Perhaps the most relevant layer, right now, is the environmentalism.
Yeah. Frank Herbert read everything. He told me once that he couldn’t read one page of an encyclopedia without reading the opposite page. One of the things he noticed was that in history there was something he called hydraulic despotism. And what that meant was that the party—the group that controlled the water in, say, Mesopotamia—would control the environment. So he started thinking about that and he started thinking about finite resources, and he zeroed in on water. So if water were your finite resource, well, let’s make it all a desert. He was thinking far ahead. The Whole Earth Catalog, which was … I don’t want to say it was a hippie publication. I mean, I went to school in Berkeley, so I don’t want to sound derogatory. But the Whole Earth Catalog loved Dune. He spoke at the first Earth Day in April 1970 in Philadelphia. He said, “I don’t want to have to tell my grandchildren, ‘There’s no more Earth left for you. We’ve used it all up.’” It surprises people to know that he was Republican. He was very complex.
Did you know your dad was a big deal when you were a kid?
I didn’t get along with my father very well until I was in my twenties. But I remember one day I was hitchhiking down to Carmel or Big Sur, and I was sitting in the back of this Volkswagen. These long-haired kids picked me up, we just started talking, and they said, “Well, what does your dad do for a living?” I said, “Well, he’s a newspaperman, he’s a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. Oh, and he writes, he writes a little bit too.” So they said, “Well, what has he written?” I said, “The Dragon in the Sea and Dune.” And literally they pulled the car off the road and they looked at me and they said, “Dune?!” I had no idea. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know this was a great book.
As a Bay Area person, do you also see Dune’s influence on technology?
When I was growing up in the 1950s, we didn’t have a television, [my father] didn’t want that around. So he extrapolated, as we do, in science fiction. So what if … what if … what if … and what if computers were running everything and they enslaved us and then we had to break free? He came up with all that, of course, before Terminator and all that stuff. He was prescient, you know; he could see into the future, just like some of his characters.
The Russian hackers who attacked Ukraine a couple of years ago, they made encoded references to Dune in their malware. That’s how they got the name Sandworm. Did you know about that?
No, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s so widespread. I wish they weren’t using Dune names for that kind of thing, though.
Yeah. Creators end up losing control of their creations, right? You can’t always help what your fans do with your ideas once they’re out in the world.
Have you ever thought about Dune’s influence on something like Burning Man? They’re both about going into the desert to do drugs and find yourself.
We live in what Dad called a “light switch society.” He liked to think in terms of what would happen if you couldn’t access all that technology. When he was a professor at the University of Washington, he taught a class called Utopia Dystopia. He liked to take his students out into the woods and camp out there with them and actually make them live out in the woods the way he did as a child. He would teach them how to live off the land. You don’t bring things in there. You’re gonna fish. You’re going to find things you’re going to eat, grub worms from underneath a log. You’re going to eat red ants, you know, things like that. So Burning Man is a similar thing in which we have to think about what it would be like if we didn’t have the things we take for granted.