Frank Herbert's 'Dune' holds timely - and timeless - appeal - latimes.com: "The novel was sparked when, in the late 1950s, Herbert flew to Florence, Ore., in a small chartered plane to write about a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort to stabilize sand dunes with European beach grasses. The author was struck by the way dunes could move, over time, like living things -- swallowing rivers, clogging lakes, burying forests. 'These waves can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave . . . they've even caused deaths,' he wrote his agent, beginning an article, 'They Stopped the Moving Sands,' that was never published.
Despite his agent's indifference, Herbert dug in: He was fascinated by the project and superimposed the history of another sandy place -- including Arabs and Islam's Mohammed -- into an adventure novel originally called 'Spice Planet.'
When he hit his stride, Herbert was writing 70 pages a week."