The Godmakers: Starts well, then begins to ramble

The Godmakers by Frank Herbert science fiction book reviewsThe Godmakers by Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert’s The Godmakers is a novelized collection of four connected stories that first appeared in the pulp magazines between May 1958 and February 1960:

  • “You Take the High Road” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1958)
  • “Missing link” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1959)
  • “Operation Haystack” (Astounding Science Fiction, 1959)
  • “The Priests of Psi” (Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, February 1960)

The story takes place in a far future after humanity has spread to many habitable planets. However, a war has devastated communication between the planets and humans have lost contact with an unknown number of them. An intergalactic governmental agency called Rediscovery & Reeducation (R&R) finds these planets and tries to bring them back into the fold, reeducating as necessary to ensure that they’re peaceful. If the found planet seems warlike, an agency called Investigative Adjustment (I-A) is brought in to assess the situation and decide how to deal with them. Destroying an aggressive planet is an option. The goal is to avoid another intergalactic war.

At the beginning of The Godmakers, we meet Lewis Orne, a new agent for Rediscovery & Reeducation. On Orne’s first mission he visits a planet that seems, on the surface, to be a peaceful agrarian society which wouldn’t at all be threatening. But Orne pushes the panic button and explains to his baffled superior at I-A how he intuits that the inhabitants are actually quite dangerous. Because of his sharp observations and keen logic, he’s quickly promoted to an I-A job.

As a new I-A operative, Lewis Orne visits another planet where the inhabitants are thought to have stolen a spaceship. Nobody can find it but, again, using his superior critical thinking skills, Orne solves the mystery. Then he gets injured and all hope seems lost — his injuries will kill him. To everyone’s surprise, he lives. It turns out that Orne has godlike powers and, in fact, he learns that he was made by humans who were experimenting with creating gods.

At this point The Godmakers is no longer an interesting story of the exploits and adventures of a clever I-A agent, partly because we know Orne’s powers are supernatural, but mostly because Herbert’s story now becomes a dull rambling philosophical treatise about religion, the purpose of gods, ethics, war, consciousness, chaos and energy. Still, Dune fans will likely be interested to notice the development of some of the themes Herbert addresses in his master work, including a race of domineering women who want to control the government by attaching themselves to important men and even running a secret breeding program.

Award winner Scott Brick narrates Blackstone Audio’s 7-hour audio version of The Godmakers. Anyone who reads classic SF on audio will be familiar with Brick’s voice, his perfect pacing, and his intuitive understanding of the characters.

The Godmakers — (1972) Publisher: An adventure in the far reaches of the imagination. By the author of Dune. Godmakers explores concepts of war and peace, good government and religious belief. It can be seen as a bridging novel between the all-human Dune universe and the ConSentiency universe series. The novel expands four short stories: “You Take the High Road” in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1958; “Missing link” in Astounding Science Fiction, February 1959; “Operation Haystack” in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1959; & “The Priests of Psi” in Fantastic Science Fiction Stories, February 1960.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. A race of women who want to control things by attaching themselves to powerful men in government, and are even running a secret breeding program. Interesting concept — wish he’d done something with that.

    Seriously, though… We were talking about Herbert yesterday in the bookstore, saying that while Dune still works, he’s another writer of his time whose work seems a bit dated now.

    • You’re right. It’d be interesting to compare and contrast those authors whose work seems dated to those whose still holds up well.

      I’m sure there are several important factors, but a lot of my judgement about what seems dated is based on women’s roles in the story. So many of those men writing in the 50s and 60s could imagine interstellar space travel, but couldn’t seem to imagine women breaking out of their traditional roles. Even when they do write about powerful women, the women are only powerful because they have some sort of magic or because they’re manipulating powerful men.

      I know it’s a product of the authors’ culture, but the fact that they didn’t see beyond their culture makes their work seem dated to me.

      I wonder if male readers feel the same way, or if they even notice it.

      And of course, it’s not just about women. I notice women’s roles because I’m a woman. I may be particularly sensitive because I work in an area that used to be a “man’s field” and I have two daughters who I’m trying to teach to not be restricted by their gender. I’m sure that if I were part of other minorities, I’d notice and be annoyed at their treatment in old SFF stories, too.

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