I watched the planet Dune, officially Arrakis, spread out before my eyes: the Great Plain, Carthag, Arrakeen, the Shield Wall, the Imperial Depression, the Wind Pass, the Sietch. I got thirsty and hot (I wasn’t wearing a still suit), and I was overcome with great nostalgia. There he was again, absorbed as he awaited the appearance of the giant worms drawn by the hammering of the heart. I was not in front of the movie screen watching Denis Villeneuve’s new film version (which I loved) of Frank Herbert’s phenomenal novel, but rather at the board game inspired by the literary work.
Dune (“The species must flow”), by GF9Games, is the modernized 2020 version of the old Avalon Hill game from 1979, around which a handful of friends fans of the novel had sat down to play once. I can see in my memory that old game: the combat discs, the round tokens with the characters, the cards, the board-map (all made of cardboard) and, of course, the lid of the square box, with the Shai-hulud worm and the dune drawn in the purest and most suggestive pulp tradition, under an orange sky. The new version of the game is not as evocative as the old one, which is long gone. However, fidelity matters little. Of the six players at that time, three have died and another two have disappeared into the sand of time. A more painful memory than a weekend at Giedi Prime. So I sat alone at the dashboard Dune as before a ouija board. The small group of friends played games of the planet game (even longer than those of those eternal Winter Risk with music from Magna Carta) shortly after reading Herbert’s novel (in fact, the three books of the original trilogy, Dune, The Messiah of Dune e Sons of Dune). I bought them – I say it to inject more nostalgia – in the Tuset Drugstore, in the Acervo edition translated by Domingo Santos.
I was talking about it all the other day to Alberto, the clerk at 4Dados, the Barcelona Geek Triangle store where I bought the new game (at Gigamesh they no longer had any left). He listened to me patiently, vaguely fascinated as if he were watching an old television series. The CIPOL agent. “Now there is the new version‘Dune Empire’, although it is not the same; It is improved, but it is very dry ”, he told me without falling into the pertinent point of the comment. We are talking about Villeneuve’s film. He had liked it too. I highlighted the treatment of the Sardaukar, the elite fanatic troops of the Padishah Emperor; the overwhelming beauty of the weightless and silent ships suspended in the skies of Caladan and Arrakis; the dark interiors of the Atreides palaces, pregnant with conspiracies like Elsinor and Dunsinane (by the way, Dune also has a Duncan, Duncan Idaho, embodied in the new film by Jason Momoa-Khal Drogo), the music of Zimmer and, for course blue eyes melange (eyes of the Ibad) of the Chani of Zendaya. Much better Timothée Chalamet than Kyle MacLachlan and instead I prefer the festering Baron Harkonnen from David Lynch’s version against the more sober Villeneuve, and also the psychopath Feyd-Rautha from Sting. Alberto agreed that today, and more so with the pandemic, it is difficult to sit six people around a game about Dune. “It is difficult to get to the table, very difficult to find people who know how to play.” Before leaving with the game under my arm and my eyes wet from the reunion with Dune, I asked him if he could give me his phone number to call him if I felt very lonely. He grimaced. “Well, I’m very busy.”
I have complemented my trip to the sandy world, to know more about the planet and its creation, with the reading of Dreamer of Dune (2003), the biography of Frank Herbert (1920-1986) written by his son Brian Herbert, also a writer and who many will remember for having published his father’s unpublished works and made countless numbers of spin offs, series derived from Dune. The biography is a monstrosity of 580 pages, at times quite tostón – although it has the detail of pointing out the things that could influence the writing of Dune-, in which the author not only recounts his father’s life but, incidentally, his own and his relationship problems with his authoritarian and anger-prone parent, including the one who spanked him and his brother (had also a daughter from a previous marriage), from which Frank Herbert never accepted his homosexuality.
Herbert applied a lie detector to the boys and his son believes that this is where the idea of testing Paul Atreides with him came from. gom jabbar at the beginning of Dune. The portrait that emanates is that of a classic American writer, who works hard and succeeds after many efforts and sacrifices (of the whole family, especially of his wife, Beverly, who, by the way, loved to recite the litany against the fear of Dune) to then become a worse person than he was, although, yes, with much more money (he found a machine to do it with the continuations of Dune). After being widowed, he remarried at 63 to a 27-year-old girl, bought a Porsche and planned to climb Everest. It’s funny that you write a book about your father that you say you love very much and you get nothing nice to fall for.
Frank Herbert’s father was a police motorcycle patrolman and an alcoholic (which would seem incompatible), as was his mother, an alcoholic. When the writer was three years old, he was attacked by a malamute dog that left a lifetime scar on his right eye. He had Irish Catholic maternal aunts who tried to indoctrinate him and became the basis for the Bene Gesserit, the visionary and scheming sorority of Dune, conceived as female Jesuits. Taking hallucinogens (LSD and peyote) would have been instrumental in the invention of the melange species, the drug for which the planet Dune is so coveted, and in the visionary experiences of the novel’s protagonist, Paul Atreides.
Frank Herbert was all his life attracted to Zen Buddhism (he was a friend of Alan Watts) – where the prana-bindu in the novel comes from – and was influenced by the Salish Indians of the Pacific coast, their culture, spiritual beliefs and harmony with nature. They are also counted among his influences for Dune Jung and his concept of the collective unconscious, Frazer and his The golden branch (so useful for everything), and Campbell’s theories about the trajectory of heroes, which tend to get worse, including our Muad’Dib, as will be seen in the second installment of Villeneuve. Despite these positive influences, Frank Herbert was a member of the National Rifle Association.
An avid reader as a child, the writer would have read all of Shakespeare – something perceptible in Dune (“plans within plans within plans” recall Richard III, for example) – and discovered Ezra Pound at age 12. Herbert, a beatnik before the letter, worked much of his life as a journalist, alternating it with the work of campaign manager for political candidates who never won, which was fortunate for science fiction since he never got a stable job in politics (although he knew first-hand the intrigues of Washington served him to create those of the planetary empire of the Corrino); as was the fact that the Navy licensed him without going into combat during World War II. From a young age he wrote and published science fiction stories in pulp magazines. The family lived in chronic poverty and with constant house changes (like the Atreides moving planet) while Frank Herbert pledged his writing career.
Since he was little in love with the great open spaces, he was decisive in the conception of Dune that they commissioned him a report on a government project in Oregon to stabilize dunes, which he flew over in a small plane, being fascinated by the desert. He then had the idea of a planet covered entirely in sand (a warning for ours) and began to populate it. It was thoroughly documented in all the aspects that such a place would present. Its inhabitants, religion, way of fighting (read The seven pillars of wisdom, by TE Lawrence) and its ecology. At first he thought about setting the story on Mars, but inventing a complete planet left his hands more free. He found the Harkonnen’s name in a California phone book (it’s kind of like calling them). The imagery of the giant worms and the hooks for riding them would have been influenced by Herbert’s passion for fishing; I don’t say it, your son says it.
He finished the novel in 1963 and it was first published in installments. Many publishers rejected it in book form until it was published by Lanier, specializing in car manuals. Dune it became the best-selling science fiction title in history in the 1970s.
Brian Herbert points out many interesting things: the Mentats are precursors of Mr. Spock, the progressive authoritarian and messianic drift of Paul makes him a precursor of Darth Vader. In that sense, Frank Herbert was amazed when he saw in 1977 Star Wars and find out how much they had copied from him (he pointed to 16 identical points).
The biography devotes a lot of space to the subject of projects to adapt Dune to the cinema and to the Lynch movie. In 1983, Herbert himself gave the claquetazo departure from filming in Mexico. To first in 1984 Reagan attended, and he liked the film, as did Frank Herbert, although it turned out to be, as is well known, a huge failure, not least because the producers only left 40% of the Lynch film. One critic compared his worms to the Kermit the Frog from the Muppets, which no one will be able to say about Villeneuve’s worms.
Herbert was discovered in 1985 with pancreatic cancer while writing a Dune 7, it was going to be a grand finale of the series, and was thinking of a prequel. He died the following year suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. His son explains that in the ceremony of scattering his ashes, his cellar was raided as a tribute and all his bottles of Château Prieuré-Lichire Margaux were drunk. It’s easy to imagine the austere and sober Fremen nomads of Dune shaking their heads in disapproval at the wasted liquid. And it is true that there is no better way to say goodbye to the old planet, its creator and so many years of wonders, than with the aftertaste of sand in your mouth. Until the next appointment, with Dunes: part 2, in 2023.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.