Brian Herbert on ‘Dune’: ‘My Father Could See Into the Future’

It’s not an easy thing, being the heir to Dune. Frank Herbert, who wrote the original book and many subsequent novels, died in 1986, but his son, Brian Herbert, went on to cowrite several more novels set in the world Frank built. The younger Herbert also manages his father’s estate, which essentially makes him the keeper of the canon—a big deal when it comes to one of the most beloved stories in all of science fiction.

Brian’s OK with that—he’s been working in the Dune universe for decades—but it wasn’t always so. For much of his youth, he butted heads with his dad, and it wasn’t until he was an adult and doing his own writing that he began to appreciate Frank’s influence. In 2003, Brian released a biography of his father, Dreamer of Dune, and he estimates that he’s contributed nearly 3 million words to the canon himself.

Brian Herbert is also, yes, involved with the upcoming Dune film from director Denis Villeneuve. He’s been advising on the script and believes it will be the definitive adaptation of his father’s book. WIRED got on the phone with him to talk about the novel’s legacy, its many interpretations, and why now might be a good time to reimagine the book that inspired so many works of sci-fi that came after it.

WIRED: You’ve been involved with the Dune franchise for years, but what was your involvement with this new film specifically?

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Brian Herbert: I wear two hats. I’m co-manager of my father’s estate. I’m also a writer in the Dune universe. So one of the things that’s important to me—and to millions of Dune fans—is for us to follow the Dune canon as Frank Herbert laid it out. We want to get things right. It’s a very complicated universe. So we did receive drafts of the script, and we would send comments back to Denis and his team. Then they would make various adaptations. It’s a very good working relationship in which Denis wanted to create the definitive version of Dune. He wants this movie to follow Frank Herbert’s vision.

For some folks Dune is a novel about philosophy; for others it’s a tome about environmentalism. What does it mean to you?

Well, I like to think about a book signing that I did in New England. I was with Kevin J. Anderson [Brian’s cowriter], and there was this very precocious 8-year-old sitting in the front row. He started asking us a lot of questions, and it would have been easy to get irritated with him, but I found out that he read Dune. I think that he read it mostly as an adventure story, which is the great story of Paul Atreides.

Right, it’s got those fantastical elements.

So you can read it on that level. You can read it like, Wow, look at the giant sandworms! That’s kinda like a dragon, you know, a dragon guarding a cave with treasure. The treasure in this case is the spice in the sands of the desert. But there are many more layers, so as you read it again, you might pick up the environmental message or women’s issues in there. Frank Herbert had powerful women not only in this book but in his subsequent ones. Then the politics, the religion.

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