Story Time Reviews “Operation Haystack” by Frank Herbert. If you enjoy science fiction spy mysteries, you’ll enjoy this short story. It first appeared in Astounding in May 1959. This review is of the public domain LibriVox recording. It is a little more than. 48 minutes in duration.
All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.— Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
The story is about Field Agent Lewis Orne, injured during an assignment on a planet ruled by women. The doctors have no hope of saving him. A “womblike creche pod” had taken over most of his badly mangled body’s vital functions. Umbo Stetson, Orne’s section chief, writes Orne’s mother about her son’s condition. She is too ill to travel. In her stead, a friend and local, Mrs. Ipscott Bullone of Marak, wife of the High Commissioner, takes over for the family.
Miraculously Orne survives. Mrs. Bullone invites Orne to recuperate at her home after his discharge from the hospital. This is an opportunity Stetson can’t pass up. He suspects Ipscott Bullone of being the head of a conspiracy to take over the government. Stetson assigns Orne to spy on the family during his stay.
Orne falls for the Bullone daughter and discovers long kept secrets and conspiracies. Will he stay loyal to the service and possibly lose the love he’s found? Or will he expose the secrets and conspiracies? And will that be enough to save the government of Maresk?
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An avid reader, Franklin (Frank) Patrick Herbert Jr. (1920-1986) didn’t graduate from college. He refused to take mandatory classes. He wanted to study what he wanted to study. And he wrote what he wanted to write.
On his eighth birthday, Herbert declared he wanted to be an author. As an adult, he had a difficult time making a living at first. He bounced from “job to job and town to town.”
He is best know for his novel, Dune (1965), and its sequels.
Many of his works are complex with themes involving genetic manipulation through selective mating, human evolution, the corruptibility of government, and the intersection of religion, politics, economics, and power.
His bibliography is impressive. He wrote over forty short stories, six Dune novels, a four book series called WorShip, two ConSentiency novels, plus at least fifteen more novels, six short story collections, and six nonfiction books. Find a more complete bibliography on wikipedia.
He died of a massive pulmonary embolism, a complication of surgery for pancreatic cancer.
The Voice Talent
Gregg Margarite (1957-2012) was a voice artist, a musician, and a big dog owner. He recorded 205 hours, 58 minutes, and 30 seconds of audiobooks. Most of that was for LibriVox.
His understated vocal style was clear and unobtrusive. He didn’t do “voices.” He simply told the story.
His body of work reflects his love of short science fiction. You can find his audio catalog here.
Overall, I enjoyed the story.
The story holds Herbert’s usual themes: politics, power, and corruption. There are also hints of the Bene Gesserit from Dune.
It’s pacing and suspense is excellent. And I enjoyed some of Herbert’s very nice descriptions.
On reflection, I don’t think the story begins in the right place. The injury and recovery feel a bit “added on.” Some aspects of the story reflect writing styles in the late 1950s. Thus, Orne’s is not an intimate viewpoint.
The understated narration of the story bothered me at first. Usually, I like a more dramatic reading. But I found myself drawn into the story.
I admire and am enamored of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune. He researched and developed Dune over a six-year period. While the Dune website does not acknowledge “Operation Haystack” as one of the Dune stories, I believe it involves an early version of the Bene Gesserit.
I recommend reading or listening to this story. You will see the strengths and weaknesses of Herbert’s early writings. And his theme about politics and power will make you think. I give this story four of five stars.
If you enjoyed this episode, Story Time Reviews “Operation Haystack by Frank Herbert, you may wish to look at previous episodes. You can read reviews of stories by Ray Bradbury, H. Beam Piper, and Isaac Asimov.