The Godmakers by Frank HerbertThe Godmakers is one of my favorite Frank Herbert novels. On the one hand, it’s an adventure novel, the story of Lewis Orne, a well-meaning, extremely bright young man who works for the Rediscovery and Reeducation Service trying to help planets reconnect with galactic civilization after the Rim Wars. He discovers that all is not right on the planet Hamal and he helps to prevent a military debacle there, getting himself drafted into the more cynical Investigative Adjustment Service in the process. Roughly two-thirds of the novel has him investigating similar problems with Herbert dropping hints that he is the god that the “makers” of the title have “made”—even if he doesn’t know it yet. The final third of the novel involves Orne going to Amel, a mysterious planet which houses the heads of most of the galaxy’s religions, both to find out why they are messing with galactic politics and to discover the limits of his own peculiar abilities. This is where the novel becomes deeply philosophical novel. Herbert makes you think while he entertains you, which is probably why he’s so highly respected in the science fiction field.
Frank Herbert’s novels have often included ecological themes and in this one he seems to have taken his inspiration from Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the War on Crop Eating Pests—birds, rats and insects. In China, this effort to eradicate pests put special emphasis on the killing of swallows because they ate the crops. Swallows also, as it turns out, ate their body weight in insects every day and without them the insects could not be stopped from ravaging harvests exasperating the famine caused by other policies of the Great Leap Forward. Yet, China found it ideologically difficult to admit that Mao’s policies had had such devastating results and it is in this that I think Herbert found his idea for The Green Brain.
China is leading the world (except for North America and Western Europe) in a program to destroy all insects so that they will not eat food needed by people. China is convinced (and tells people that in China they have already marvelously succeeded) that all the ecological niches filled by insects can be filled by mutated bees. Unfortunately, these policies have resulted in horrendous crop failure in China and they need a scapegoat they can provide to the Chinese people so that their leaders can stay in power. To find this scapegoat, they have come to Brazil where their agent is spreading rumors that men hired to exterminate the insects in the jungle are secretly repopulating the jungles with mutated insects in order to continue earning the huge bounties they make from their work.
There are two heroes in the story—one is Joao Martinho, the man chosen as the Chinese scapegoat. The other is the Green Brain of the title—a mutated insect collective that is trying to figure out how to convince the humans to turn away from their path of destruction that is destroying the world. It is part of Herbert’s genius that these insects can be both the source of horror in the story and a force that we can also hope succeed.
The heart of the story is very similar to Herbert’s book Angels’ Fall which he wrote early in his career but wasn’t published until after his death. It involves an unpowered trip down a mighty jungle river with the intelligently directed insects pursuing our heroes.
This isn’t Herbert’s best novel, but it’s a good story so long as you
remember that it was written before our modern satellite system was in place. China’s
schemes would be impossible with satellite imagery showing that they had turned
their nation into a desert.
Whipping Star by Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert excels at the creation of truly alien, incomprehensible cultures, and it is this problem of communication that is the heart of the superb novel, Whipping Star. In the universe of the future multiple alien species live together in a government called the ConSentiency. For several decades, the peoples of the ConSentiency have taken advantage of advanced technology provided to them by a new race called the Caleban. The Caleban are almost impossible to understand, but they have a jump door technology that permits people to instantaneously move anywhere in the universe. At the start of the novel, the Calebans are disappearing from the universe and with each new disappearance millions of beings are going insane or dying. Very quickly, the protagonist Jorj X. McKie, learns that the disappearances and deaths are connected, and if the last Caleban in the universe disappears or dies (a phrase the Caleban refers to as “ultimate discontinuity”) all people (99% of the ConSentiency) who have used a jump door will also die.
So the stakes could not be higher in Whipping Star as McKie tries to determine what could threaten the existence of a being with cosmic power. The answer is totally perplexing, but is also the key to the communication problems which make this book the masterpiece it is. The Caleban is being murdered by the richest woman in the ConSentiency who has an obsession with flogging people, but has had her psyche treated so that she can’t bear the thought of causing suffering. Her answer was to form a contract with a Caleban—a sort of energy creature—and whip her. But why a primitive leather bullwhip could threaten the existence of the most powerful creature in the universe…well that’s the heart of the story.
This is a wonderful novel by a master of the science fiction field.