It's hard for me to write about Frank Herbert without going on a bit of a rant. He's known for Dune, and Dune is certainly a great piece of science fiction. It just makes me a bit sad that he has a robust catalog of novels written - some, like The Jesus Incident, just as evocative and deep as the Dune novels - that remain in relative obscurity.
That, and Herbert is a man devoted to the tearing down of charasmatic leaders. In a 1981 interview he said:
" I think that John Kennedy was one of the most dangerous presidents this country ever had. People didn't question him. And whenever citizens are willing to give unreined power to a charismatic leader, such as Kennedy, they tend to end up creating a kind of demigod . . . or a leader who covers up mistakes—instead of admitting them—and makes matters worse instead of better. Now Richard Nixon, on the other hand, did us all a favor."
With that said, the two follow up novels in the Dune Universe, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune (supposedly based on Herbert's notes and written well after his death), fly in the face of everything Herbert spent his life writing about.
But I want to take a deep breath, set all that aside (maybe for another entry later, maybe not, we'll see) and write just a little bit about Dune, after all.
Dune does a lot right when it comes to science fiction. It as a complex plot, commentary about humanity, and compelling characters. What it does best though, is the setting. In my opinion, a powerful setting is essential to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It shapes the novel (or it should, anyway). If you're writing in those genres, you should be asking yourself "Why can my story only happen in this universe?" Carefully crafting a fantastic alternate world and then using it to tell a generic story is an incredible waste.
Tying his world to the story is what Herbert truly does better than any other. You can't tell the story of Dune without a universe where the spice must flow. You can't tell the story of The Jesus Incident without the horrors of Pandora. Well, you could, but it wouldn't be very good.
It's Frank Herbert that taught me to be mindful of every piece of a story that I create. Nothing should be generic. If it's not essential to the story, it shouldn't be there. No novel is perfect, that that's the ultimate goal, isn't it? A novel with no wasted words. If I can do that, maybe I can create something truly memorable.