do this particular thing my original approach had to be modified this way." This is what we always find out when we get our hands dirty. The element of doing it always teaches us much more. That is one of the hangups of education. You wanted to know more about my personal life I've been teaching at the University of Washington up until the last quarter. Now I've taken a two year leave.

VERTEX: What courses were you teaching?

HERBERT:I was teaching a lecture course called Utopia/Dystopia, which was an examination of the myth of the better life; how we carry it in our heads. We don't do anything without resorting to this myth: growing hair on our faces, our choice of friends, the clothing we wear, the kind of government we choose, who we say is the best leader, who we say is a bad leader. We don't go into a voting booth without taking this myth with us.

VERTEX: Have you developed the course materials for this?

HERBERT:I developed the course materials. It struck me that academe is far gone down this long road of "education can be done with power." Now, all of academe is not down there. We have many, many beautiful people in education who manage to work in spite of the administrative power intrusions. But when you come right down to it, a school is a "person" who has information which works. He can demonstrate that it works and it is people who want to do what this person does. They want to learn how to make th ings work that way.

VERTEX:Do you enjoy teaching this course?

HERBERT:I enjoy it. I teach it on the basis of pass/fail. I have to grade for the system, but I give everybody an 'A'. Grading intrudes on education. It's quite obvious that we are an unique and different species. That being a sexually reproduced species , we are not all equal. Not in our abilities, our desires, or anything else. Each of us is one-of-a-kind. This happens in a class too. There are people with certain capabilities in one direction which, if you developed a measuring system in that directio n, you could say are better than others; but this effectively blocks what you can learn from everyone in the class. Class ought to be a place where teachers learn too. I have what I think is a very effective way of measuring whether people are getting an ything that I have to give in a class situation, and that's whether I'm getting anything from them. If I'm learning from them I know they're learning from me. Now, I am not saying by this that we should immediately start medical students on a pass/fail s ystem. Don't read me wrong on this. We have developed a set of parameters for a certain thing. But, we ought to recognize what we're doing, how we have developed those parameters, and how tightly we constrict them so that the end products are supposed to be stamped out the same. Really, this effectively stops development. Somewhere down the line, you have to have a man who can do something that others cannot do and can demonstrate this capability. He will say, "What I can do is this...."

VERTEX: He would be transferring that information.

HERBERT: Yes. "Here's how I do it." Now, obviously, this might not be the only way to do it for all time. It may not be the best way. We may develop far more effective ways of doing these things. But, under a power-oriented society, power adheres to peop le who have knowledge of how a thing works, no matter how temporary that "working" may be.

VERTEX: And the power seldom goes away afterwards.

HERBERT: Well, yes. Power tends to attract power, so that it effectively constricts avenues of development.

VERTEX: What would be a way out of that? How could you widen those avenues of development?

HERBERT: Well, if you're not to go to a completely chaotic society, with all the problems inherent in that, and that's not the answer, then we need ways that test the most outrageous concepts.

VERTEX: Do you have any idea how that can be done?

HERBERT: It was done under so-called "primitive" conditions by several avenues. The hermit could go out and do his thing. But we're running out of hermit space. The man with an idea that if you cut sections off a log and put a limb through the middle of them and put a load on the limb--you could carry a heavier load, drag it anyway, roll it--that man could just go do it. But our total society has found that if you let the physicists, say, build their wheel and cut their logs--then the resultant product becomes something that is used in a power context and, eventually, maybe a war. Eventually, maybe the destruction of the total planet. In this respect, I'm not as much worried by atomic weapons as I am by the whole structure and how it uses the products which accumulate in it. Far more dangerous to world society, in terms of springing upon us from an unknown corner, is the ability of a chemist and a pharmacist working in a basement, say, in South Africa to produce a mutated disease that would spread lik e wildfire throughout the world. Very cheap....

VERTEX: Just like the old science fiction stories.

HERBERT: It's very real, and a real potential in our world today.

VERTEX: We're really kind of living in a science fiction world today, aren't we?

HERBERT: Yes. I see this very clearly, that all of these things are accumulating around us. There are developments in several fields. There's no way to control these, no effective way to channel them and stop them in terms of present social directives, s uch as governments and social arbiters. There is no way, for example, to prevent the pharmacist or chemist from working in that basement in South Africa.

VERTEX: That's true. Well, don't we really have to find ways to do that in order to survive?

HERBERT:I think we are going at it in the wrong direction. We're thinking of controlling it rather than having a world society where people just don't want to do that sort of thing, don't want to destroy their fellows.

VERTEX: If we could learn how to do that we would have most of our problems solved.

HERBERT: It's not I he answer and it's not an easy thing. Part of it is in recognizing the essential humanity, that all other humans are like me in some way. You know, when you come right down to it, a society defines that word, hum am We think we know w hat a human being is. I begin the class by having them define human. I don't say homo sapiens, I don't say I want a medical definition, a physical definition, or anything else. I just say, define it. And, with a little gentle nudging here and there, we c ome to my assumption, which is that most societies define human as "like me." If they are sufficiently like me I'll let my daughter marry one. If they are not like me, they are somehow not quite human. They're Books, or niggers, or wops, or chinks. You k now, everybody knows, they're not human . . . not quite. Or they're dirty Indians, or mixed. All you have to do is look at them to see they're not like me. They don't feel things the way I do. So that, if it's necessary, for some reason that I define, to kill off a few of them, well, the world hasn't lost much.

VERTEX: Those are hard basic assumptions to overcome.

HERBERT: Right. They are very hard basic assumptions to overcome, because they are ground into our tribal ancestry and they go so far as, say, a person who works for AT&T and has really "bought it" knows that he is better than somebody who works for US S teel. The guy from US Steel, of course, is just a little less than human, thereby.

VERTEX: There are a great many people out there who respect your writings, Mr. Herbert, and your abilities. Would you like to say something to them? . . . to all the young people, especially.

HERBERT: Yes. I would like to tell them to be very careful about finding scapegoats. Technology is not a thing out there to be destroyed, thereby solving all our problems. How far back do we cut it? Do we go back to hand saws and hand axes? Which element s of the technology will we discard? I would say to let their imaginations run free. Go ahead, try to imagine things that would be fun and humorous and whatever, things that would be interesting to make. Do it with an eye to how many ripples these things will create and who those ripples may inundate. Eventually, you have to sing for your supper.

VERTEX: Thank you very much, Mr. Herbert.

Contents Copyright (c) 1973 by Mankind Publishing Company.

Reprinted without permission. Originally published in Vertex Magazine, Volume 1, Number 4, October 1973. Published bimonthly by Mankind Publishing Company. Business offices: 8060 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046.


[[[ Second Interview ]]]

Frank Herbert

16 January 1977

Port Townsend, Washington

What follows is a verbatim transcript of a taped interview conducted by Peter Sean MacKenzie of Frank Herbert at Mr. Herbert's home. Ellipsis indicates end of sentence or "unintelligible.".

Copyright (c) 1977, 1997 by Peter Sean MacKenzie. All rights reserved.


(To photographer Don Anderson:)

I have a superb 43-86 zoom that would fit that camera. I picked it up in... I shot a roll with 12 lenses, selecting number and then processing and examining the negatives.

I haven't used it for about... where'd you get the adapter? Oh, yeah. That's the nice thing about that lens. You can virtually ignore bellows factors and use it.

(To MacKenzie:)

I was raised in Kitsap County (Washington). My dad was a whistle punk in the old logging days within 20 miles of here. What's a punk? They used to use donkey engines in the old steam engines and they'd have to keep it out of sight. Over a hill or down in the brush. The whistle punk stood someplace where he could see the donkey engine and he had a whistle and he signaled when they were ready to pull the logs. In those days, they just put him in... he'd be in the third spot. Young kids usually did it. I think he was 14 or 15 years old. It was a summer job. Twenty-five cents a day (laughs).

I lived in the (San Francisco) Bay area for 15 years. I moved back up here seven years ago.

In the novel "Dune," what is the Landsraad?

Well, Landsraad is an old Scandinavian word for an assembly of landowners. It's historically accurate in that it was an assembly and the first meetings of the legislative body - an early one, yes. The Landsraad - it's the landed gentry.

How do you pronounce "Atreides"?

What the difference how you say it? Pronunciation changes. Language is a very volatile subject. Spoken language, yes. Written language, not as much. But written language also changes. But the spoken language, my god. Accent, variations on pronunciation - a very volatile thing. So what's the difference how you pronounce it? The only thing I go by is I pronounce a man's name the way he pronounces it. I figure he should know. (laughs) Atreides is Atreus - the family Atreus out of Greek mythology.

(Editor's Note: From the American Heritage Dictionary: Atreus - a king of Mycenae [ancient city of Greece, located in the Peloponnesus, a peninsula forming the southern part of Greece], father of Agamemnon.)

(Pronunciation)... That's missing the point.

What is your conception of "now"?

I think the only way you can deal with a mixed-up time sense which our society has, and a mixed-up sense of how the universe works... - our society today is absolutes. They're an odd list of figures - ... is to balance.

You're a surfboard driver. You're always hanging ten. That's the attitude you've got. The real question is how you deal with integrating a past with the now, so that you won't repeat the errors.

(MacKenzie cites the popular concept of linear time.)

Of course, you're thinking in linear sense. You're caught by linear time. (laughs) Time is a river... (laughs) nonsense!

(Regarding his living room bookcase, which contains every edition in every language of every book he's published:)

That is height of the publication collection. In other words, I have to have a copy of every book. You need it - I may get a query from somebody wanting a certain right to something I've written. I have the negatives right here.

"Dune" and some of the other books are in Japanese, Swedish, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, I guess that covers it. It's not in Urdu yet. Urdu is an interesting language. Urdu is the language in the world where the first publication of softcover books have the largest first press run in the world. They think nothing, nothing at all, of running five million, 10 million copies on a first press run. The books would sell from 10 cents to 90 cents the last time I was there (India).

If you're buying a dictionary, let's say. We have a four-volume English-Urdu, Urdu-English dictionary. I think it cost 2.50 for the four volumes. Lousy printing quality.

(Regarding present developments on Herbert's estate:)

We put together a development of evolution concept which looks like it was just moved here. And we're moving along with it.

The hang-up that our society has is that our society's full of people who are light-switch conditioned. Flip the switch and there it is. And the world doesn't work that way; the universe doesn't work that way. Our universe works on the basis of seasons and evolution - that is, you may start out to make up one thing, but conditions change, so you develop another.

But we're within our boundaries with the development. We just put a double-use house over the pool. The whole pool concept here is for multiple use. Where you see carpentry, they're solar collectors. There'll be solar collectors on both sides. I intend to use the pool water - 30,000 gallons - as heat storage to heat the greenhouse at night. We'll overheat the pool during the day - we generally swim in the mornings - we can draw 20 degrees from 30,000 gallons at night to heat the greenhouse, with a little radiator and small pumps. We'll even have an alternative of a small windmill to run the pumps.

I have a plan downstream within the next five years of putting a computer in that little side room in there and running this house off a computer. That is, with sensors at every heat outlet for the furnace. Controlling every vent from the computer, among other things. We're going to put a chimney up that corner of the sunroof with a big Fisher stove downstairs with a shroud over it, and we will put a duct down the furnace. We're going to put a rather strong fan down in the duct at the bottom because fans work better pulling than pushing it. And we're going to put another higher-pressure fan in the furnace system. It wasn't so new a furnace when we got it.

We've cut the use of oil fuel in this house by a third. What we're going to do is monitor not only the big Fisher stove - the wood-burning stove downstairs - but the furnace itself and all the vents with a computer. Computers are beautiful for idiot work, you know - just sit there and listen for trouble.

I know a lot of buildings where they do this. We'll cut our fuel consumption here by at last another 50 percent of what it's been. But our aim is to produce something that has a very high quality of life but a relatively low drain on the ... energy system.

I'm not aiming just as you, Pete. I'm aiming at people who make crunch decisions. And I don't want to say something to you that I can't demonstrate. I'm not completely sure about all the things we're going to do. For example, we did a little experimenting with methane. Methane's all right for littler stuff, if you have a cheap way of compressing it. You see, you have multiple energy demands to balance. We drive a diesel automobile. It's an expensive investment, but it's actually the cheapest car I've ever owned. I could sell it right now for more than we paid for it.

It (Mercedes Benz) has the lowest record of maintenance costs in the world. It's the most economical to maintain of any car in the world. The diesel fuel takes approximately one third the energy to produce that gasoline does. You'd have to get around 90 miles to the gallon of gasoline to match me in the ... fuel energy demands. The car will run 400,000 miles and we'll have to replace it at that time.

We're having trouble getting a manufacturer in the United States to pick up on our windmill device. A buddy of mine and I sat down two years ago and decided we were going to completely redesign the windmill. So we threw out everything we knew about windmills - "We don't know anything about windmills." - and we asked ourselves, "What do we know about air movement?"

I'm a pilot and I moved right into aerodynamics immediately. He and I built an initial model that got torn down - for the parts, I needed the bearings. We improved that and built another one. We made another model to test a new concept we had involved a way to build a port bottle. But in order to do that, we have a quantum leap in the use of wind for power. No doubt of it at all.

We have a mill that starts producing - well, depending on how you build it - it starts producing useable power at a five-knot wind. But, very important, we'd still be using it, at full draw, at a 50-knot wind. Other windmills feathered out or were torn apart, but ours was still producing power.

We're having a great deal of difficulty getting a manufacturer in this country to go for it, to the point where we're just about ready to go to Japan.

Japan is desperate for energy. We're about ready to go over there and say, "We can't get anybody in the United States to do this. Here it is." I don't want to make a million bucks off it. I don't even necessarily want to get wealthy. I just want it produced because I know we need it.

I don't believe in fission power for the generation of electricity - not for the usual reasons. I would love to build a fission power plant for the generation of electricity. I know we have to find the energy somewhere. I say fission rather than fusion because I'm not sure about that either, but that's a different bag.

Breeder reactors are an act of desperation which are only going to cause us enormous trouble - ENORMOUS trouble. We are condemning our great-great-great-GREAT-grandchildren, many times down, to cursing us. If this society goes ahead with breeder reactors, our descendants will rewrite the history books to erase names. They will plow up our cemeteries to use the bones to make their china.

What's wrong with breeder reactors?

They're targets. We're going into a period of enormous social unrest worldwide. Right now, one person, one kamikaze - I say we're going into the time of the kamikaze. As yet we don't have a means of preventing a kamikaze from hitting his target; we can't even prevent a kamikaze from hitting a president.

Right now, one man with a light airplane loaded with explosives could make the entire downriver of the Columbia (River, major waterway separating Washington state from Oregon) uninhabitable - from Hanford over here.

The thing that really gets me is not that we're going ahead with breeder reactors, but that we don't have anti-aircraft facilities and radar facilities around all of our existing atomic plants. We don't have such defense systems around. It is absolute stupidity.

When you say that you have guards and protection systems around these plants, there's an assumption in that, that historically has never been accurate. This is, that all your guards and your protective people - the operative word, ABSOLUTELY - are trustworthy. That they will never go psychotic or anything like that. You're saying all of these things - like, "We don't have that kind of protective system."

Even then, who did the programming? Who did the software? (laughs) What is your janitor like?

What we're doing is committing ourselves to building a system where we need absolute protection. And we have no absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection (Editor's Note: are worse) than if we just let it all go to hell and got by without the energy. Go back to burning wood, coal and all kinds of nasty things.

Weyerhaeuser (a huge wood-processing corporation headquartered in Washington State), for example, developed a marvelous, relatively low-cost system for converting an attic in a city house into a greenhouse, a thermopane greenhouse. A thermopane greenhouse in the attic of a house has some really nice plusses about it. One is, lots of times, even this time (of year) you have excess heat - a little fan will just draw it down into the rest of the house. Number two, you can grow your own winter vegetables and such. So you cut down on the trucking transportation coming in.

I'll tell you the other thing about why we're going to atomic fission. We're being lied to on the basis of the reason we're getting them (the nuclear plants). Great, big, Hitler-type, gigantic lies. The real reason is that you have a fixed market, people who won't use it. Under those circumstances, the higher the capitalization, the greater the profits. So the choice is being made for high capitalization ways of doing this.

Take an alternative example, this windmill that we developed - there's marvelous resource along the ridges watering the Columbia River. Because our mill has high-torque at zero revolutions, it beautifully lends itself to pumping water. We could take downstream water from the Columbia and pump it with wind power back up existing damns and use the existing hydroelectric system to a greater maximum output with this simple windmill that we designed.

The thing can be built gigantic. We could build them as high as the World Trade Center in New York if we wanted to.

That big?

Oh, yes. A hundred-story high windmill would be nothing to our model. We could have it in operation in five years. So we could beat the demand (for electricity). I don't see anybody is going to go (for it), given the capitalization system that we have for production of energy. I don't know that anybody would want to use this.

A man in Minnesota who developed a way to cut the use of natural gas for home heating approximately 25 percent in all the houses using it, has been five years trying to get it on the market. It's a simple damper system. You see, regulatory agencies tend to be taken over by the industries they're going to regulate. So a very cheap, a very simple damper system that would reduce the natural gas consumption 20 to 25 percent nationwide (and it's easy to install; a home mechanic could put the damn thing in). He's been five years trying to get a license. Two major cities in the United States - Mobile (Alabama) and Detroit (Michigan) - tested it and found it a beautiful operating system. It works. It does what he said it would do.

There seems to be a tendency by special interests in the United States to suppress new, workable technologies.

This is why we'll probably have to go to Japan (with the windmill design).

The thing the consumer public in the United States has failed to recognize is that the interlocking directorates of oil corporations, steel corporations and automobile manufacturers talk to each other. (laughs) What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the country. It might be, but not necessarily.

I wish General Motors would make a car that I could use. I have a Mercedes 300 diesel. We get 25 miles to the gallon in town and 30 on the road.

(Editor's Note: Miscellaneous data about Mercedes dealerships and prices, etc. omitted from transcript.)

The problem with propane and methane and the other natural gases is the energy used to compress them. Where methane really shines is in a stationary condition. Let's say you have an internal combustion engine to run an electric generator. Methane is an ideal fuel for that if you have it available. You can take the coolant from your engine, from the internal combustion engine, and pipe it through your methane generator. It just so happens that this coolant is at an optimum temperature for gas engines. It's at an optimum temperature for getting the most methane gas production out of your methane engine. So you have a symbiotic relationship between the engine and the methane production.

You're sitting in one place; you don't need to compress it - you can use relatively low compression factors for storage of the fuel (times ten pounds). It's ideal for cities, for example. It'd be a great way to go. Alcohol may be a better way, I don't know. It depends on the group.

Let's take a look at modern day jihads. What lies ahead?

We're going to have a lot of violence and upset. It's no simple, one thing. One of the things that's involved is the information explosion. Computers are going to have more influence on the society that involves this world for the next 35 years, very likely, than fire did. Computers are going to make an enormous difference.

I'll go WAY out on a limb. I think you're going to see biological linkage between human and computer. The computer is going to enter all phases of life, including what we generally feel is our individual freedom. The minute you can make a simulation model of a segment of society, then it's predictable that you're going to be able to refine that down to smaller and smaller bits. So you're going to be able to tell eventually what... you'll have uses. You see, this is not a totally bad thing. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of the city of Seattle will be. You'll be able to tell the energy demand of the Mount Baker district. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of Pete MacKenzie will be.

But you will also be able to tell what you talk, how you can talk Pete MacKenzie into buying "X". What are his buttons, yes. Now, the other side of that coin is that, historically, whenever this has happened people have tended to grow calluses.

They're having trouble on television right now selling things on television commercials.


(laughs) Yeah. (laughs) It's one of the untold stories. That television commercials are becoming less and less effective.

Why do you think that is?

Well, you get talked into buying something by the commercial. You try it, and it doesn't perform the way they said it would. About the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh time that is, depending on your resistance factor... (laughs)

It finally dawns on you.

(laughs) Yes. TV isn't all bad, oh no.

But the commercials are.

Not necessarily. It doesn't follow that because some are bad, all are bad. It doesn't follow that because many products are bad, all are bad either.

(Beverly Herbert, Frank's wife, talks about toothpaste. MacKenzie says he uses Colgate, primarily because his mother once said her dentist said it's a superior product.)


(Beverly: Well, dentistry has changed. Many of the new dentists are advising not to use any dentifrice. Or, if you do use any, use a very soft dentifrice.)

I was about to bring up the fluoride thing. Human begins are engaged in a long-term, massive experiment, as I call it. We don't know how long the effect of fluoride in these forms is on our systems. Obviously the middle-term use of fluorides doesn't seem to cause any trouble at all. In fact, it's helpful. It's cutting down the number of cavities. What will be in the long term? Is there a genetic effect? Will there be a residual peaking of some kind of physical problem because of this? We don't know yet.

By the time those questions are answered, it'll be too late.

Generally, they have been for centuries. I'm working in a book that I'll publish next year. It's called "The Dosadi Experiment." It concerns a massive psychological experiment on a large population without their informed consent. The implications are all around us. You see, you can do this in science fiction because you're talking about another world, another people. It's way over there. (laughs) The reality comes back later.

This is an extremely interesting area to develop. A lot of people think science fiction is over, we've done everything. They remind me of the 1890 congressman who wanted to close up the patent office because we've invented everything. He really did. This is a true story.

(Note: A friend of MacKenzie, knowing the interview was to take place, asked MacKenzie to pose the following question. The friend predicted Herbert's answer would be "water.")

What's your favorite beverage?

Favorite beverage? My god, it depends what I'm doing at the time. Sometimes I like beer, sometimes I like water, and sometimes I like wine. You know, the beverage you use depends on the condition you're in. Are you having a fine French dinner? You might want a 1961 Bordeaux.

Well, I'm not going to sip Gatorade with the President's wife.

Why not? It might be a hot day in Washington DC and you need to replace your electrolytes. So, it might be a beverage of choice, given a particular condition. All of these questions are really out of context because they depend on conditions.

Is there some way we can unshackle ourselves from the agreements we've made with the universe and function more as ourselves rather than as a recorder that just plays back?

Oh, I think we function. We're more than playback. We're more than playback because we have this other thing that's never been really defined - and I hope never is - called consciousness. We can see ourselves. We can even see ourselves as others see us sometimes.

We are products of this planet, in a sense, in a very real sense. We are conditioned by the planet. We live nine months in an amniotic ocean where our mother's chemistry is conditioned by the rhythms of the planet. We're animals who were conditioning to evolve on this planet.

We're not just bodies.

I'm not saying that. That is not an assumption of what I'm saying. But I'm saying this is a factor, a very important factor, in what I'm talking about. The chemistry of our mothers has a very important early influence. And the earliest influences tend to be the most important. ... I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever about this. We live to the variation s in the amniotic chemistry in our mothers for nine months.

You can dig a clam off the ocean beach out here and move it to a saltwater aquarium in Chicago. For awhile, it continues to operate on the tidal rhythms of its origin. Then it gets onto the tidal rhythms of Chicago. It'll come up where there's a high tide in Chicago. So it's measuring the movement of the moon and sun right now. A clam can sense it. We are, as I said one time, bivalves on the tide edge of the universe. We are.

We didn't come by the word lunacy by accident. In major cities, the full moon is when the police and fire departments are most alert, for lunacy. I did a small survey in San Francisco of bartenders. The bartenders to a man - and I got no deviation from this - had customers they only saw during the full moon. They're full moon people.

We vibrate to the rhythms of our planet, is what I'm saying. It'd be unusual if we didn't.

What were the contributions that your family made to "Dune"?

Bev kept the world off my neck when I was immersed in the book. She helped me find some resource materials. She keeps me well fed. People call in the morning when I'm writing. She tells them I can't come to the phone now.

I have a very good friend in California, for example, Don ... , a former critic and book editor of the San Francisco Examiner, who used to alert me any time a book came along when I was doing research - here was something I might be interested in.

How much research did you do?

I did a year at the Library of Congress. I did about six years on the whole book ("Dune"). I leaned on Muslim and Arab history very heavily. I did an extensive study of Arab history. I also used the Library of the British Museum. I've lived in the desert. I was doing other things during those six years. Don't get the idea that was all I did. But I did the research over a six-year period (from 1959 to 1965).

How do you maintain that goal out there, with deadlines being in terms of years instead of hours?

Well, you really are loading the system. You're loading the consciousness and memory and so on. These labels are only approximate.

Your coffee is great. I wish I had the recipe.

Anybody can have it. Just go to Joseph Kittay at the Good Coffee Co. (in Seattle) and say, "I want a pound of that." (Literally, "Frank Herbert's blend.") We have to buy about 50 pounds at a time, but it keeps well frozen. We have several friends around here who buy it. In fact, the next time we go over (to Seattle) we're going to take their orders.

This is the cheapest way to buy coffee nowadays. It's not exactly wholesale. But you buy it in large lots and you get a 10 to 15 percent discount. Plus, a pound of this coffee - you use approximately one-third less than an equivalent amount of another coffee. So take that amount off the cost. An amount of coffee would cost you 3, let's say. So it's really the cheapest way to buy coffee.

If you want the stuff, just tell Joe you want my blend. I worked a couple years developing it. It tastes the way coffee smells. I did a couple years of research in winemaking, the wine industry. In California, I got involved with making wine, studying it and discussing it until I developed a wine palate.

Julius (a friend) said something to me one time that really hit me. He said, "In western culture, most of western culture, it is considered effete, and somehow simple, to train the palate." To educate the palate. (laughs) And that's right, it is. We don't do it. It's economically dangerous, too. Because if you have an educated palate, you demand things from the food industry which the food industry is not willing to give. (laughs)

What we did on the basis of that ... (study) was we bought 20 1/8th pounds of coffee in San Francisco. And a little stainless steel drip thing that made one cup of coffee and we had tasting parties. We sat down and made a cup of coffee. And we each had mocha and then we would taste it and try to describe it. Was it chocolate-like in the sense of heavy body and richness that you'd expect from chocolate? Was it thin and acid? What was it? You reduced it to word. So that you could refer to it later. Then we started blending and working on that. A little acidy, a little dark roast, a little Viennese roast, changing the roast proportions. We finally came up with just a GLORIOUS blend that you had to make one cup at a time because it wouldn't keep. (laughs) It just goes to hell in a hurry. But then we got off of that and blended from that with a high proportion of the rather acid light roast or medium roast. The medium roast mountain coffee which is about 60 percent of this blend. Then we added heavier increments of some of the darker roasts. There are very small amounts of French roast, for example. It's for the bitterness, you see, which is kind of an ... for the taste buds.

(MacKenzie has to excuse himself and asks Herbert where his "facilities" are.)

Over there. We call it "the euphemism."

Who is directing "Dune"? (Note: In references to a planned movie based on the book; this is VERY pre David Lynch.)

Alejandro Jodorowski. He's a Polish-Mexican. (laughs) He's a great guy. I have seen the script and it's a damn good script. I'll believe it when I see it.

Do you think it's going to measure up?

How do you know? How can you say at this point? I don't even know if they're going to complete it. In movie making, you believe the movie when it comes to your local house. Then you made a judgement. Judgements are very personal, too. So beforehand, what can you say? Well, once they start the major production - that is, when they get the actors on stage - then they have to bring me in as Technical Advisor. The last I heard it was being filmed in Algeria, but I don't know for sure.

I'm going to bring the entire Chinatown dancing dragon team to be the worm! (laughs)

By Shai-hulud, I think you've got it!

I don't know how they're going to do it. I don't really think they've decided yet. DeLaurentis damn near bought it, you know. In fact there was a scramble right after we got back from France this summer.

Then Jodorowsky must be a heavyweight.

Yeah. He's made a couple of movies that have made artistic splashes: "El Top", "Magic Month." He's also pretty much in demand in the United States today.

Is the "Dune" trilogy complete?

I thought it was. But now there's a lot of pressure for me to come back to it. I'm not reluctant to do it, but I wouldn't do it JUST because people want me to do it. I've got to want to and I've got to have a concept that lends itself to a really good story.

The thing that attracts me is, say, coming back to the character of Leto 3,500 years later. (Regarding Leto's apparent immortality:) Not completely, but very long-lived.

I have this theory that heroes are bad for society, human society. And that superheroes are super bad. Some of the stuff that Kennedy did, for example, is just coming out. The problem with heroes and superheroes is that we don't question their decisions.

(Speaking of heroes:) How do you handle people's reactions to your success?

The role patterns are very fixed in our society. I taught at the University of Washington for awhile. And the first to two classes I had to shatter all of those illusions. Say "shit" four or five times, you know? And sometimes even worse. You really have to do things that break up the patterns.

I worked for awhile last week to try and get a woman to run for president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Not because I'm a great women's libber or anything else, but because I think the conditioned differences between men and women in our society are so great that we tend to create, by the time people are 20 years old, two different species. Not that they really are two different species, but the difference in conditioning is such that there are ways of looking at our universe that are very different, given the difference of the sexes.

So I was being very selfish. I wanted that other look at the organization. But I couldn't get any takers.

(Photographer Don Anderson brings up the subject of drugs as a recurring theme in Herbert's work.)

We as a society, as a species, tend to have a very unwholesome relationship, a very deadly relationship, with drugs. There is only one drug in our society where, if you really get an addict and you cold turkey that addict, you are condemning the addict to death. He'll die every time - and that's alcohol. Not heroin, but alcohol.

Heroin very seldom kills an addict on cold turkey. It's a rough go, but he doesn't die of it. But a real alcoholic will die every time.

Also, there are some misinformations in our society about drugs. It's recently been discovered, something that if you just thought about it for awhile - that I did a long time ago and I've been writing about it for a long time, pecking away at it - you'd see that of course this is true.

If you cannot stop all of the drugs from getting into the country and you capture party of them, you merely raise the price of what remains on the street. And that's our real problem in this country. It is not that people are using drugs, but that they are ripping off society to support their habit and the profits are going to organized crime.

The major source of addicts in our society - three-fourths of the new addictions - are literally created by existing addicts turning on other people to get a market to support their own habits. There's an easy way to cut down three-fourths of the new addictions in this country, and that's take the profit out of it. You don't eliminate the problem, you just reduce its dimensions.

It's a medical problem. It's a medical, sociological, psychological problem. It's not a criminal problem.

How would you feel about, as a solution, distributing junk to junkies for free?

Free, or for 50 cents at the local drugstore, yeah. I would think that would be a major way to cut the dimensions of the problem. But, of course, you have transactional relationships between that portion of the bureaucracy which justifies its existence by there being bad people who use it, you see, and they who protect us from the bad people. They're not protecting us. They're making the problem worse.

So you have the ... (drug law enforcement agencies) in a sense, unconsciously in league and sometimes overtly in league with organized crime. And the profits are enormous. You know what happened to the heroin they confiscated in the "French connection"? It disappeared from the police property room in New York City.

The profits are so enormous they can buy the sister of a reigning monarch. They can buy diplomats and their unexaminable pouches. The Korean embassy has been deeply into this trade all over the world. They can buy police forces in the major cities in the United States. They can buy border guards along a whole string of the border.

I mean, you offer five men two million dollars to bring in a load that will make you 50 million. That's a small piece off the top.

And we should have learned the lesson with Prohibition. One of the things we did with Prohibition was we put enough capital in the hands of organized crime that when we eliminated Prohibition, they could turn to something else, which was the hard drugs. Unless you can stop all of it, unless you can absolutely lock up the ... (pushers), and get all of it off the street, our methods, if they weren't so terrible in their results, they would be humorous. They're ludicrous.

And the public's been lied and lied and lied to about the effects of the system. What we have is an open-ended system on the price an addict will pay for his fix. That means we'll never discover the top limit of what he'll pay. They'll pay your life, your mother's life, all your possessions - anything that they can get their hands on.

You see, the hard drugs are not the problem. It is the crime to support the hard drugs business that's the problem. So the enormous lies that have been told to this society by an entrenched bureaucracy which is maintaining its own self-justification by increasing lies.

What is that bureaucracy?

It's the drug enforcement agencies. They see themselves as a quasi-military police force which is protecting us from the terrible demon at our borders. And they know damn well they can't keep it all out. Every time they take some off the streets and catch it at the border, all they do is raise the price. They put increasing pressure on the addicts to commit greater crimes, to get more money to support their habits.

There are some weird things going on in our society and this is one of the weirdest, because we went through this with alcohol in Prohibition. But this hard drug business is really outrageous. We are creating new addicts. Seventy-five percent of the new addicts are being created by the system. And changing that system, taking the profit out of it, wouldn't eliminate the problem. It would merely reduce it to more manageable proportions, where we could begin to handle it as a medical and psychological problem.

We can't handle the problem AT ALL given its present dimensions. The unholy alliance between that part of the bureaucracy which is supposed to be protecting us from this and organized crime is THERE.

What are your plans?

I'll do some kind of another book. I have a couple of ideas. I'm working on this place so that we'll eventually have a seminar centers. We're trying to be as constructive as possible.

I would like to leave a legacy: a world that's slightly better than the one I found.

Don wanted to take some pictures. Why don't we take a little walk?


1998-1999, Andrew Lovette.


[[[ Listening to the Left Hand ]]]

When I was young and my world was dominated by indestructible adults, I learned an ancient way of thinking that is as dangerous as a rotten board in a stepladder. It told me that the only valuable things were those that I could hold unchanged: the love of a wise grandfather, the enticing mystery of the trail through our woodlot into the forest, the feeling of lake water on a hot summer day, the colors (ahh, those colors) when I opened my new pencil box on the first day of school...

But the grandfather died, a developer bulldozed the woodlot, loggers clear-cut the forest, the lake is polluted and posted against swimming, smog has deadened my ability to detect subtle odors, and pencil boxes aren't what they used to be.

Neither am I.

There may be a quiet spot in my mind where nothing moves and the places of my childhood remain unchanged, but everything else moves and changes. There's dangerous temptation in the nostalgic dream, in the expertise of yesteryear. The nameless animal that is all of us cannot live in places that no longer exist. I want to address myself to the survival of that nameless animal, looking back without regrets at even the best of what was and will never be again. We should salvage what we can, but even salvaging changes things.

The way of this change is called "process" and it requires that we be prepared to encounter a multiform reality. Line up three bowls in front of you. Put ice water in the one on the left, hot water in the one on the right, and lukewarm water in the middle one. Soak your left hand in the ice water and right hand in the hot water for about a minute, then plunge both hands into the bowl of lukewarm water. Your left hand will tell you the water of the middle bowl is warm, your right hand will report cold. A small experiment in relativity.

We live in a universe dominated by relativity and change, but our intellects keep demanding fixed absolutes. We make our most strident demands for absolutes that contain comforting reassurance. We will misread and/or misunderstand almost anything that challenges our favorite illusions.

It has been noted repeatedly that science students (presumably selected for open-mindedness) encounter a basic difficulty when learning to read X-ray plates. Almost universally, they demonstrate an inability to distinguish between what is shown on the plate and what they believe will be shown. They see things that are not there. The reaction can be linked directly to the preset with which they approach the viewing of a plate. When confronted with proof of the extent to which preconceptions influenced their judgment, they tend to react with surprise, anger, and rejection.

We are disposed to perceive things as they appear, filtering the appearance through our preconceptions and fitting it into the past forms (including all the outright mistakes, illusions, and myths of past forms). If we allow only the right hand's message to get through, then "cold" is the absolute reality to which we cling. When our local reality has attached to it that other message: "This is the way out," then we're dealing with a form of "holy truth." Cold becomes a way of life.


We must begin to see ourselves without the old illusions, whatever their character may be. The apparently sound step can drop us from the ladder when we least expect it. Herman Kahn's opus on the year 2000 never mentioned environmental concerns. A Presidential committee appointed in 1933 by Franklin D. Roosevelt to "plot our course" through 1952 had not a word about atomic energy, antibiotics, jet propulsion, or transistors. Such levels of perception are worse than inadequate; they impose deadly false limits. They beguile us with a promise that "we know what we're doing."

The man with broken bones stretched out beneath his ladder doesn't need to look at the rotten step to know what he did wrong. He believed a system that had always worked before would work once more. He had never learned to question the mechanisms and limits imposed by his perceptions.

In questioning those mechanisms and limits on a larger scale we move into the arena dominated by the powerful impositions of genetic heritage and individual experience, the unique influenced by the unique. Here is the conglomerate of behavior-biology, the two so entangled they cannot be separated if we hope to understand their interlocked system. Here is "process."

You and I, while we strive for a one-system view of this process, are at the same time influenced by it and influence it. We peer myopically at it through the screens of "consensus reality," which is a summation of the most popular beliefs of our time. Out of habit/illusion/conservatism, we grapple for something that changes as we touch it.

Must we stop the river's motion to understand riverness? Can you understand riverness if you are a particle in its currents? Try this:

Think of our human world as a single organism. This organism has characteristics of a person: internal reaction systems, personality (admittedly fragmented), fixed conceptualizations, regular communication lines (analogue nerves), guidance systems, and other apparatus unique to an individual. You and I are no more than cells of that organism, solitary cells that often act in disturbing concert for reasons not readily apparent.

Against such a background, much of the total species-organism's behavior may be better understood if we postulate collective aberrations of human consciousness. If the human species can be represented as one organism, maybe we would understand ourselves better if we recognized that the species-organism (all of us) can be neurotic or even psychotic.

It's not that all of us are mad (one plus one plus one, etc.) but that all-of-us-together can be mad. We may even operate out of something like a species ego. We tend to react together with a remarkable degree of similarity across boundaries that are real only to individual cells, but remain transparent to the species. We tend to go psychotic together.

Touch one part and all respond.

The totality can learn.

This implies a nonverbal chemistry of species-wide communication whose workings remain largely unknown. It implies that much of our collective behavior may be preplanned for us in the form of mechanisms that override consciousness. Remember that we're looking for patterns. The wild sexuality of combat troops has been remarked by observers throughout recorded history and has usually been passed off as a kind of boys-will-be-boys variation on the male mystique. Not until this century have we begun to question that item of consensus reality (read The Sexual Cycle of Human Warfare by N.I.M. Walter). One of the themes of my own science fiction novel, Dune, is war as a collective orgasm. The idea is coming under discussion in erudite journals such as The General Systems Yearbook.

Assume this concept then. In it, the giant species-organism is perpetually involved with a moving surface of many influences where every generative encounter is felt as a change throughout the system. Some of the cells (we individuals) feel the changes with the brutal impact of a napalm explosion. To others, the transition from one condition to another comes at such a snail crawl that it's barely noticed. But always the species, involved with its longer and larger career, responds to the changes at whatever pace conditions permit.


Understanding that pace and its conditions requires a different approach to the total human system, that nameless animal of a species-organism. In this approach you no longer can listen only to the right hand that tells you "this is the cold way it has always been." You listen as well to the left hand saying "warm-warm-warm." Somewhere in between left and right you begin to get a glimmering view of things in process now. That glimmering offers the following observations:

* Something like pheromones (external hormones) interacting between members of the human species to weld groups into collective-action organs. (How does a mob unite and hold itself together?)

* Isolation cues that separate groups into identifiable substructures, a system possibly influenced by diet. (Aside from accent and mannerisms, how do members of the British upper class recognize each other?)

* Conflict igniters, possibly sophisticated abstractions of primitive postures and vocal signals. (How do you know that the man coming toward you is angry?)

* Glandular responses to changes in territorial circumstances, responses of remarkable similarity throughout large populations, but with a more complex substitution system than implied by most observers. (Why did most of the occupants of Chicago's high-rise Lake Shore ghetto abandon it within three years, and what did that experience do to their life expectancy and subsequent behavior?)

In all of the above, you can expect a suppression of group and individual consciousness and an amplification of group conformity. But even if you answered each of these deductions to our present general satisfaction, you would only have begun the process of understanding. Expect that, too, to change.

In our culture, when you make this approach to process thinking, you immediately raise a conflict over whether we individuals (and the groups we form) are reacting on the basis of information. Classical theories of individualism and free will that underlie consensus reality in our society assume a lawless character for the species as a whole. ("Human nature will never change.") Classical theory assumes that we are profoundly different from blind cells, that human individuals are informed, and that their reactions can be ascribed to a rational basis except in cases of accident and madness. To assume for the species as a whole a response pattern partly habituated (and thus unconscious by definition) threatens belief in reason, whose raw stuff (information) is assumed to be openly (consciously) available to all.

But television directors, politicians, the psychiatric profession, advertising/public relations firms, and sales directors are seeking out predetermined preferences to exploit mass biases. In a very real sense, we already are conducting conversations (communicating) with the species as an organism. For the most part, this communication is not directed at reason.

Process and the species-organism represent a complex mixture whose entire matrix can be twisted into new shapes by genius (Einstein) or madness (Hitler). The course of this process can be misread by an entire species despite wide evidence of disaster. To understand this matrix, consider the problems of rat control. We've learned that a quick-acting poison doesn't work well in eliminating rat colonies. Grain treated with a fast poison tends to kill only one or two rats from a colony. Rats translate the message "grain-kill" without any need for verbalizing. We can, however, kill off entire colonies with a slow poison such as Warfarin. When one rat must go back to the grain seven or eight times before dying, other members of his colony tend not to make the lifesaving connection.

This gives you an idea of what limits may apply to a species' time sense. The presence of a threat may be known, but its context can remain frustratingly diffuse. What is this strange new lethal disease attacking my fellows? It calls up an ancient scenario out of primitive times when our beliefs were geared to living in the presence of an outer darkness that pressed upon us with terrifying force, mysteriously and inescapably painful. How do you placate the angry spirits of the poisoned waters?


Many things complicate our ability to recognize threats to the species. Not the least of these many may be contained in the observation of Soren Kierkegard: "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward."

This Janus-faced view of life comes right out of the old linear swamp. It carries an attractive sense of reality, but it assumes that our affairs flow with an absolute linearity from way back there to somewhere wa-a-a-ay up front. This allows for no optical illusions in time, no compressions or expansions, and it ignores much of our latest computer hardware (ten billion years in a nanosecond) as well as other odd Einsteinian curves and spirals that intrude upon our consensus reality. It's well to recognize the low probability that one lonely cause underlies any event that inflicts itself upon an entire species. Neither Hitler nor Einstein sprang from a spontaneous and singular generating event. Worldwide pollution has no singular origin.

Yet, the linear orientation of our perceptions (1, 2, 3...;A, B, C...;Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...;January, February, March...) makes it extremely difficult to break away from the belief that we occupy a universe where there are straightforward linked cause-and-effect events plus a few other odd events we call accidents. We are habituated to a noncircular, noninclusive way of interpreting a universe whose circularity and all-inclusiveness keep cropping up in the phenomena we investigate. Events of tomorrow do change our view of yesterday; an ancient Greek's accident is our better-understood phenomenon. The linear habit remains, however. It dictates that we consign accidents to the unconscious. We keep loading the unconscious with events we do not understand. This burden inflicts itself upon our sense of reality.

Devotion to that linear consensus leads us inexorably into a confrontation with the mathematician who tells us: "We inevitably are led to prove any proposition in terms of unproven propositions." He's telling me that all of my pet beliefs inevitably go back to a moment where I am forced to say: "I believe this because I believe it." Faith!

Mathematics and physics may yet drive the odd realities over the brink. For instance, we now can project complex models of human societies through analogue computers and within a few seconds get impressive readouts on the consequences of paper decisions projected for hundreds of years. This is, of course, subject to the omnipresent warning pasted over computers operated by cautious men of science. That warning reads: "Garbage in - garbage out."

In engineering terms, we are looking for resultants-- sums of social forces through which to examine our world. This often produces a more realistic approach than taking up the components one by one. Any auto mechanic know there are engine problems for which it's better to make ten adjustments at once. Still, singularity as a belief confounds our attempts to "repair the system."

Technological playthings distort and amplify our performances to the point where we may believe we are discovering futures that we invent in the present. This may be the most elemental reality we have ever encountered, but the distortions born of mating our unexamined desires to our technology have tangled future and present almost inextricably. Future/past/present--, they remain so interwoven deep in the species' psyche that our day-to-day activities are often concealed from us. We put out our own Warfarin, unaware of lethal consequences and forgetful of where we have hidden it.

Few who examine our planetwide problems doubt that we live in a Warfarin world. The thrust of my argument is that we are not raising our awareness to the level demanded by the times, we are not making the connections between poisons and processes -- to the despair of our species.


Planners often appear unwilling to believe that a history of success can produce the conditions for disaster. Rather, they believe that success measured in current terms is sufficient justification for any decisions about tomorrow. (To those who doubt that success can bring ruin to a community, look at the Boeing Corporation, a study of unusual poignancy in its demonstration of disaster brewed from success.)

You glimpse here a hidden dimension of powerful influences upon our survival. Here are the locked-up decisions predicated on capital investments and operating costs. Governments, large corporations, and service industries know they must build today according to long-range projections. Those projections tend to come from planners who know (unconsciously or otherwise) what the directors want to hear. Conversely, directors tend not to listen to disquieting projections. (Boeing's directors were being told as far back as the early 1950's that they had to diversify and that they should begin exploring the potential of rapid transit.)

Planning tends to fall into the absolutist traps I've indicated. Warm is better than cold, we'll listen only to the left hand. The limits under which powerful private assessments of "the future" are made predict mistakes of gigantic lethal magnitude.

If we define futurism as exploration beyond accepted limits, then the nature of limiting systems becomes our first object of exploration. That nature lies within ourselves. Some who say they are talking about "a future" are only talking about their own limits. The dominant pattern in current planning betrays a system of thinking that does not want to abandon old assumptions and that keeps seeking a suprise-free future. But if we lock down the future in the present, we deny that such a future has become the present-- and the present has always been inadequate for the future.

My explanation of this pattern goes partly -- where we commonly believe meaning is found -- in printed words (such as these), in the noise of a speaker, in the reader's or listener's awareness, or in some imaginary thought-land between these. We tend to forget that we human animals evolved in an ecosystem that has demanded constant improvisation from us. In all our systems and processes, including the human brain, our consciousness, and our thinking patterns. The virtuosity of our customary speaking tends to conceal from us how this behavior is dominated by improvisation. This non-awareness carries over into that "talking" with our universe by which we shape it and are shaped by it.

It dismays some people to think that we are in some kind of jam session with our universe and that our survival demands an ever-increasing virtuosity, an ever-improving mastery of our instruments. Whatever we may retain of logic and reason, however, points in that direction. It indicates that creation of human societies probably should become more of an art form than a plaything of science.

To plan for the future, to attempt to guide ourselves into "the better life" projected by our utopian dreams, we are involving ourselves with profound creative changes and influences. Many of these already are at their work unrecognized around us. Inevitably, we change our frames of reference, our consensus reality. It becomes increasingly apparent that today's changes occur in a relativistic universe. It is demonstrably impossible in such a universe to test the reliability of one expert by requiring him to agree with another expert. This is a clear message from those physicists who demonstrate the most workable understanding or our universe-in-operation. After Einstein, they tell us: all inertial frames of reference are equivalent.

This is saying that there is no absolute frame of reference (local reality) within the systems we recognize, no way to be certain you have measured any absolutes. The very act of introducing the concept of absolute into a question precludes an answer with sensible meaning. (Which hand will you believe, the "cold" hand or the "warm" one?) It serves no purpose to ask whether absolutes exist. Such questions are constructed so as to have no answer in principle.

Accordingly, both Pakistan and India could be equally right and equally wrong. This applies also to Democrats and Republicans, to Left and Right, to Israel and the United Arab Republic, to Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics. Remember: "We inevitably are led to prove any proposition in terms of unproven propositions." We do not like unproven propositions.

If we face up to this consciously, that might cut us away from everything we want to believe, from everything that comforts us in a universe of unknowns. We would be forced to the realization that the best logic we can construct for a finite system (which describes our condition at any selected moment) might not operate in an infinite system. No matter how tightly we construct our beautiful globes of local reality, no matter how many little Dutch boys we assemble to apply fingers to any holes that may appear, we still have built nothing more than a dike, impermanent and essentially fragile.


It would seem that a futurist concerned with our survival and our utopian dream needs to listen, to observe, and to develop expertise that fits the problems as they occur. But that is not the pattern that dominates human behavior today. Instead, we shape our interpretations of our problems to fit existing expertise. This existing expertise defends its local reality on the basis of past successes, not on the demands of our most recent observations.

The consequences of such an approach can be deadly far beyond the circle in which the planning decisions originate. And in the hierarchical arrangements of human societies it often is just one person who finally makes the profound choice for us all. The reasons behind such decisions can be perfectly justified by the contexts within which they are made. (Have I ever failed you before?)

In the universe thus described, we are destined forever to find ourselves shocked to awareness on paths that we do not recognize, in places where we do not want to be, in a universe that displays no concern over our distress and that may have no center capable of noticing us. God-as-an-absolute stays beyond any demands we can articulate. The old patterns of thinking, patched together out of primitive communications attempts, continue to hamstring us.

Play a game with me, then, and maybe you'll understand what I am attempting to describe. Here's a list of numbers arranged according to a logical order. The solution to that order embodies what I mean when I suggest we leap out of our conventional limits. The numbers: 8, 5, 4, 9, 1, 7, 6, 10, 3, 2.

As you consider how the way we approach a question limits our ability to answer, I'd like you to reflect upon a short paraphrase of Spinoza, changed only to read "species" where the original read "body."

No man has yet determined what are the powers of the species; none has yet learned from experience what the species may perform by mere laws of nature (chemical, genetic or other) or what the species may do without rational determination. For nobody has known as yet the frame of the species so thoroughly as to explain all of its operations.

"Listening to the Left Hand." By Frank Herbert. Copyright (c) 1973 by Harper's Magazine. All rights reserved.


A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad'Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad'Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis. Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place.
"Manual of Muad'Dib" By the Princess Irulan