Sunday, June 06, 2010

Book Review: The Godmakers

Frank Herbert, author of the Dune saga, is known for mind-expanding fiction, as he addresses philosophical, political, environmental, cultural, and technological themes in a very cerebral, serious style. The Godmakers, a collection of short stories written in the author's pre-Dune career, was assembled into a novel in the early 1970s in an effort to capitalize on Herbert's fame. It covers many themes familiar to Dune fans, including the effects of fantastic powers on the individual, the risks of worshipping human beings as heroes and "gods," and manipulation of others via religion.

The story (or stories) themselves follow the adventures of one Lewis Orne, a member of the Rediscovery and Reeducation (R&R) corps, a shadowy organization that is responsible for "rediscovering" lost human planets after a galaxy-wide "Rim War." R&R agents are sent to these worlds to determine if the locals are peaceful; if they are not, a military team is sent in to pacify the population. Orne is subsequently recruited into a parallel organization called Investigation-Adjustment (I-A), which has oversight over R&R.

Orne's adventures start out as a series of intellectual exercises in cultural observation, each of which he overcomes in increasingly challenging fashion. Herbert puts together his puzzles as exercises in cultural history and psychology. Orne is a typical Herbert character--cerebral, serious, insightful, and sensitive to nuances of behavior and politics.

The primary conflict of The Godmakers centers around a world where all of the galaxy's religions have congregated onto a single planet, united in a treaty and dedicated to developing superior mental and "Psi" abilities. Orne is, again, challenged to uncover some sort of conspiracy on this world using his personal insights and increasing abilities.

This work lacks the finesse and long-term unity of the Dune series, and it appears to have been assembled hastily, as there are clearly parts where character histories are repeated unnecessarily--giving the reader a clue that this was originally a series of very different stories. The characters in the story also lack a great deal of the depth and sympathy that Herbert's greatest creation enjoy. Again, it is a series of shorter stories put together as a novel (much like Asimov's Foundation Trilogy), and the hand of a writer looking to make a buck comes across.

Still, one can find Herbert's heavy, psychological style beginning to come to life here. His characters' tendencies to speak in aphorisms and his habit of opening chapters with quotations from fictitious books can be found here. Herbert remains one of the masters of philosophical science fiction. As such, his work cannot be ignored, regardless of its form.

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