The Heaven Makers: Short and thoughtful

Frank Herbert The Heaven MakersThe Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert science fiction book reviewsThe Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert

The Chem are a race of aliens unknown to humankind. Because they’re immortal, they’re bored. So, for entertainment, they broadcast drama TV from Earth. Fraffin is one of the most successful producers of human drama. Authorities from his home planet suspect he may be manipulating events on Earth, which is forbidden, so they send Investigator Kelexel to find out what’s going on. But Fraffin has a way of dealing with snoopy investigators. All he has to do is trap them by tempting them with Earth’s secret pleasures.

In actuality, Fraffin is indeed interfering with humans and creating his own dramas to boost his ratings. For his current project, which he’s been setting up for decades, he incites a well-respected man to brutally butcher his wife. Before being taken to jail, the man asks psychologist Androcles Thurlow to look after his daughter, Ruth, who is Thurlow’s ex-fiance. When Thurlow gets involved, he realizes something really weird is going on. Inspector Kelexel realizes it, too, but then he becomes infatuated with Ruth, just as Fraffin knew he would.

The Heaven Makers has a few problems. Characterization is shallow, there’s some horrendous psychobabble, parts of it drag (especially the murder trial), and there’s an annoying lecture about ethics and immortality at the end. Yet the story is mostly entertaining and, for such a short novel, it suggests some ideas and asks some questions that are worth thinking about.

An obvious idea that Herbert plays with is the notion that immortality leads to boredom and that danger gives spice to life. The Chem find their long safe lives so dull that they feel the need to live vicariously through humans who experience pain, loss, and death. Another idea, which I think I appreciated a little better, is the thought that small personal conflicts can represent big epic conflicts. In the past, Fraffin the producer incited big events such as wars to entertain his alien brethren. Lately, with Ruth’s family’s story, he’s looking into the possibility that a small personal conflict may feel even more devastating and be more gripping for his viewers than big global events are. As a human, I can say that, yes, my little personal sufferings sometimes seem weightier than a world war.

The Heaven Makers was originally serialized in 1967 in the magazine Amazing Stories and was released as a short novel in 1968. I listened to Blackstone Audio’s recent version which is 7.5 hours long and is read by Scott Brick. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I love the way Brick reads old science fiction.

The Heaven Makers — (1968) Publisher: Strange aliens had invaded Earth thousands of years ago. They were eternal beings who made full sensory movies of wars, of natural disasters — and of the most macabre human horrors — to relieve their endless boredom. And then, when they finally became jaded by ordinary, run-of-the-mill tragedies, they found new ways of creating their own disasters… just for kicks. But interfering with Earth’s natives was strictly against regulations, and the authorities occasionally did check into these matters. However, by the time Investigator Kelexel arrived on the scene, the trouble had been going on for a long, long time — and things were getting worse!

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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. Apparently, reality TV agrees with Herbert that the small intense drama is just as captivating — and much cheaper to produce. I think Herbert nailed it with this one.

    • Yep. And I’m so glad to see these old books being produced in audio formats. I’m glad that old SFF is getting plenty of attention these days!

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