by Simon Berman
To say I’ve been waiting a long time to work on a Dune roleplaying game would be an understatement. I think it’s been on mind since I first found RPGs back in 1993. So of course, when the good folks at Modiphius reached out to me about writing assignments this past September, I was beyond thrilled.
And then I remembered I was moving house that month.
After over a decade of living in Seattle, Washington, I was moving to the city of Tacoma, just 35 miles south, but enough of an ordeal to throw a wrench into any writing for a month or so. Fortunately, I’d still have time to meet my deadlines, but it was still a source of stress.
Somewhere in the madness of moving and trying to write notes for my first outlines, it dawned on me that Tacoma was perhaps a serendipitous place to be moving while I began the project. After all, Tacoma, WA is the birthplace of Frank Herbert himself.
Tacoma was a major industrial town and the ecological devastation it endured was a major influence on Herbert’s work, and Dune, in particular. While the city is no longer quite as much of an industrial hotspot as it was in the Sixties, it still bears many scars; incongruous with the pristine landscape of Puget Sound and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
One of the most egregiously despoiled places in Tacoma was the site of the Arasco Company copper smelter. For almost a century this spit of land beside Puget Sound was a dumping ground for industrial waste laced with arsenic, heavy metals, and other contaminants. It was designated as a Superfund site and only rehabilitated in the past decade. The final stages of this process saw the former toxic waste dump painstakingly redeveloped into a park open to the public this past summer.
The Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance and the Frank Herbert Trail opened July 6th, 2019, and is a fitting tribute to Herbert’s legacy. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon there this October and was impressed with the beauty of the place.
Strolling between the carefully nurtured native grasses on gently rolling hills, you’d never know that you were walking atop what was once a toxic slag heap. Open grassy areas are interspersed with stepped hills to be climbed, or approached by long earth ramps, and works of art by local artists have been installed throughout the park. Plaques can be found at various points detailing the environmental history of the park. Wildlife is starting to return as well. In my few hours there I saw seals hunting fish just feet from shore, great blue herons, cormorants, and countless other seabirds.
Of the several impressive installations, my favourite, of course, was Nichole Rathburn’s sculpture, “Little Makers.” The initiated will immediately recognize the forms of juvenile sandworms burrowing in and out of the earth atop a mound affording a spectacular view of Mount Rainier. Cast in bronze, these sculptures are filled with frenetic energy and you can imagine them working to change the face of Arrakis, or at least the Dune Peninsula in Tacoma.
If you find yourself in Tacoma, do yourself a favour and take a long stroll across this terraformed land, and maybe give a thought to what greater works of ecological transformation we may one day achieve here on Earth, just as the Fremen changed the face of Arrakis.