Book Review: The God Makers (variant title: The Godmakers), Frank Herbert (1972)

the god makers

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1972 edition)

3.25/5 (Average)

As of late I’ve been returning to the extensive catalogue of Frank Herbert’s non-Dune novels on my shelf — The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966) was an engaging read with adept world building which created an intriguing/harrowing dystopic future.  The God Makers (1972) lacks not only Herbert’s trademark dense prose (for example, constantly shifting perspective over the course of a conversation) but also features one of his more poorly conceived future worlds.  This might be due to the fact that the novel was cobbled together from four short stories from the late 50s and early 60s: ‘You Take the High Road’ (1958), ‘Missing Link’ (1959), ‘Operation Haystack’ (1959) and ‘The Priests of Psi’ (1960).  The melding of the short stories into a cohesive whole feels rushed.

However, I’ve found even Herbert’s weaker novels are filled to the brim with intriguing ideas often conveyed in pseudo-philosophical ponderings from invented (but relevant) texts that head each chapter.

If you decide to buy a copy definitely track down the Putnam 1972 first edition or Berkley Medallion’s 1972 edition — both are graced with Vincent Di Fate’s otherworldly masterpiece of a cover.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

In the far future a massive galactic empire stretched across the galaxy.  However, a devastating series of wars — the Rim Wars between — destabilized and cut off numerous planets from the control of the galactic center.  Five hundred years later two organizations, the Rediscovery and Reeducation Service (R & R) and I-A (Investigative Adjustment), seek to reintegrate planets — often if deemed dangerous with whatever force is necessary — that have lost contact with the galactic center.  The overarching purpose of both organizations is to prevent another Rim War.

Lewis Orne is a young agent of R & R who ran away from the dominating women in his family who wanted him to enter politics.  On his first solo assignment on the planet of Hamal he correctly discovers that the supposedly peaceful society is actually a warlike one waiting to pounce.  He contacts I-A who send in the abrasive and snarky agent Stentson, who becomes Lewis’ mentor.  Stentson agrees with his assessment and detects great promise in the young man and promotes him to I-A.

Unbeknownst to both of them Lewis Orne is the “creation” of the Abbod and his monks of the planet of Amel (yes, Abbod not abbot) in his class “Religious Engineering” i.e. “God Making” (10).  Making a god is fraught with danger due to the fact that “having made a god, we achieve something paradoxically no longer our creation   We could well come the creation of that which we create” (11).  Also, wether the God will become a malevolent force is also unknown….  This introduces the main theme of the novel — the idea that Gods are created by man.  However, in this case the combined will of man “actually” creates a God.  This begs the question, why does Amel want to create a God?  Why do they want to be controlled?  When this theme is introduced Herbert halts developing/exploring the fascinating post-collapse world and the government’s two supporting institutions — the I-A and R & R.

Unfortunately, the series of events where Lewis’ growing psi powers manifest themselves (in the form of unusual hunches, surviving incredible injuries, uncovering hokey political plots) become less and less intriguing.  And of course, along the way he has to find his true love and take a break from being a God.  The watershed moment occurs when Lewis uncovers from the smallest inklings of evidence a massive plot centered around his family where powerful women seek to take over the government.

After this is easily suppressed, Lewis heads of to Amel to learn about his true identity (and new found powers) from his creators.

Final Thoughts

The first third of the novel — Lewis Orne’s initial assignments and his relationship to his mentor Stentson — is fantastic.  The post-collapse world is well drawn however Lewis’ first missions are simply stepping stones to the rest of the novel.

 The core of the novel takes place after Lewis becomes aware of his psi powers and uncovers the the painfully silly “powerful women are taking over the government” plot.  The last third of novel is after Lewis arrives on Amel.  Here, Herbert indulges in endless philosophical ruminations on the nature of religion as Lewis undergoes a series of tests.  The monks on Amel are also presented with a new situation because Lewis is the first human God they’ve created:  “This is our first human!  What have we touched in the past — a mountain of Talies, the Speaking Stone of Krinth, the Mouse God of Old Earth, animate and inanimate elements of that ilk” (153).

A readable novel that tantalizes the reader with its religious/philosophical musings but never pulls you into the world/characters.  Lacks the dense complexity of The Eyes of Heisenberg (and obviously Dune)…

the god makers III

(Uncredited cover for the 1974 edition)

the god makers II

(Bruce Pennington’s cover for the 1981 edition)

the god makers IV

(Uncredited cover for the 1986 edition)

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

15 thoughts on “Book Review: The God Makers (variant title: The Godmakers), Frank Herbert (1972)

  1. I’ve ranked The Godmakers considerably higher than The Eyes of Heisenberg. You might note that the theme of engineering a transcendent conscious being is quite similar here to what is found in Destination: Void, where the process of course is portrayed in clinical detail. But the stories that comprised The Godmakers are of especial interest because they were practically a test station wherein Herbert could work out elements for use in Dune, which was being written at or near the same time.

    • I found that The God Makers was a very very clunky treatment of the theme of transcendence — especially all decked out with Orne’s hilarious straight from the pulps love affair and evil women are taking over the government plot…

      But yes, he was developing some of his Dune-related ideas — but that in itself shouldn’t be a yardstick to how successful THIS novel is as a separate entity….

      But, I was thoroughly enamored with the first third or so of the work.

  2. In the subplot of the female power organization are to be found Frank Herbert’s influential aunts, who were also transformed into the Bene Gesserit. I myself think Godmakers works pretty well as a stand-alone, but our differences are apparently a matter of personal tastes. But also I tend to look at all of Herbert’s works as a whole more than I think about them as individual pieces.

    • I realize that……… I too know about Dune, Herbert’s life, etc. Again, just because it relates to his life doesn’t make it suddenly palatable to read in this particular instance.

      The Bene Gesserit on the other hand are a 1000x more sinister, nefarious, and fascinating than this particular incarnation of the theme. Perhaps because the work was episodic the plot against the government came off has a half-hearted attempt to ratchet up some tension — which failed.

      Aspects of the work are great — no question there.

      Again, not sure why you didn’t like Eyes…. I wrote a pretty detailed review a while back — but, it too is not without flaws..

  3. Joachim, With your interest in mythology, I look forward to your eventual reviews of Roger Zelazny….The DiFate cover was one of the very earliest I recall seeing as a kid, and it fascinated me. That`s the edition I own, and I wish DiFate were as well-known for this kind of figure work as for his white spaceships.

    • I’ve read the majority of his sci-fi novels — but before I started this blog so I probably won’t write reviews retrospectively. However, I did read Jack of Shadows recently and disliked it (couldn’t write a review) and reread Nova and loved it (again, was unable to write a review).

  4. Am I to assume reading this book – even with the problems inherant in the work – will allow one a better understanding of the evolution of Herbert’s philosophical musings that later gestated and became Dune? And if that is so, does it enrich the experience of Dune in any way? I personally read many of the Tolkien books where his son attempted to show the evolution of his father’s Middle Earth, and while I found those interesting, they never were more than an academic assignment to me, i.e., they bored me immensely.

    • People often claim that this is one of Herbert’s best non-Dune novels… So, if you’re a fan of his it’s probably worth reading regardless of whether it is directly increases your understanding of Dune. But no, this is not an “academic” musing — it’s a fully fledged earlier novel. I found the treatment intriguing but not mind-blowing.

  5. I enjoyed The Godmakers very much. It was especially clear to me that here was a forum where FH developed some of his ideas integral to Dune (et al), without having the process intrude heavily on that story.

    I also enjoyed the story and its protagonist, Lewis Orne, as one of Herbert’s most Zelazny-like creations.

    After reading The Godmakers, I read The Priests of Psi. That added a whole new dimension to the novel as we get to watch the artist, now 12 years further into his career, reshape and improve on his original idea. Fascinating!

    My gratitude to Sr. Boaz for pointing out the other stories that were the progenitor components of this novel.

  6. Following up on my nascent comment above, I located and purchased the various copies of Astounding that contain the early components of The Godmakers. It’ll be fun to see these old scifi mags with their ads from the late ’50s!

    Later, I discovered the recently published “The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert” which contains all of the above and a whole lot more (704 pages!). Will probably get that too, but still I’m stoked about seeing the originals!

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