The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert

BOOK: The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert
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Title Page

Copyright Notice



Looking for Something?

Operation Syndrome

The Gone Dogs

Pack Rat Planet

Rat Race

Occupation Force

The Nothing

Cease Fire

A Matter of Traces

Old Rambling House

You Take the High Road

Missing Link

Operation Haystack

The Priests of Psi

Egg and Ashes

A-W-F Unlimited

Mating Call

Try to Remember


The Tactful Saboteur

Mary Celeste Move


Committee of the Whole

The GM Effect

The Primitives

Escape Felicity

By the Book

The Featherbedders

The Being Machine

Seed Stock

Murder Will In

Passage for Piano

Gambling Device

Encounter in a Lonely Place

Death of a City

Come to the Party
(1978, with F. M. Busby)

Songs of a Sentient Flute

Frogs and Scientists

Feathered Pigs

The Daddy Box


Fiction Footnotes

Tor Books by Frank Herbert

About the Author

Copyright Acknowledgments




It's a great thing to create, to grow and to give of yourself in the process, but it's quite another thing to be thrown into an orgy of introspective analysis out of which you must refashion your work. To review more than twenty years of my own writing and come up with coherent comments required such analysis, however, and having been forced to the task, I find the recovery pleasant.

Analysis is a trick activity.

Sometimes, it's hardest for the person
doing his thing
to describe what he does. You can analyze the life out of any activity, and to little purpose.

“Tell me, Dr. Livingstone, what were your innermost thoughts when Mr. Stanley confronted you with his immortal greeting?”

Do you really want to know?

What kept me at this job was the suspicion that my labors might be useful to others wishing to make a career of letters. Similar works by earlier authors were useful to me—particularly the practical advice of Jack Woodford, and the marvelously candid
Summing Up
by W. Somerset Maugham.

I hope I can be as candid and as practical.

The flat statement of what I do requires little thought.

I write.

As humans measure time, I've been doing this for quite a while—more than forty years. This collection contains the laboriously hand-printed copy of one of my earliest efforts. It was produced when I was only seven. A few months later, having tested this process and found it to my liking, I announced to my family in the grand manner that I was going to be “an author.”

That was on the morning of my eighth birthday, and I've never deviated far from that ambition since.

If you'll turn to that early effort, you'll find my introductory description reads:

“This story is about love and adventures.”

Even at seven, I knew the ingredients of a good story:
love and adventures.

There must also have been some sense in me of the limits implicit in words. The seven-year-old warns you that his book will only tell
about how animals live in the deep woods.

The seven-year-old also gives his work a narrative hook. I didn't know a narrative hook from a verb at the age of seven, but the instincts of the writer triumph. A narrative hook describes how the author catches your interest and makes you want to learn more about what's going on in his story.

The seven-year-old begins with a man and his dog lost in the forest. You are warned that the forest is a fearsome place. It contains noises which indicate dangerous creatures, especially at night. And please note that such creatures retain a deeper sense of threat when they are known only by their noises. The unknown can be a dreadful thing.

Despite the crudities, the unabashed hubris and the misspellings, this childhood effort is amazing for the number of storytelling necessities it contains: People, place, time of day, mysterious dangers and the promise of love and adventures to come.

There's the nutshell, and I count myself lucky to have come upon it so early.

That was not so much writing as it was plumbing, however. The pieces are there, but they're badly assembled. The plumbing was all bare and exposed.

I have tried to teach writing, only to discover that you cannot teach writing. You can teach the plumbing—which pipe connects to which elbow. The actual writing is something you must teach yourself. You learn by doing. The knowledge comes from the inside and it leans most heavily on the oral tradition of language, much to the despair of those who would like it all orderly and neat with explicit rules to follow.

It comes as a shock to many in our print-oriented civilization to be told that
the basic tool of the writer, is more oral than written. Contemplate those thousands of years of oral tradition before we ever ventured to carve symbols in clay and stone. We are most profoundly conditioned to language-as-speech. The written word is a latecomer.

Before you will believe the
of a story, someone must stand up on that printed page and speak. His words must have the characteristics of speech. They must reach your ears through your eyes. Under the onslaught of non-print media (TV, film, radio, casette players…) this is becoming ever more necessary. The oral tradition has never really been subjugated.

True to that tradition, I find I must have a sense of joy in what I do. There has to be some fun in it which you can feel even in the darkest moments of the story. This is the entertainment business. I'm the jongleur visiting your castle. I bring songs and news from other castles I have visited, and some of those are strange indeed. I sing for my supper and those
other castles
of which I sing are only partly figments of imagination. We may share a concensus reality which demands our service, but if you write science fiction you crowd the edges of that reality.

When we say “science,” we usually mean technology. Science fiction is deeply involved with technology and the questioning of the human future. To write science fiction, you make a connection between technology and the myth-dream of human immortality. We inevitably deal with the alienation of man brought on by his immersion in a welter of things which he is told he wants/needs, but which always seem to remove him from an essential contact with his own life.

This is not really a recent development.

The company of science fiction writers is a venerable troop. We go back somewhere beyond Lucian of Samosata in the Second Century AD. We number in our company such lights as Plato, Cyrano de Bergerac, Thomas More (who gave us the word
), Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell—which represents only the barest listing.

We are, as a rule, concerned with mankind living on other planets. (Lucian sent his hero to the moon on a waterspout.) Often, our concern is touched by the realization that no animal species can survive forever on one planet. Even as we most freely express our fears that the human species is in danger of extinction, we parade our differences from other animals via our stories. We have imagination and, occasionally, touches of reason. Much of science fiction says these may be our ultimate strength in facing that chaotic unknown which constantly threatens to reduce us to zero.

Freud once said: “When you try to conceal your innermost thoughts, every pore oozes betrayal.”

When you write, the printed page absorbs all of that ooze—all of you, the wise and the silly, the profound, the shallow and the in-between. It all hangs out in these talking letters. I want to write for as large an audience as possible, all of you sitting around the castle fireplace after a four-star dinner, all of you raptly enjoying the sound of my lute. There's no sense trying to hide that; it's in everything I do. And always there's the upcoming story in which I hope to do it all better. The current work, about which I will not talk because that wastes the energies which should go into the creation, remains my favorite. I will pour as much of myself into it as I am able, holding back nothing. You cannot lose by this. You destroy nothing. You are creating the egg, not the goose. But while that gestating egg remains my favorite, I reserve a warm spot for creations of yesteryear.

That fragment saved from childhood: I recall the child I was with a special poignancy through that fragment. And even while I laugh with you at his bumbling, I remember his unshakable drive to perfect this form of communication. It was only later that I learned about perfection—that it remains forever beyond your grasp, that you are always working toward it in a monstrous parody of Zeno's Paradox, that perfection fades when you seem to touch it.

It has been educational for me to apply the analytical tool to my own work; I couldn't possibly set down here everything I've derived from that effort. And certainly you must detect the ambivalence with which I view this. The discovery of science fiction by colleges and universities, a move led by such academics as Willis E. McNelly at the University of California, Fullerton, and Berkley Dreissel at Stanford, raises such ambivalence. We've seen analysis take the fun and the life out of other literary genres. Rest assured then that whatever comments I make hereafter I am attempting to maintain the fun and the life.

The stories in this collection are like steps on a path to me. I recall the throes of creation, some of the ambience in the working places which inevitably bleeds over into the work. These are stories I might write differently today. I might. Tony Boucher, the late author and critic for the
New York Times,
called “Mary Celeste Move” “one of the most perfect short stories I've ever read.” Out of the love I held for Tony, I might not change that one, although I disagree with his judgment. I find “Seed Stock” a better story. “Mary Celeste” is brittle. It shows the sharpening and resharpening process through which it went in the writing. As with analysis, you can go too far with that process; you run into a kind of Heisenbergian wall where all of your original intentions turn to glitter. To me that's a flaw in “Mary Celeste.”

BOOK: The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert
6.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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