15 Facts About Dune

Before Frank Herbert unleashed the first entry in his magnificent Dune series—a saga many now call sci-fi’s answer to The Lord of the Rings—almost nobody thought it had a prayer.

Publishers rejected the novel 23 times and even his own agents had their doubts. Yet, if anything, Dune’s humble beginnings bolster its appeal. To date, that first book alone has sold upwards of 20 million copies and been printed in over a dozen languages. Here’s some amazing stuff you may not know about this truly epic franchise. 

1. Herbert was Inspired by the “Moving Sands” of Oregon.

It all started with a scrapped magazine article. By the 1950s, coastal Oregon had gotten fed up with a serious ecological menace: sand dunes. As Herbert noted in a 1957 letter:

Sand dunes pushed by steady winds build up in waves analogous to ocean waves except that they may move twenty feet a year instead of twenty feet a second. These waves can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave in property damage… and they’ve even caused deaths. They drown out forests, kill game cover, destroy lakes, [and] fill harbors.

That year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had begun experimenting with beach grasses near the seaside city of Florence, Oregon. A certain species with unusually long roots was liberally planted in an attempt to stop the sands from excessively shifting. Fascinated, Herbert flew in and started gathering notes for a piece entitled “They Stopped the Moving Sands.” But his agent refused to send it to publishers unless it was rewritten, which Herbert never did. Still, Herbert remained intrigued and—after boning up on deserts and religious figures—outlined the story that eventually became Dune.

2. Dune Was Also Influenced by Psychedelic Mushrooms. 

“The spice must flow!” In Herbert’s Dune universe, the single most valuable commodity is—by far—an edible substance called “melange.” Also known as “spice,” this highly-addictive material is found only on the desert planet of Arrakis, where much of the action unfolds. Among its many properties are increased longevity and, in some cases, the ability to see the future itself.

Sound trippy? There’s a reason. While conversing with fungi expert Paul Stamets, Herbert revealed that the world of Dune was influenced by the lifecycle of mushrooms, with his imagination being helped along by a more “magic” variety.

3. Herbert had Previously Experimented with Dune-esque Plot Elements in an Uncompleted Story Called “Spice Planet.”

The tale’s protagonist is Jesse Linkam, who must endure a hostile, otherworldly desert with his 8-year-old son, Barri. “Spice Planet” touches on several topics that Dune would later explore, including drug addiction, aristocracy, and religious uprisings. Eventually, however, Herbert went back to the drawing board, shelving this primordial narrative en route (until his son released a new story based on Frank’s original outline).

4. It was Originally Released as a Serial.

Before getting published as the novel adored today, Dune started out in segments. Two main partsDune World and Prophet of Dune—were divided into a total of nine sections which appeared in Analog magazine from 1963 to 1965.

5. Eventually, Dune Was Picked Up by a Publishing Company That was Best Known for its Automobile Manuals.

Chilton Publishing—a small, Philadelphia-based organization—agreed to put out Herbert’s masterpiece in 1965. 

6. Herbert Deliberately Kept the Techno-Jargon to a Minimum.

By making its futuristic technology secondary to the plot, themes, and characters, Dune breaks from more traditional sci-fi. Despite being a huge novel (for its time), Herbert barely spills any ink covering his world’s machinery, feeling that going into too much detail about nuts and bolts would have made his story inaccessible to average readers.

7. Dune Features Several Nods to Zen Buddhism.

As Herbert’s son, Brian, wrote in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, his father “was attracted to Zen Buddhism,” a fact reflected in Dune by the presence of fictitious religious traditions with names like “Zensunni” and “Zensufi,” which supposedly evolved from the union of Zen Buddhism and Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Herbert was also acquainted with the writings of Zen master Alan Watts, whom he met during the '60s.

8. Before Dune Came Along, Herbert Had Worked as a Political Speechwriter.

Between 1950 and 1960, he climbed aboard four political campaigns—every single one of which fell short. 

9. Dune Won the Very First Nebula Award in 1966.

Nowadays, that’s a reward every sci-fi novelist craves. By the way, it also shared the 1966 Hugo award for Best Novel with Roger Zelazny’s …And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal).

10. Children of Dune (1976) Was the First Science Fiction Novel to Become a New York Times Bestseller in Both Hardcover and Paperback.

Sales for the original Dune stagnated at first, but by the time Herbert finished this third installment, a rabid fan base had been built which couldn’t wait to devour it in breathtaking numbers. 

11. A Dune Board Game was Released in 1979.

For those interested, a digital version is now available online.

12. A Never-Made Film Adaptation was Supposed to be Scored by Pink Floyd and Star Salvador Dali.

“I wanted to do a movie that would give people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating,” says would-be director Alexandro Jodorowski. It sounds like he’d have been well on his way, having approached Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack and surrealist painter Salvador Dali to portray Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. Also, it would’ve been a butt-numbing 14 hours long.    

13. Theaters Distributed a Glossary of Terms When David Lynch’s 1984 Movie Version Came Out.

Lynch’s notorious box office bomb is 110% incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t read the book. Realizing this, cinemas began giving their theatergoers page-long appendices to help explain Dune’s intricate backstory.  Apparently, these didn’t help Roger Ebert, who called the film an “ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” Ouch!

14. George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) Once Bore a Much Closer Resemblance to Dune.

Early drafts involved conflicts between Dune-like feudal houses and, although these were omitted, characters in Lucas’ breakout movie do mention “spice mines” and the movie takes place on the desert planet of Tatooine. Coincidence? Herbert didn’t think so; he soon joked of banding together with several other ripped-off sci-fi authors to form a “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas” society.

15. All the low plains on one of Saturn’s Moons are named after planets in the Dune Canon.

Saturn’s largest moon—a body named Titan—contains some shady-looking terrain called planitia (low plains) that are all named after Dune planets. The first one discovered is now known as “Chusuk Planitia” in honor of the fictitious (and musically-oriented) planet Chusuk.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert and The Road to Dune.

15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

[h/t Newsweek]


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