|Kevin J. Anderson: Pumped on Dune|
Sometimes dreams become destiny. Bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson first read the science fiction classic Dune when he was ten years old. Soon he dreamed of writing books like Dune -- epic novels of worlds within worlds and characters of Machiavellian scope and depth.
Yet Anderson never imagined himself writing Dune -- picking up the tale where it ended at the death of Dune creator Frank Herbert. But in 1997, Anderson joined forces with Herbert's son Brian (also a noted science fiction writer) to write three prequels and the conclusion to the Frank Herbert classic. Anderson calls their work on the books a "dream come true." And when Crescent Blues talked to Anderson at DragonCon 1999, the thrill of the Herbert/Anderson collaboration still glowed white hot.
Crescent Blues: For folks who've not yet read Dune, does the "Atreides" in the title of House Atreides, the first novel in the Prequel to Dune trilogy, have anything to do the family of Agamemnon, the king who led the Greek forces in the Trojan War?
Kevin J. Anderson: Exactly, that's who Paul, the hero of Dune, is descended from. It's his family's blood heritage -- House Atreides from the line of Agamemnon. In fact, in the third chapter of House Atreides, the characters watch a performance of Agamemnon by Aeschylus.
Kevin J. Anderson: The main character in our story is young Leto, who was Paul's father. He's the duke before Paul. It's the love story between him and Lady Jessica, their first battles with the Baron Harkonnen, and how the future emperor Shaddam, Crown Prince Shaddam, kills off his old father so he can take the Imperial Throne. We know that Duke Leto's father was killed in a bullfight, and we show all that in our book -- the little snippets from the book Dune.
But our story, unlike the book Dune, which is very much centered on the planet Dune, is on about six different planets. We go to Ix; we go to Caladan. We go to the Imperial Planet; we go to the Harkonnens' homeworld. You see very much the imperial system and how it works -- how this galactic system with all different planets is held together as a tenuous thread --
Basically a lot of different people have the goods on each other under the table, and that's how it all works. It's this big complicated system. You see how the Imperium works and how the government works, the Bene Gesserit (the witches, the women who are running things behind the scene) and the Spacing Guild are running things. Everyone's got their fingers in so many different pies.
I should add that when I read Dune the first time, I was just blown away, because science fiction books were never this big and this complex and this epic in scope. Just trying to do something that says Dune on the cover, based on Frank Herbert notes, writing with Frank Herbert's son [Brian Herbert] was a deliciously intimidating experience.
Kevin J. Anderson: We had to create a lot, but there were a couple things that helped. We found Frank Herbert's full and complete outline for "Dune 7," the last Dune book that he was going to do, which is set far in the future from the original ones. (Ours are prequels.) But there are also thousands of pages of his own character notes, background notes, his cogitations on the Bene Gesserit and how they formed, some back-history on the Butlerian Jihad… and I know I'm speaking a totally different language to someone who's not familiar with the books.
We have thousands of pages of notes. This was really funny, because Brian and I got together and started discussing the project without having any of the notes. When Frank Herbert died, he left the story of Dune on a cliffhanger. He never finished the story, and it just stops. So we were talking about trying to finish the story ourselves, kind of like The Mystery of Edwin Drood -- Charles Dickens died before that book was done, and other people completed it.
After we had already agreed to do it, we plotted some things. We decided to do the prequel instead of the sequel at the moment -- we will eventually do the last one. And after we had already plotted the prequel, that's when Brian, by digging through all the stuff we had on Dune, came upon the key to the safe deposit where he found the [Dune 7] outline.
Then Brian was trying to turn his garage into an office. Inside there, in a back corner, he found a Xerox (tm) box with thousands of pages of Frank Herbert's handwritten notes. It had all been put away at his father's death. Nothing was happening to them. It was like discovering this lost treasure or going into the C.I.A. warehouse and finding the Ark of the Covenant somewhere.
I know I'm gushing, but to me Frank Herbert was a great author, and I love Dune, so to find this is like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's amazing stuff
Kevin J. Anderson: What I want to impress is that I am so pumped about this project. It's not like [deadpans]: "Well, yeah, I suppose I could do a Dune book." This is my dream come true.
Crescent Blues: How long have you been working with Brian Herbert to create the prequel to Dune?
I write with a tape recorder; I go up hiking all the time. One of the places I like to write in is Death Valley, Calif. I love the desert. I love going out there.
I got lost in Death Valley one day, and I found myself hiking an extra several hours to make my way back to where the car was. Out in the middle of the desert, after I finished dictating the chapters I had in my head, for some reason I got to thinking of Dune.
Kevin J. Anderson [smiles]: Maybe.
It had been about 12 years since Frank Herbert's death, and as a Dune fan, I kept waiting for someone to finish the story. Brian Herbert, Frank's son, was also a science fiction writer and published a bunch of books. I kind of assumed he would do it, and I kept waiting, but obviously after this amount of time, it wasn't going to happen.
I had done so many Star Wars books and X-Files books, and my original fiction had been nominated for awards. Maybe it was just heat delirium or something, but I thought, what do I have to lose? I can ask if either I can do it, or maybe we could work together.
Ed Kramer, a mutual friend of ours, got us together, and instantly [Brian and I] hit it off. Brian called me up, and my wife likes to say, within two minutes we were talking a completely different language, because I have read everything of Frank Herbert's. I knew it inside and out.
Crescent Blues: You came at as a fan as well as a professional writer.
Kevin J. Anderson: I was a professional writer who had credentials working other people's sandboxes. I really know how to do that, and I enjoyed it. And Dune was the best science fiction book I ever read, so I can't think of a project I'd rather be doing. You need to have that kind of attitude for something that's this ambitious and complex. Each of these books is 700 to 800 pages long. There's so much you have to know about the Dune universe, and it's all up to us.
And we came up with something that everyone who has read it has gone nuts. It's the biggest single science fiction contract in publishing history. Before it even came out, we have sold sub-rights into a half a dozen languages. I think we really pulled off what we said we would. You can't possibly top Dune. I can't imagine topping the best science fiction novel of all time.
Kevin J. Anderson: Well, I've dealt with a lot of rabid fans, especially with Star Wars and X-Files, and it's really creepy to deal with people who know more about my stuff than I do sometimes. I'm writing the books that [Brian and I] really know how to do.
I have the absolute and utmost respect for Frank Herbert and the legacy that he left. No matter what the fans are going to say, I'm not going to do a better job than I did anyway. I did my best possible work, because it says Dune on the cover. I can't do anything less than my absolute best.
Crescent Blues: Do you think you'll bring a lot of the fans that you've already acquired with you to the Dune universe?
Kevin J. Anderson: I hope so. The interesting thing is, because these books are prequels, people who haven't even read Dune can read these books and get started in the story. I hope I'll persuade a lot of Star Wars and X-Files fans, who've never read Dune, to read my book with Brian and think: "This is cool, let's read the other stuff."
Crescent Blues: Obviously Frank Herbert was working in a historical framework when he created Dune. He was working with models from a number of different historical periods. When you and Brian were working on the prequel, what historical characters and periods were you drawing on?
Kevin J. Anderson: There's a lot of Machiavellian stuff, and clearly that's what so much of the complexities and politics were based on. The Bene Gesserit were based on the orders of Catholic nuns, because Frank Herbert went to a Catholic school, and he based these witches on the black-robed nuns that used to whip his knuckles when he was a bad little boy.
A lot of the imperial stuff -- I'm a minor in Russian history. Some of the Czarist stuff -- Ivan the Terrible and Alexander II… I thought the Russian czars were far more interesting than any of the British kings and queens. So I have that context and that background.
It is such a complicated story, and what we started out with evolved into different things. We both bring a lot of our own background and studies to it, and it comes out in ways that maybe people won't even recognize even if you tell it.
What we got from Machiavelli, for example: there are different leadership styles. Duke Leto's leadership style is different from the baron's style, which is way different from the emperor's style. In fact the emperor, even though he's supposedly the most powerful person in the universe, has to bow to so many other people who have the goods on him that he's an interesting ruler -- he's an incredibly powerful ruler who can't do anything.
Kevin J. Anderson: I spent 13 years working for the government. I had a security clearance and we wrote all kinds of documents -- the kinds that have to be done in triplicate and written in languages that nobody could understand. I put some of that in the bureaucracy of [the Imperium]. I've used that more in other books. But it's easy to use some of my political experience to try to explain how things get done or don't get done in a big, unwieldy empire.
Kevin J. Anderson: Dune is different from the others primarily in that Brian and I are the only ones working on it. Brian is the person who owns Dune, as opposed to, say, Lucasfilm, which is a giant corporate entity with thousands of lawyers and people who are approving everything every step of the way -- who are also working on their own stuff. So I may be working in my own little cubicle somewhere, writing things, not even aware of what else is going on. With Dune, it's a real collaboration between Brian and I, and we don't have to get anything approved by anyone other than us.
I obviously did so many Star Wars and X-Files projects that I was perfectly capable of getting things approved. But it's different when you can do what you really want to do based on Frank Herbert's notes, rather than trying to do something so they can fit an action figure into it or all kinds of other things. I felt much more like a real partner in it, rather than just one worker bee doing something else.
Crescent Blues: Will working on Dune affect your other series? Obviously, the Young Jedi Knights of your trilogy are grown, and their adventures will be taken up by R. A. Salvatore. Will your work with the Star Wars or X-Files franchises slow down or even stop?
Kevin J. Anderson: I will pretty much be focusing on Dune and one or two other projects I've got. But I've done 54 projects for Lucasfilm and three X-Files novels and a half a dozen or a dozen X-Files comics. I love those things, but I suppose after I've done 50 Dune projects I'll be ready to move on to something else too.
But the Dune projects are so engrossing and so involving. They're 800 pages. They're incredibly complicated. It's not the kind of thing I can work on while I'm pre-occupied with lots of other things.
So right now, I've got Dune. I've got a couple of other original novels I'm doing. I'm writing a new Fantastic Voyage, redoing the Raquel Welch, 1960s movie where they shrink down and go inside the human body. It's all new. It's a brand new team of people who get the technology, and they go on other adventures. In the first new adventure, they don't go into a human body; they go into one of the Roswell alien bodies.
Crescent Blues: That's… fantastic. That movie looks a little cheesy now, but in it's day, it was top of the line.
So, I've got Fantastic Voyage and Dune and the novelization of Supernova, a big science fiction film set to be released this Christmas. You can get the details on the Kevin Anderson/Rebecca Moesta [Kevin's wife] Web site, WordFire.
Crescent Blues: Anything else you'd like to add?
Kevin J. Anderson: I write my own stuff. I have never stopped writing my own novels while I was doing Star Wars stuff and X-Files stuff. But I've enjoyed all of them, because I love Star Wars, and I love X-Files. I don't love anything more than I love Dune. And to get to work in these universes is just like being a kid and getting to play with the coolest toys in the toy store. I love doing it, and I'm going to keep doing it.
Click here to learn more about Kevin J. Anderson.
Click here to learn more about his collaboration with Brian Herbert on the Prelude to Dune trilogy.
Donna Andrews (with additional questions by Teri Dohmen)
Donna Andrews is the author of Murder, with Peacocks, which won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in May 1998.