Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Godmakers - Frank Herbert

The Godmakers (1972) is probably one of Herbert's harder to find work. I don't know of any recent publications in English. I got my hands on a Dutch language copy December 2001 and I've been looking for a reasonably priced English copy since. A couple of weeks back I managed to get my hands on a 1973 paperback edition. It's in reasonably good shape, not bad considering it is older than I am. When I first read The Godmakers in 2001 I was quite impressed with some of the ideas Herbert used in his work. It was the first book other than the Dune series I'd read by him. After this reread, having a few more book by Herbert under my belt, I'm afraid it is not one of the better ones.

A great war has left the galaxy reeling. Contact with many words was lost in this era of violence and humanity is still trying to pick up the pieces. Determined to prevent another outburst of war, each rediscovered world is thoroughly checked for signs of warlike activities. Re-education is imposed on those deemed salvageable, in some cases, al planet buster is the only known cure. Field agent Lewis Orne is sent out to newly rediscovered planets to judge is superficially peaceful societies are what they appear to be. Orne is soon noted for his unusual observations and deep insights. As he is sent more challenging assignments, is soon becomes clear that he is on a path that may take him beyond humanity, to godhood itself.

The Godmakers is a fixup novel, consists of four short stories: You Take the High Road (Astounding, May 1958), Missing Link (Astounding, February 1959), Operation Haystack (Astounding, May 1959) and The Priests of Psi (Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, February 1960). Of two of these stories to copyright has apparently expired. Missing Link and Operation Haystack are available on ManyBooks. They've also been recently published as a paperback by Phoenix Picks. One or more of these stories also appear in the various collections of Frank Herbert's short fiction that have been published over the years. Again, these are not easy to come by, all of these collections are decades out of print.

The novel clearly shows that the book indeed consists of four separate pieces. Personally, I think some more effort to bridge them smoothly would have done this novel a world of good. Perhaps this was a bit of a rush job, In 1972, Herbert's ambitious mainstream novel Soul Catcher appeared as well and the first instalments of Hellstrom's Hive, serialized in Galaxy in 1972 and 1973 and published as a novel in 1973, were also in the works. The stories offer brief snapshots of Orne's development but sometimes the jumps can be jarring, particularly between the Operation Haystack and Priests of Psi sections of the novel. I thought the last section of the book, which relies much more on religious themes had a decidedly different tone than the other sections.

The part of the novel I most enjoyed was the first section. In You Take the High Road Herbert examines how there are clues of military activity in the most basic elements of our lives. Orne sees hints in the way roads are constructed, the way production is organized and what kind of games and sports we play, to name a few things. Much more subtle signs than political power structures, fortifications or standing armies. Another interesting thought is the hoe and handle argument. I'm not entirely sure who thought of this but I've seen it before in various guises. Basically it states that by creating interdependency, with one side specializing in, and only able to, produce the hoe, and the other the handle, war is much less likely to occur. Now keep in mind that these stories were written in the late 1950s, a time when WWII was a fresh memory and the great political experiment that resulted in the European Union took off, which is partially bases on the same idea. In a way, Lewis Orne is the personification of the cry "Never again!"

Later on in the novel, Herbert leans more on the idea that it is not god who made man but man who makes gods. Orne, on his way to become a man-made god, is put though a number of spiritual tests in order to show him his true power. The text becomes increasingly philosophical here, with passages that will no doubt offend the more dogmatic believers in a number of religions. Another idea that is shows up in more of his works, is the creation of religions for specific purposes. It's a theme that shows up in Dune for instance, but also in the Destination: Void series. The concept is an interesting one but I think the way he uses it in his other novels works better.

The Godmakers is not a great novel, I consider it as something of a study for Herbert's later works. The concepts that show up in Dune are the most obvious but I also think Orne is something of a proto-Jorj X. McKie, the main character in the novels Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment. A lot of the short fiction Herbert produced where his sandbox. He played around with ideas that would later develop into his strongest novels. Trying to patch four of these stories together and calling it a novel has not worked particularly well in this case. Still, in Herbert's oeuvre as a whole, these short stories were a significant step in his development as a writer. From that angle, they are still more than worth reading.

Book Details
Title: The Godmakers
Author: Frank Herbert
Publisher: Berkley Medallion Books
Pages: 221
Year: 1973
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-425-02344-3
First published: 1972


  1. > I got my hands on a Dutch language copy December 2001 and I've been looking for a reasonably priced English copy since.

    Piracy is the answer. (It's even moral in this instance; no new copies to buy, and even if there were, Brian Herbert deserves to suffer financially for what he's done.)


  2. I'm going to give an e-reader a go next month but mostly I don't like reading texts this long of a screen. Besides, I kinda enjoy the hunt;)

  3. I just finished The Godmakers, Destination: Void, and am about to start The Heaven Makers. I had read The Jesus Incident and The Lazarus Effect, but could not find Destination: Void until a few days ago. That being said, I found The Godmakers to be a much more entertaining piece of literature than any of the others. It seemed to be well paced and kept my attention.

    I did not know that it was a collaboration of four short stories until reading your review, but I did find the book to vary in theme throughout. This did not hamper my fascination with the story, however.

    The cover of my copy is of the Abbod (or possibly Orne)and the shriggar behind him. Found it in a local book store.

  4. Heh, I wish there was a second hand bookstore with a decent sf selection around here. I've been having all sorts of trouble in finding Herbert's out of print works. Apart from the short fiction I think I have found everything now.

    I suppose The God Makers (or the Heaven Makers for that matter) is not the dense reading material the Destination: Void books offer. I usually like it when Herbert gets philosophical.