DE # 2
by Dr. Willis E. McNelly
"The Dune Encyclopedia" had its origins in a sabbatical study I made in England in 1979. At that time I was planning a short book on the works of Brian Aldiss, a book which was never completed but while that's another story, many articles about him sprang out of that study. I stayed with Brian and his lovely wife (and bibliographer) Margaret in their home in the village of Begbroke, a few miles north of Oxford, and spent my days at the Bodleian library pouring over and sometimes pawing through his voluminous papers, then as now awaiting definitive study. Brian, it seems, has a copy, carbon or photocopy, of everything he's every written - a treasure hoard for future Ph.D. candidates.
Brian had just finished "Life in the West", the first of the "Squires" trilogy -- later followed by "Forgotten Life" and "Remembrance Day" -- and asked me to read it in manuscript. I did so almost immediately, enchanted with the quality of the writing, his evocations of times gone, problems present, and characters unique, a "mainstream" novel so unlike his science fiction written up to then. It is unfortunate that this seminal novel has had such a limited North American audience. "Life in the West" is a genuine work of genius, and I told him as much.
In addition, Aldiss was preparing, planning, and researching the massive "Helliconia" trilogy, his science fiction masterwork, one of the genre's true masterpieces, the writing of which would fill the next decade for him. He and I spent many hours over pints of Double Diamond discussing his ideas for this massive series of novels which would encompass centuries of time, endless changes in the morphology of the inhabitants of that planet, and incisive insights into the nature of reality, art, fiction, and humanity. Like Herbert, Aldiss seems constantly to ask, "What is it to be human?"
Anyone who has read the entire Helliconia Trilogy -- "Helliconia Summer," "Helliconia Winter," and "Helliconia Spring," -- will recognize immediately the immense diversity of imagination, the wealth of places, and the rich panoply of characters, that Aldiss embodies in the novels. In addition to inventing a solar system with dual suns around which the planet rotates in a two thousand year "year," Aldiss gives Helliconia histories, personalities, plants, animals, civilizations, and ecologies so rich, we both remarked almost simultaneously, that the very concept needed an encyclopedia just to keep everything straight. Copyright problems, he said, kept him from presenting an introductory Helliconia Encyclopedia; after all, he remarked, you can't copyright something that has yet to be written.
Shortly after arriving home a few weeks later, I considered the possibility of a Dune Encyclopedia. While I knew that Herbert was working at that time on what I called "Dune 4" -- later published as "God Emperor of Dune" -- the Dune series even at that time had not only a rich diversity, hundreds of unanswered questions, and an epic quality then unequaled in SF. So I sat down at the typewriter to propose to Berkley that I edit one.
In an example of synchonicity that still amazes me, the mail that day brought me a letter from Peter Israel, the president of Putnam's, Berkley's parent company, asking me if I would be interested in producing a Dune Encyclopedia. In a gesture that I much appreciated, he indicated that I was the only academician that Herbert would trust with such a project, and he also suggested that it include "Dune 4."
I immediately responded with my enthusiastic approval, asking only business questions about advances, production schedules, and so on. Within a week or two, I was visited here in California by Ms. XXXX, Berkley's then SF editor. We ironed out the details of the contract, spoke of a two year production time, length and scope of the book, and so on. I was to be given free reign, clearing things with FH by phone or mail if I had questions.
My first concept of the book was that it would be an A to Z encyclopedia -- Abomination to Zensunni -- that pretended to be an accurate history of the Dune universe, yet did not refer to its creator, Frank Patrick Herbert at all. Ever. In any way.
And so it became.