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Dune – Interview with Kevin J. Anderson

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2020 sees the centenary of the birth of Frank Herbert, the author of, arguably, one of the most important Science Fiction stories of all – Dune.

To discuss the impact of Dune I asked best-selling writer Kevin J. Anderson for his thoughts on the book and it’s lasting resonance. Kevin has written stories in many well-known universes – Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files – and in universes of his own, as well as working on the Clockwork Angels series with the late Rush drummer & lyricist, Neil Peart. But today this blog is informed by his venture into the worlds of Dune – where he has adapted and expanded the original landscape with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian.

As well as Herbert’s centenary, there’s much excitement and expectation surrounding Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming new movie version, so this seems like a good time to delve deeper into the sands and spices of Arrakis.

Interview with Kevin J. Anderson

D&D: When did you first come across Frank Herbert, and what impact did his work have on you?

KJA: I read DUNE when I was around 11 or so, because I’d heard people say it was THE science fiction book to read. I loved it! It showed me at a formative age just how terrific the genre could be.

D&D: Why do you think Dune is such an important work in the worlds of SF & fantasy?

KJA: It has so many layers. At age 11 I read a really cool adventure story about a young man trying to survive on a cool desert planet with giant sandworms. I read it again in high school, and got a lot more of the politics, the plot convolutions, the ecology, then I read it in college and got another complete layer. And again and again. This was published in the early 1960s. I don’t think there had ever been such an ambitious work of science fiction.

D&D: How did you feel when you were approached to continue Frank’s legacy with Brian, and how was writing the first book together?

KJA: Brian and I got together and discussed finishing the story that Frank Herbert left hanging at the end of Chapterhouse: Dune. That was our original plan. By that time I had already written dozens of projects for Star Wars and Lucasfilm, as well as the X-Files, and my original works had received a lot of critical acclaim and awards nominations. But DUNE was my favorite SF book of all time, and this was a huge responsibility. Brian and I still consider our work as stewards of Frank Herbert’s legacy as extremely important. We’ve gotten all of Frank’s books back into print, introduced the Dune universe to millions of new readers, and that’ll start to really explode as we build up to the release of the movie.

D&D: What sort of records did Frank leave behind, and do you have any left that are still to be explored?

KJA: Frank left his outline for the grand finale novel “Dune 7” as well as about 3000 pages of notes, epigraphs, character descriptions, unpublished scenes, historical timelines, even his outline for his original idea for Dune, Spice Planet. Much of it was fragmentary, but we published some of the best parts in THE ROAD TO DUNE. The Dune history covers some 15,000 years with lots of room to explore, but most of the material from the actual notes has been used.

D&D: For someone who’s not read Dune, how would you describe it?

KJA: Well, that’s a huge question! Maybe the best way is to say that it’s the science fiction equivalent to Lord of the Rings.

D&D: What other fandoms do you think Dune would appeal to?

KJA: It’s had such an influence on the science fiction genre. Should appeal to fans of Star Wars, Lord of he Rings, Game of Thrones, The Expanse. 

D&D: If someone was to start reading these books, do you think there is a preferable reading order?

KJA: Start with the classic DUNE. Everybody should read it.  From there, you can read the sequence of Frank’s books, or you can jump back to our prequel trilogy, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Corrino … or go all the way to the beginning, with the Butlerian Jihad trilogy.

D&D: There was a 4 year gap between the publishing of Navigators of Dune and Duke of Caladan – what’s the story behind that?

KJA: We had wrapped up the Great Schools trilogy and then we published Tales of Dune the year after that, but we were doing a huge amount of work behind the scenes with the development of the Dune movie, as well as games, comics, and graphic novels — you’re starting to see a lot of that coming out now. So we were certainly busy in the universe.  And both Brian and I were working on our individual projects. I wrote a vampire/serial-killer thriller STAKE (Severn House) and an enormous epic fantasy trilogy that starts with SPINE OF THE DRAGON and VENGEWAR (Tor Books).

D&D: How’s work on the next in the series, Lady of Caladan, going?

KJA: Brian and I have written the first draft, combined our chapters, and I’ll finish the first big cleanup edit in a week or so, then it goes off to Brian for his next cut.

D&D: I note you’re a creative consultant on the new movie – what did that actually involve? Did you get to go on set?

KJA: Our part was all done remotely, reviewing and consulting on the scripts and development.

D&D: You have comic book versions of House Atreides & the original Dune coming out – how does the process differ writing for a comic book? And how was it adapting that original novel – was there an extra pressure to get that right?

KJA: I’ve written a lot of comics (Star Wars, X-Files, Predator, Justice Society, and some original properties), and I’ve always been a reader, so I knew Dune would be a perfect fit for graphic storytelling. Adapting our own novel was a fun and satisfying experience, because I already had such clear images in my mind of all the scenes. (The hardest part was breaking up the complicated story into twelve issues of exactly the same length.)

Adapting Frank Herbert’s original novel was an even bigger challenge, because it is so dense and multilayered. And this was the first, and the definitive, translation of DUNE into graphic format. This is a faithful, scene-by-scene graphic version, and we had to make it visually interesting even in some of the heavy exposition sections. But in both the monthly ATREIDES comics and the DUNE graphic novel, we had outstanding artists—Dev Premanik and Raul Allen & Patricia Martin.

More about Kevin J. Anderson

“If people sign up for my readers group at wordfire.com they’ll get a free collection of my Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. stories, me reading an audio story of “The Percussor’s Tale” co-written with Neil Peart, and some other fun stuff.  You can also keep up on various Dune projects with our newsletter at dunenovels.com.  And I’ve got a lot of signed books, including a lot of Dune titles, at wordfireshop.com.

Kevin’s latest in the Dune saga, Duke of Caladan is currently on the best-seller lists (buy from Amazon for £12.99.) You can also buy Stake from Amazon for £12.99 or Wordfire (signed hardback) for $28.99, and Spine of the Dragon at Amazon for £12.79 or at Wordfire (signed) for $15 – $20.

Great thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions.

Books of Dune

How many Dune books are there?

There are currently twenty one Dune books – the original six by Frank Herbert, and fifteen more by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (including a colection of short stories). Here they are listed in the order published.
(For a chronological order see this page on the Dune Novels website).

Frank Herbert

DuneAmazon : £8.15Forbidden Planet : £6.99
Dune MessiahAmazon : £7.51WHSmith : £8.19
Children of DuneAmazon : £8.19Forbidden Planet : £7.99
God Emperor of DuneAmazon : £8.19Forbidden Planet £7.99
Heretics of DuneAmazon : £8.19Forbidden Planet : £7.99
Chapterhouse: DuneAmazon : £8.19Forbidden Planet : £7.99

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Dune: House Atreides
Amazon : £3.99Wordfire (signed) $10
Dune: House HarkonnenAmazon : £7.69 
Dune: House CorrinoAmazon : £1.97Wordfire (signed) $18
Dune: The Butlerian JihadAmazon : £8.42Wordfire (signed, 1st Ed) $250
Dune: The Machine CrusadeAmazon : £9.99Wordfire (signed) $10 – $18
Dune: The Battle of CorrinAmazon : £8.38Wordfire (signed) $30
Hunters of DuneAmazon : £8.99Wordfire (signed) 410 – $18
Sandworms of DuneAmazon : £3.50Wordfire (signed) $18
Paul of DuneAmazon : £9.34Wordfire (signed hardback) $27.95
The Winds of DuneAmazon : £14.99Wordfire (signed) $10 – $18
Sisterhood of DuneAmazon : £6.99 
Mentats of DuneAmazon : £8.19Wordfire (signed) $9.99
Navigators of DuneAmazon : £18.99Wordfire (signed) $9.99
Tales of DuneAmazon : £10.33

Foyles : £12.99

The Duke of CaladanAmazon : £12.99 

[All the Frank Herbert Dune stories, and the Duke of Caladan, are also available as audiobooks from Audible.]

Dune Graphic Novels

Kevin and Brian’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s original novel is available from Amazon for £12.93, from Forbidden Planet for £12.50, or from Kindel/Comixology for £10.89.
Cover for Dune the graphic novel
House Atreides issue 1 is available digitally from Kindle / Comixology for £3.32 or from Forbidden Planet (with a choice of 12 variant covers) for £3.30
A collage of all 12 cover variants for Dune: House Atreides issue 1

Other ways to enjoy Dune

Another way to experience the  story is to take part in Dune the board game. This is a re-issue of a 1980s game (and gets 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon! It’s also available from Forbidden Planet.)
The Dune board game

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