Will You Please Stop Saying That About Dune’s Publisher Please
Look, like many people, I get a lot of my knowledge from listicles on Cracked.com. (If you’re not familiar, imagine Wikipedia articles with jokes.) And like many people, I “learned” from Cracked that “Dune’s Original Publisher Otherwise Just Printed Repair Manuals.” However, like many things you learn on the internet, it’s just not true. I informed the author of the article about the error, and he responded, but it still repeats the same erroneous “fact,” which has quickly propagated across the internet, becoming one of those tidbits that people drop into conversations to sound well-rounded.
Yes, Chilton was primarily a publisher of trade magazines and automotive manuals. However, when it acquired Greenberg Publishers in 1958, it expanded. Greenberg had already published several science fiction novels in the 1950s, including attractive hardcover editions of Jack of Eagles by James Blish (1952), Ballroom of the Skies by John D. MacDonald (1952), and The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon (1950). So it stands to reason that Chilton would continue in this tradition.
Chilton’s book publishing arm wasn’t prolific, and in its early years seems to have concentrated on nonfiction—biographies of Leonard Bernstein and Harry Belafonte, books about Antarctica and gardening. However, they did publish young adult novels like D.S. Halacy Jr.’s Copter Cowboy and Claude Koch’s The Kite in the Sea, despite the claim in the Cracked article that “Chilton Company was not a publisher of novels.” But its ties to the sci-fi genre were there even in the early 1960s. Lester del Rey wrote two youth-oriented science books for them, The Mysterious Earth and The Mysterious Sea (1960 and 1961), and Robert Silverberg wrote several books on archeology.
And then came Dune in 1965, which completely changed the company’s direction. Except it didn’t. Dune was one of five sci-fi novels that Chilton published in 1965, and it came out in December, so it probably wasn’t even the first. We don’t know the exact dates of the others: Poul Anderson’s Flandry of Terra, James Schmitz’s Nice Day for Screaming, and Robert Silverberg’s To Worlds Beyond. But obviously Dune was part of a planned new direction for the publisher.
The following years brought more sci-fi alongside more editions of Dune, including James M. Schmitz’s Hugo nominee The Witches of Karres (1967) and Sterling Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey (1973), which influenced Gary Gygax in his creation of Dungeons & Dragons. The last sci-fi book they published was Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed (1975).
Certainly Dune was the most successful science fiction book Chilton published, but it wasn’t the first or only one. Please, internet, stop saying that it was.