The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert
by Frank Herbert
Cover Artist: Shutterstock
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765336965
Date: 18 November 2014 List Price $29.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Frank Herbert is, of course, best known as the author of Dune and its five original sequels. But he wrote far more science fiction, including the 39 stories in this volume. The stories in this complete collection were published between 1952 and 1979 in science fiction magazines including Astounding, Galaxy, Amazing, Analog, Worlds of If, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. There is also one appearing here for the first time. The stories show the virtues and also the problems of science fiction of the 1950s and 60s, with some interesting plots and ideas, but few compelling characters.
People who are not big fans of the 1950s plot driven science fiction can skip the first few stories, although "The Gone Dogs" about extinction has some interesting ideas and a bit of a twist ending and "Pack Rat Planet" is an early example of a clever schemer outwitting a powerful but incompetent government. "A Matter of Traces" introduces the idea of government committees having an official saboteur, which Herbert develops further later.
I found the best of the 1950s stories to be the first three of the Investigation and Adjustment stories, starting with "You Take the High Road" featuring Lewis Orne. These stories feature a nice rivalry between the Rediscovery and Re-education Service, which tries to reunite lost human planets with the galactic government, and Investigation and Adjustment which tries to protect humanity from hostile planets. The third story "Operation Haystack" is especially interesting when Orne's sister appears to be a leading suspect in a possible revolt and he falls in love with another suspect. Unfortunately, I found the last in the sequence, "The Priests of Psi", about psionic powers to be disappointing.
Overall, the stories from the 1960s were better than most of the earlier ones. "A-W-F Unlimited" is a very interesting story about a charismatic woman who has second thoughts about being the creative lead at a PR firm working with the military, but it is spoiled by a rather sexist ending. "Mating Call" about the effects of alien music has a nice twist. "Try to Remember" is a nice take on alien contact as teams of humans struggle to learn how to communicate with the aliens. "The Tactful Saboteur" is another fun story of bureaucracy in a future where red tape has been eliminated, and the Bureau of Sabotage has become the chief safeguard for human rights. "Greenslaves" is another take on species survival as colonies of insects learn how to mimic humans and fight to protect their environment. In "Committee of the Whole", the ultimate weapon is introduced at a Senate hearing on grazing rights. "The GM Effect" shows the dangers of being able to uncover the truth behind history. "The Primitives" is a fun story about time travel, a cavewoman, and organized crime with a diamond that cannot be cut with modern technology. "By the Book" is an exciting adventure story which again uses the trope of turning the rules against the ones who made them.
There are 10 stories from the 1970s. "Murder Will In" features an alien with the ability to jump into human bodies and take over, resulting in a nice tale of identity. "Passage for Piano" is a charming story about future colonists joining together to enable a gifted pianist take his piano to the new world. "Death of a City" is the closest thing here to a character study, about a woman with the power to heal cities. "Songs of a Sentient Flute", is a mini-masterpiece, about a genius poet raised on a Ship who is tasked with saving the planet Medea who communicate in song. The new story, "The Daddy Box", in which an abused child finds a mysterious device with a note calling it a "daddy box", has a sentimental tone and a horror feel.
It is interesting to see common themes emerge in Herbert's writings. In several stories, Herbert shows a libertarian distrust of government with heroes sabotaging it, delivering weapons to the people, and finding ways to subvert the spirit of the laws through rigid obedience to the letter of them. By and large, even the best are stories of plot rather than of character or emotion.
While Tor undoubtedly wanted to create a complete collection of stories, this is one case where a more judicious selection would provide a better setting for the gems to shine, instead of being lost in a crowd. Readers who like old fashioned plot-driven science fiction stories of the 1950s, will find much to enjoy here. Fans of Dune may also be interested in what Herbert can do with other characters and settings.