2005: Introduction to "Spice Planet", from The Road to Dune

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Hunchback Jack
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2005: Introduction to "Spice Planet", from The Road to Dune

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Finding such a wealth of notes was just one step down the road, but the fresh material, ideas, clues, and explanations suddenly crystallized many things in the chronology of the Dune epic. It rekindled in us a kind of honeymoon excitement for the whole universe.

We photocopied boxes of this material and then sorted, labeled, and organized everything. The biggest challenge was to make sense of it all. As part of the preparation work before writing our first Dune prequel, we had compiled a detailed concordance and electronically scanned all the text from the original six novels so that we could better search the source material. Now, with highlighter pens, we marked important information in the stacks of notes, illuminating unused blocks of text and descriptions that we might want to incorporate into our novels, character backgrounds, and story ideas.

Scattered among the boxes, we found some sheets of paper marked with letters—Chapter B, Chapter N, et cetera—that were at first puzzling. These pages gave brief descriptions of dramatic scenes that dealt with sandworms, storms, and unexpected new spice-mining techniques. Some of the action took place in recognizable but skewed places, as if viewed through a fractured lens: Dune Planet or Duneworld instead of Dune, Catalan instead of Caladan, Carthage instead of Carthag, and the like. In Spice Planet, unlike Dune, the characters do not break the rhythm of their strides on the desert sand to prevent a sandworm from hearing them and attacking. Apparently, this had not yet occurred to Frank Herbert in the evolution of Dune.

The chapters of Spice Planet were populated by unfamiliar characters— Jesse Linkam, Valdemar Hoskanner, Ulla Bauers, William English, Esmar Tuek, and a concubine named Dorothy Mapes. These strangers were interacting with well-known characters such as Gurney Halleck, Dr. Yueh (Cullington Yueh instead of Wellington Yueh), Wanna Yueh, and a familiar-sounding planetary ecologist named Dr. Bryce Haynes. Although a minor character (a spice smuggler) had been named Esmar Tuek in the final published version of Dune, he was quite different in the newly discovered notes, a major player and clearly the original model for a well-loved figure, the warrior-Mentat Thufir Hawat. Dorothy Mapes filled a role similar to that of Lady Jessica. The nobleman Jesse Linkam himself was obviously the basis for Duke Leto Atreides, and Valdemar Hoskanner was the embryonic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

When we arranged all the chapters and read through the remarkable outline, we found that Spice Planet was a unique and worthy story in its own right, not just a precursor to Dune. Although the harsh desert is very similar to the one familiar to millions of fans, the tale itself is thematically different, focusing on decadence and drug addiction instead of ecology, finite resources, freedom, and religious fanaticism. In part of the short novel, the main character, Jesse Linkam, must survive in the desert with his son, Barri (an eight-year-old version of Paul Atreides, without his powers). This scene echoes the escape in Dune of Lady Jessica into the desert with her son Paul. Spice Planet, like Dune, is filled with political intrigues and a ruling class of self-indulgent noblemen, so there are plenty of parallels. Above all, this earlier concept gives us an insight into the complex mind of Frank Herbert.

Somewhere along the way, the author shelved his detailed outline for Spice Planet. Starting from scratch, with input from legendary editor John W. Campbell, Jr., he developed the concept into a much more vast and more important novel, yet one that he found nearly impossible to sell. It was rejected by more than twenty publishers before being picked up, finally, by Chilton Book Co., best known for publishing auto repair manuals. Ironically, if Frank had written Spice Planet according to his original plan—a science-fiction adventure novel about the same length as most paperback books published at the time—he might have had a much easier task finding an editor and a publishing house. Using Frank's outline, we have written the novel Spice Planet according to the original design, providing a window into the Dune that might have been.
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