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The God Makers. Hardcover – November, 1972
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This story explores what it might be like for a human to evolve into a god. Very enjoyable.
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.
If the "Dune" series is Herbert's career-defining masterwork, "The Godmakers" toys with all the major themes that run through those later books. A galactic society of factious planets bearing the cautionary scars of a great war. A government with a secretive controlling agenda, and an even more secretive matrilineal subculture indirectly manipulating politics. The convergence of technology and paranormal power, and the emergence of a superbeing with perception beyond time and space. All those things in the mix of the 150 pages of "The Godmakers" are writ large in the fat volumes of the Dune series.
Always interesting to consider an artist's body of work, particularly one as renowned as Frank Herbert for revolutionary imaginings, and trace the arc that led them to their most famous creations. Things rarely spring fully formed from anyone's forehead, despite how it can seem at first glance.