British Fiction Focus

“A Thing Within a Thing” — Redesigning Dune

This afternoon, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Herbert’s singular science-fiction masterpiece, Hodder & Stoughton unveiled a truly beautiful new edition of Dune. Due for release on July 16th, it comes complete with a fantastic found cover by Sean O’Connell, a graphic artist working out of Oregon—not coincidentally “the same state that sparked Frank Herbert’s initial interest in desert ecology.”

But that’s not all! Over to Anne Perry, editor extraordinaire:

To make our new edition look really fresh and modern from the inside out […] we cleaned up and reset the text, and increased the format from A, which is that smaller size paperback that I associate with dog-eared paperbacks from the 90s, to B, which is a little larger and more contemporary. Finally, we needed a brilliant cover to catch the eye and make our beautiful new edition look as classic and important as it is.

“An intimidating brief,” as Perry put it. “I mean, how do you put a new cover on a classic?” Well, evidently, you spend some time trawling the depths of DeviantArt, which is where the aforementioned editor alighted on the image that has so much to do with Dune’s dazzling new look:

I found Sean’s work and it stuck with me, even as I spent months and months checking out other artists and considering other ideas. In the end, I brought Sean’s art to a cover meeting as an example of I wanted to use as inspiration when briefing an artist to rejacket Dune, and the unanimous consensus was “Why mess with perfection?” So we got in touch to see if we could use the art he’d already produced… and the rest is history!

In the press release announcing the anniversary edition, O’Connell had this to say about his inspiration:

I’ve been a fan of Dune for a long while. It is my father’s favourite book and we’ve had many a discussion on the Dune universe. My inspiration for the cover design stemmed from my love of the concept of a thing within a thing.


The underlying theme of Dune is ecology and the relationship of the desert with the spice, the spice with the sandworms, and the sandworms with the desert. Beyond all the political intrigue is the concept of a galactic economy being dependent on one very scarce resource. I had the idea of the sparse desert landscape with the moons: the classic landscape of Arrakis. I put the scene within a reverse silhouette of a giant worm to show that the desert exists because of the worm but also that the worm exists because of the desert. I hoped to create the illusion that you could not focus on one aspect of the image for too long without seeing the other. I hope this dichotomy of imagery on the cover will prepare the reader for the intriguing themes held in its pages.

Sir, I dare say it does!

I hardly need note how significant Dune is in terms of the spectrum of speculative fiction, but on a more personal level, allow me to add that it was important to me too, once upon a time. It was a book I read (and adored, of course) many moons ago, on my mum’s recommendation. She, in turn, had it recommended to her by her father—my granddad. Alas, we Alexanders aren’t a particularly close-knit clan, but somehow, these stories, and then this series, brought us together.

And then, decades after Frank Herbert’s death, there were the prequels his eldest son put together with Kevin J. Anderson. And then there were the sequels by the same pair. And then? Some more shoddy spin-offs. Summarily sickening me and mine off a fiction that had been near and dear to us all.

Long story short, when I woke up this morning, the last thing I expected was to find myself excited about a Dune book, but all of a sudden I find myself wondering if anyone on has done a reread of the original series…

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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