Frank Herbert’s Dune, is about as quintessential a sci-fi novel as it is a cult phenomenon. Combining socio-political prowess and understanding with a prescient world-view, Herbert spent a feverish five years simply researching for the initial Dune novel. In the first book and its predecessors, technology is explored in a very peculiar way. Set roughly 20,000 years after our time, technology is all but completely banished. The story takes place after the Butlarian jihad, a war between man and machine, ending with technology destroyed and the mankind at his most vulnerable. Still, the planet of the Tlielaxu forges on, creating technological progress under the strict guidelines of the galactic empire.
Dune is primarily focused on philosophy and uses many of the social dynamics in the books to warn us of where we may be headed. Frank Herbert said he wasn’t so much trying to predict the future but actually warn us of it. Still, Herbert did predict a lot of technology from his office chair in 1969, and rarely does anyone consider that. Let’s look at ten technological developments of Herbertarian clairvoyance.
Three Developments that Dune Successfully Predicted:
Fog Catching and Drought
The inhabitants of the desert planet Dune, the Fremen, must survive on little to no water. In doing so, they have created a wind catching device that pulls moisture from the air and stores it underground. Today, we call these people fog catchers. Originally based on large stone building, moisture condenses within the structure and is saved in wells below. Today, a four by four foot Chilean mesh filters fog banks into its long handle.
Technology like this is very important in places like California that see large-scale drought on a yearly basis. Today, many gather along the coast of the Red Wood Forest to reap the moisture from the fog-drenched landscape. After all, the best water is free.
Fossil Fuel Addiction
While Frank Herbert was writing about the spice addiction of the universe, a mélange that allowed galactic travel by bending of space, the United States was about to greatly expand its need for fossil fuels. This may also seem like a warning for the future from Herbert. The Dune universe put itself at great dangers to obtain control over the spice. The same can be said for the situation in the Middle East at the turn of the new millennium.
Perhaps Dune wasn’t meant to foreshadow such events exactly, but when Herbert was researching for Dune he saw how resource control was used as a tactic of the ruling class in the past. By using the lessons of the past he was able to warn of the future. As Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Even in 1969, the idea that artificial intelligence would try to imprison the human race was on the mind of Herbert. The Butlerian jihad seems like a huge warning for what Stephan Hawking agrees could be a dark end for mankind.
With many futurists agreeing with Hawking’s warning it would seem that they’ve either read too much science fiction or see A.I. as a legitimate threat. Though there won’t be an outright ban on the study of this technology, many have signed an open letter to make sure that the human interest is foremost.
The novels were not the only way in which the future was being foretold. Chilean director extraordinaire, Alejandro Jodorowsky, began creating a film version of Dune in 1974. This version predicted the success of many of the people involved. Within this wealth of talent, some rising stars would get their start here. Among them were, H.R. Giger who would go on to create the Alien franchise’ xenomorph, which would go on to be the subject of at least a dozen films.
Although the film never saw a release, only a storyboard that lives in infamy, Dune influenced science fiction films in a monumental way. Scenes, themes, and even characters’ would reappear in Hollywood breakout hits throughout the next 40 years at least.
Surely Dune was ahead of it’s time, perhaps these predictions are merely coincidence, but the lessons we can learn from Dune, and other science fiction still reminds us why the genre is so important and will continue to inspire and warn humanity. Frank Herbert is still remembered for his contributions to and science without being a scientist himself.