Dune, Science Fiction Epic

by Admin on May 10, 2013 · Modern Firsts

Dune by Frank Herbert

In June of 2011, Abebooks sold a first edition of the science fiction epic Dune, signed by the author, for $7,500. The amount matched the Chilton Book Company editor’s advance offer made to the book author, Frank Herbert, back in 1963. It proved to be a tough sell at the time, as publisher after publisher rejected to publish the work after reading the first few pages that contained references to multiple protagonists, places, terms and concepts. The novel is also quite overwhelming for the first time reader without any background knowledge, as the reader is repeatedlybombarded with new introductions that are not given a definition. Overall, Herbert’s narrative technique provides an extraordinary amount of information which is enriching, but is also confusing to the reader who is forced to either wait for explanations, or try to interpret them using obscure clues.  Nevertheless, today Dune is considered to be the best-selling sci-fi novel of all time.

Despite the lack of definitions, Herbert’s technique becomes more familiar as the story progresses, and eventually allows the reader to understand what each character thinks and feels consistently.  I actually got to enjoy the adventure and its mysticism much more when I read the book for a second time. It did, after all, take Herbert six solid years of research and writing to complete the work.  As he himself declared, “A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.”

The five sequels to the original story that followed have also been well received:  Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. The first novel also inspired a 1984 film adaptation by David Lynch, and the stories were used in the production of two Sci-Fi Channel miniseries aired in 2000 and 2003.

While Frank Herbert is not considered to have reached the level of Philip Dick, their careers have been very similar. The two giants of science fiction writing, published early on a number of short stories for monthly sci-fi magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction, Amazing Stories and Startling stories which marked Herbert’s debut  with “Looking for Something?” in April 1952. They both had their stories adopted into film to reach the peak of their popularit,y and they both grew spiritually at some stage in their lifetime. Currently, a great deal of their works’ distribution is in the hands of the estates that oversee their interests and manage the release of material for new publications and film adaptations.

Interesting enough, our Rare Book Sale Monitor picked up a significant increase in pricing for the science fiction genre during the last quarter reported. A similar copy to the one that sold in 2011 (first edition and signed in good condition)  sold at the beginning of this year on Abebooks for twice the prior sale  amount – $15,000, leaping closer to the $20,000 total that Herbert earned  from Dune book sales between the years of 1965 and 1968.  By the way, $20,000 in 1968 is the current equivalent of $130,000 after adjusting for inflation, making Herbert’s book a success story, considering that most science fiction novels came nowhere near such a payoff during that time.  Fortunately, the sci-fi collector should still be able to find a first edition, signed copy for around $10,000 as there are a few copies currently available.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee-Ane Wieland September 5, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Hi, we were given in a deceased estate a box of books and a lot of these books being first edition are in there, is it possible to have someone contact us for a valuation and possibly put us on the right track with a buyer or how to sell them. Titles include Children of Dune 1st edition by Frank Hubert as well as The Masters by C P Snow published in 1964 and many others, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards
Lee-Anne and David Wieland
0428746015 or 0456624955


Peter Hyde June 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Debra, there have been quite a few ‘paperback originals’ in science fiction. PKD had so many that there is an award named after him for best PBO. 🙂 But the first hardcover edition is almost always more valuable, even if it was printed after the true first (paperback) edition. A good example is Neuromancer by Gibson. The Ace paperback was printed before the Gollancz hardcover but is worth approximately 5 times less.


rob alley May 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Debra – there are actually quite a few science fiction books that first appeared in hardcover. Granted, not all of them did, but enough did to make a fun opportunity for those of us who enjoy collecting science fiction! And science fiction as a genre seems to not shy away from limited editions, special editions, etc – so there seem to be plenty of opportunities for those of us who like to focus on hardback editions. I will let others more knowledgeable speak to whether certain time periods were more likely to have works first published in paperback form.


Debra Harrison May 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I meant to add a smile at the end of my previous post…


Debra Harrison May 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Am I correct in assuming that most, if not all, first edition sci fi books are in paperback editions. I went through a period where I read many many sci fi books but just can’t seem to picture slipping the paper editions in between the covers of my collection of hardbound firsts. I understand, of course, that some collectors focus on first edition sci fi as some focus on comic books. Are there others out there like me? Or am I a throwback to some type of snooty collector who prefers hardbound editions?


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