Frank Herbert was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1920. After high school, he became a journalist and then served in the United States Navy during World War II. He then studied at the University of Washington and became a reporter and an editor for many West Coast newspapers, as well as a speechwriter for politicians. In 1969, Herbert became a full-time fiction writer, four years after the publication of his science-fiction classic, Dune.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Herbert published many stories in science fiction magazines, often in serial form. Unlike some of his fellow science-fiction writers, such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Herbert wrote stories that always involved social issues such as ecology. Herbert conceived the idea for Dune after studying a governmental project designed to halt the spread of sand dunes along the Oregon coastline. He imagined a world made entirely of sand and thus created the planet Arrakis.

Following the success of Dune, Herbert published four sequels between 1969 and 1985. He died at the age of 65 in 1986.

Although Dune was accepted and read by the same circles who read Asimov and Clarke, Herbert’s novel represented a new kind of science fiction. Asimov’s and Clarke’s works were original but stylistically plain—Asimov later claimed that in the early days of science fiction, all one needed was a futuristic idea. Dune combined the basics of science fiction’s trademark futurism with strong literary and social ambitions. The novel boasted an elaborate epic plot and intricately developed characters with quasi-mystical powers such as telepathy and precognition. It also featured a bold ecological message.

Read more about Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dune proved that literary science-fiction novels could be more than thinly veiled social critiques, such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dune presents us with a self-contained world, complete with its own races, religions, politics, and geography. Herbert introduces this new world and then adds a fascinating and intricate story, with vivid characters and scenes bolstered by an underlying ecological message. Dune has become the central masterpiece of science fiction, just as The Lord of the Rings is to the genre of modern fantasy.