Frank Herbert is one of my favourite authors, and I don't mean just his Dune novels either. Unfortunately many of his books are out of print. Recently Tor reissued a bunch of them but despite keeping an eye out for them I am still missing some. The Heaven Makers was one of those still missing, it has not been in print for quite some time as far as I can tell. So when I came across it on a second hand book site last year I couldn't resist. The Heaven Makers is one of Herbert's lesser known work. The story first appeared in two parts in Amazing Stories Magazine in 1967 and first appeared in book form in 1968. My copy is a very cheap New English Library paperback (number 2684), probably printed in 1970, and for sale for 30p at the time. Whoever bought it must have been very careful with his books, it is still in pretty good shape.
In The Heaven Makers Herbert shows us a contemporary world where events are being controlled by the omnipotent Chem, an immortal alien older than the solar system. For these immortal creatures boredom is a mortal enemy (a notion Herbert also used in The Eyes of Heisenberg) and entertainment a necessity. In humans they have found a nearly endless supply of fascinating stories. Director Fraffin, running earth's story ship, is one of the most successful Chem in his business. His success has not gone unnoticed though. An investigation into possible breaches of the law has been launched.
In the mean time Fraffin continues to create new stories by subtly influencing events without the knowledge or consent of his actors. One such actor is the psychologist Androcles Thurlow, who sees one of the most important men in town and father of Ruth, the woman he is still in love with, butcher his wife. A crime he predicted in an psychological evaluation of the killer. Thurlow is severely shaken by the even but even more so when he starts to see alien observers where no one else can.
The cover they stuck on this edition must the most awful I have seen this year. I have absolutely no idea what the publisher was thinking. It vaguely resembles a scene in the book, the crash test dummy is supposed to be Ruth, but that's the only thing positive I can say about it. The publisher wisely omitted the name of the artist. I imagine whoever created it will want to forget it as soon as possible. I did not let that distract me from the story however.
The book is quite short, only 141 pages in this edition. Barely novel length. Herbert does not have a lot of space to stuff in lots and lots of science and philosophy like he does in other works. It is also not as densely written as his later none Dune works. The main theme of the novel is of course the morality of what the Chem are doing to the human population to earth. Humans are little better than pets in their eyes, hopelessly primitive, violent and short lived. I'm not sure if it is intentional but I thought the way Herbert describes them almost comical. They're the little green men everybody thinks about. The flying saucer inhabiting kind that is accused of kidnapping unsuspecting people for strange experiments (they actually do some of that in the book), the kind of creatures that populate countless ridiculous UFO stories.
The Heaven Makers was a quick read and it is a little dated. I rather enjoyed it though. Herbert is much more occupied by the idea of our alien overlords and the consequences of immortality than the development of his characters, a failing of several of his early novels. With it's rather straightforward plot, is not Herbert's most memorable work. I very much doubt it will see print again any time soon. That being said, it is far from his worst either. If you like Herbert's work, you'll not want to skip this one. Hard to find as it may be it.
Title: The Heaven Makers
Author: Frank Herbert
Publisher: New English Library
Format: Mass Market Paperback
First published: 1968