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The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert

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  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Introduction (1975)

  Looking for Something? (1952)

  Operation Syndrome (1954)

  The Gone Dogs (1954)

  Pack Rat Planet (1954)

  Rat Race (1955)

  Occupation Force (1955)

  The Nothing (1956)

  Cease Fire (1956)

  A Matter of Traces (1958)

  Old Rambling House (1958)

  You Take the High Road (1958)

  Missing Link (1959)

  Operation Haystack (1959)

  The Priests of Psi (1960)

  Egg and Ashes (1960)

  A-W-F Unlimited (1961)

  Mating Call (1961)

  Try to Remember (1961)

  Mindfield (1962)

  The Tactful Saboteur (1964)

  Mary Celeste Move (1964)

  Greenslaves (1965)

  Committee of the Whole (1965)

  The GM Effect (1965)

  The Primitives (1966)

  Escape Felicity (1966)

  By the Book (1966)

  The Featherbedders (1967)

  The Being Machine (1969)

  Seed Stock (1970)

  Murder Will In (1970)

  Passage for Piano (1973)

  Gambling Device (1973)

  Encounter in a Lonely Place (1973)

  Death of a City (1973)

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

  Songs of a Sentient Flute (1979)

  Frogs and Scientists (1979)

  Feathered Pigs (1979)

  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 something 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 language, 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 reality 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 ba
ck 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 Utopia), 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.”

  My first venture into science fiction was “Looking for Something?” As with the childhood fragment, it contains rough edges.

  “Looking” deals with a subject which I explored in greater detail later: that borderline of awareness out of which our compulsions grope for recognition. It says you may not know the full spectrum of motivation behind your everyday activities. And when you go looking for that motivation, you may encounter more than you wanted.

  “Nightmare Blues” (“Operation Syndrome”) was my first acceptance by the late John Campbell of Astounding/Analog. I was still mining the same vein of “Looking.” However, “Nightmare” moves more freely and contains more of that special color which science fiction requires—the teleprobe, the skytrain, the sound switch beside the window, the undersea nightclub. It has that immediacy of detail which I believe a story must contain before it gives you the full sense of the place were the characters are performing. It contains some things familiar today, but the backdrop is tomorrow.

  “Nightmare” says, as well, that tomorrow’s world may not be the most pleasant place you’ve ever imagined. It brings up the subtle meaning of the old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

  Much science fiction views the world and human future more from a Hebrew curse than the Chinese. It reads: “May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground!” For this latter variant, the writer plays prophet, crying: “Lift up your heads and look around you at what we are doing!” Looking back on it, I can see that this dominates the story “Cease Fire,” a modern Sorcerer’s Apprentice yarn.

  Please note the monumental prophetic error in “Cease Fire,” however. Written in 1958, it was set in that far-off time of 1972. Vietnam was a decade ahead and somewhat warmer of climate than the setting I chose. To the best of my knowledge, Vietnam did not produce an equivalent to Larry Hulser, my protagonist, nor did it produce his invention. “Cease Fire” does say something about the war syndrome and the simplistic world of those who begin their preachments with: “We could end wars if we would just…”

  Hulser’s invention will have to wait, but I expect something like this to come. You will recall that dynamite was supposed to end the possibility of war because it was too dreadful. And before that, it was the crossbow. Instruments of violence apparently don’t end wars.

  My timing error recalls the story told about Edgar Allan Poe, that he was walking with a friend in New York City in 1847 and suddenly cried out: “I’ve just had a vision of the future! Within a hundred years (by 1947) New York will have ten-storey buildings!”

  Poe, the father of the modern science fiction story, failed to take into account the invention of the elevator and the steel-frame building.

  As with much prophecy, so it is with science fiction. Thus far, we’ve been unable to achieve a surprise-free future. We fail to take some surprising development into account.

  We do score occasionally, however, and these provide some of our greatest moments. Think of Arthur Clarke telling the world how a communications satellite would function and long before such wonders came into being. He predicted the development with such detail that the concept cannot be patented. Prior publication will prevent a patent. I did the same thing in “Dragon in the Sea” with the prediction of collapsible cargo devices and television periscopes. The truly classic example is that of Cleve Cartmill in the middle of World War II describing how to build an atom bomb. To this day, there probably are officials of the United States government who believe Cartmill’s story developed from a leak in the Manhattan Project. The unimaginative always seem to underestimate how far the imagination can leap.

  “Egg and Ashes” with its phoenix theme represents one of my earlier attempts to weave a linguistics theme into a yarn. How does a creature react if it hears in the spectrum which we see? This tale revolves on that common-to-science fiction element—possession as an alien presence. Why not? Most science fiction assumes an infinite universe where the wonders will never end. If you sample such a future through fiction, does that not prepare you to deal with surprising real events?

  This is a question Martin Fisk of “Mary Celeste Move” might ask himself. Fisk could be any of us in a velocitized world which moves so fast we’re unaware of running out of time and cannot react with sufficient rapidity to the shock power of a future into which we plunge. How much difference is there between the present breakneck pace of our freeway-insanity and Fisk’s world of 300-mile-per-hour expressways where you slow down to 75 and a s
peed of 55 is to creep? Is it caricature or a glimpse of our current reality?

  “Committee of the Whole” may have a familiar ring to some who read it. Is it today’s world or just the day after tomorrow?

  Here’s where you separate the people who grow like an onion from those who merely accept that they live in the universe of the Chinese curse. I regret to say that “Committee” is my view of imminent reality. The future does tend to beguile us with myths of progress while the other hand prepares ever more potent shocks. “Look out for my atom bomb!” the future says. And all the while, an anonymous human is working in his basement on that surprise which will make over the atomic age into “the good old days.”

  Cracking the atom represented only a milestone on a longer path. If science fiction does no more, it tells us this: we are developing larger and larger chunks of energy which can be manipulated by fewer and fewer of us. If this curve continues to rise exponentially, single individuals will soon be able to focus planet-shattering energies.

  The role of the anonymous individual in this development is relatively clear. Science fiction at least since H. G. Wells has been drawing his portrait with a consistent success/horror. Propinquity, serendipity and curiosity lie in wait for the unwary onion head. My ventures into science fiction see our world in far more peril from a pharmacist and biotechnician working privately in a basement laboratory than it is from the atom, fission or fusion. Given the sums of energy becoming available to fewer and fewer of us, the brutalized human, the disaffected fanatic, represents our most profound peril.

  There appears no present way to prevent his surprise whether that comes in the form of a biological weapon or an application of the bias-current principle to the cracking of our entire planet. The horrors of science fiction’s most bug-eyed-monster extremes don’t compare with what’s happening in our “real world.”

  The basic energy involved in this process is, of course, knowledge. How can you suppress that which is already or about to become common knowledge? Thought control quickly runs out of dependable controllers. Once Lize Meitner had published her findings, atomic fission was public property. Cleve Cartmill merely dipped into this public trough to produce his story. The materials and information tools behind such runaway growth are so widely spread in our world that the words security and secrecy contain a hideous kind of gallows humor or even worse. Official secrecy acts and the concepts of security based on them represent distractions which actually contribute to humankind’s insecurity. I say it baldly here instead of letting it unfold in fiction, but I’m not the first to take this alarming view that the fault is not in our stars, Mercutio …