My first novel, Big in Japan, is about a neurotic American prog-rocker coming of age in Japan. My second, Jellyfish Dreams, is about a biologist’s quest to reanimate his dead fiancée at the instigation of a black hole beneath his sofa. Readers who’ve read both books usually remark on how different they are, but I don’t see it that way. For one thing: crazy artist, mad scientist—same difference. For another, even if you agree with (a quote I’ve seen attributed to) sf comics genius Warren Ellis that “Prog rock was sick and wrong then and it is sick and wrong now,” one can’t deny that prog drinks as liberally from the sf well as it does from the epic and fantasy ones. And so, a primer on some of history’s more salient prog-sf conjunctions:
“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.”Only I will remain. - Dune by Frank Herbert - 1965
Dune is one of those rare stories that transcends the tastes and interests of a particular decade or generation. It takes us very, very far away from the ordinary concerns of life today to a place more than ten thousand years in the future, a time when human beings have spread far across the galaxy.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most celebrated science fiction novels of all time. A novel of dense political intrigue, plus giant space worms, Herbert’s vision has stumbled in the attempts to bring it to the big screen. After many attempts to adapt the book stalled, including on from post-modern director Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dune was finally adapted by Blue Velvet director David Lynch. The film did poorly, receiving savage reviews and pitiful takings at the box office, with noted film critic Roger Ebery giving the film an embarrassing Dune one star out of four stating, "This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” The casting choices were iffy at best with the bewildering choice of Sting as The na-Baron Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen as the peak of its failure. There is little question that modern technology and directors could make a far better adaptation of Dune, but who are the best actors for a Dune reboot?
Back in 1965, Frank Herbert revolutionized science fiction literature with his futuristic epic Dune. This novel earned him the coveted Hugo and Nebula Awards and helped launch a series of bestselling sequels, as well as the 1984 David Lynch-directed film.
Ignoring George Lucas's prequels, it took nearly four decades for Star Wars to find its footing again. Its success is due to the amazing production team from Disney, helmed by the great J.J. Abrams. But Star Wars is vulnerable. No longer is the playing field like a narrow stretch of the desert plains of Tatooine. Studios around the world are forever on the search to find the next great sci-fi entertainment dynasty. Failures like John Carter and Jupiter Ascending were attempts at relying upon either less-than-complex storytelling or overly stimulating visuals. There is no need to look further than the greatest sci-fi novel ever made. The pattern changer for science fiction story telling was Frank Herbert’s epic Dune.
"You get talent when you discover the ground of your pain." In 1964, H.R. Giger began producing his first artworks, mainly ink drawings and paintings. He would move on to airbrush, the execution that would help the artist create monochromatic worlds depicting dreamy landscapes. By tapping into a nightmarish universe, Giger captured the fascination of local purveyors, leading to his first solo exhibition in 1966. Not since Hieronymous Bosch has an artist been able to effectively tap into unnerving imagery while holding the public's fascination.
Frank Herbet was born in 1920. Growing up during the Great Depression, his young mind could envision worlds and histories that no man had walked on and no civilization had experienced. But even the prophetic visions he had did not foretell the social media age; a period in which his imagination would become indelibly etched into the digital universe. A period in which Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest would preserve and evolve the worlds he created.
Near the start of Jodorowsky's Dune, Frank Pavich’s new documentary on the unmade movie version of novel Dune, its primary subject—auteur filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowksy —tells the audience he wanted his version of to make people feel like they were tripping on LSD. In Jodorowsky's Dune, the powerful self-appointed messiah isn’t a prescient hero named Paul Atreides—it’s Jodorowksy himself. He speaks to his cat in the middle of interviews, rants like a child throwing a temper-tantrum, and grins, Cheshire-like, before declaring “I rape the Frank Herbert. BUT with love!” Is this guy for real? No! But that’s sort of the point.
If there's anywhere the old axiom about judging a book by its cover holds true, it's science fiction. Few classic sci-fi authors and their cover artists ever see the same vision for the cover illustration. Typically it is the publisher that makes the final choice. Dune art was different. John Schoenherr connected to Frank Herbert's vision immediately. He was able to tell the same story visually. "Herbert wrote in 1980 that though he had not spoken to Schoenherr prior to the artist creating the paintings, the author was surprised to find that the artwork appeared exactly as he had imagined its fictional subjects, including Dune Sandworms, Baron Harkonnen and the Sardaukar." An extraordinary illustrator is capable of contributing to a piece of literature and even enhancing its message. In the case of an artist like John Schoenherr, he became the franchise's joint architect and left a mark no less indelible than the novel itself.