Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Godmakers

The Godmakers, by Don Pendleton
February, 1974  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication November, 1970)

Don Pendleton published innumerable books before he found fame and fortune with the Executioner. The Godmakers was one of those early books, published right around the time that Miami Massacre came out. The first edition of the novel carried the “Dan Britain” by-line, a psuedonym Pendleton apparently saved for his sci-fi output. The edition shown here is the 1974 reprint, published under Pendleton’s own name and capitalizing on the mid-‘70s success of the Executioner series, which is name-dropped on the cover…right above the wangless naked dude as he floats through a sort of blacklight-esque dreamspace.

It’s interesting to note that the original 1970 edition of The Godmakers took place in the near future year of 1975…a time when things were slightly different, like “steamer” cars on the interstates and a different sort of structure to the US itself. What’s odd though is this 1974 reprint retains that “near future” 1975 setting. Couldn’t some junior editor have at least gone into the manuscript and changed each instance of “1975” to say “1980” or something?

I’m not sure about the original edition, but the back cover of this reprint does a poor job summing up the novel, making it sound more like a “political intrique meets ESP” sort of thing. In reality, The Godmakers is more of an assault on conservative morality, fundamentalist religion, and the modern world. Indeed it’s almost gnostic in its disavowal of Christianity, even equating the god of the Christians with the devil. And it’s positively Carpocratian in its mindset that sex, sex, and nothing but sex is the only means to salvation. Not at all what you’d expect from the creator of Mack Bolan!

But man, if only the novel lived up to its gnostic promise. It seems to me that Pendleton tried to mirror (or at least was inspired by) Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land, with his know-it-all protagonist who blithely goes about laying waste to all the sentiments modern man holds dear. And while The Godmakers starts off strong, veering into psychedelic realms, it soon becomes an overbearing exercise in semantics, given over to pages and pages of explanatory dialog, our hero Patrick Honor info-dumping on anyone and everyone. And though there is sex (indeed, the action scenes are sex scenes), it’s all metaphysical, with prose more ornate than purple.

Anyway, Patrick Honor is a federal agent who works for a CIA-type agency, his office right beside the White House. His boss is a guy named Clinton, which proves ironic in the later scenes with the President; every time Pendleton would mention Clinton, I would think he was the President. The novel opens with Clinton giving Honor his newest task; to look into the sudden insanity of Wenssler, a scientist who is helming a government-funded research of PPS (psychic power sources).

The Godmakers bridles with a pre-PC mindset; when Honor meets Wenssler’s gorgeous female assistant, Barbara Thompson, he’s instantly checking out her “female form” and hitting on her. We learn that Wenssler has voyaged to such inner reaches that he’s lost his mind. Now all he can do is scream about “the Nines.” Barbara also has a list of dates and names, transcribed from Wenssler’s rants; these dates prove to be recent dates on which various important people have died. Many of the dates are in the future. The President’s name is on the list, with a date coming up in a month or so. Honor’s name is also on the list.

You’re prepared for a conspiracy-laden excursion into politcal intrigue, but Pendleton switches gears fast. Over breakfast Barbara starts hitting back on Honor – apparently Wenssler in one of his moments of lucidity claimed Honor might be “the one,” and Barbara has detected traces of PPS in Honor. Barbara herself has her own PPS powers and, as she telekinetically unbuttons Honor’s shirt, she informs him that sex combined with PPS might be the only way to voyage into the astral realm in which Wenssler’s mind is imprisoned.

The two rush upstairs to screw. Seriously! Pendleton relays the ensuing scene in dialog (Lots of “Ooooh! Patrick!” and whatnot), but it’s over soon, veering into the psychedelic as Honor suddenly finds himself in some sort of dreamscape. This will be repeated throughout the novel; anytime people have sex, they’re intsantly sent into this astral realm. Honor catches glimpses of Hadrin and Octavia, sort of personifications of the Ideal Man and Ideal Woman, I guess the original images that Plato spoke of.

Honor emerges with PPS superpowers. The session with Barbara obviously was the spur that he’d needed, but it comes off as so rushed, especially given that Honor spends the rest of the novel going around and explaining things to people, a sudden know-it-all, whereas in the opening pages he was cynical and didn’t even believe in PPS. What makes it worse is that the forward action of the narrative is also halted, and the entire book comes off as a descent into semantics, numerology, metaphysics, and Jungian philosophy.

Now, I’m interested in all of those things, but it’s just that the way Pendleton carries it off leaves you a bit dissatisfied. Everything is relayed via expository dialog, and Patrick Honor suddenly becomes a total bore. I do find it interesting that Pendleton makes the villain of the tale the god of the Christians. Honor elaborates (at great length, and several times) that our concept of god is actually “The Rogue,” man’s accumulated misconceptions and prejudices about god given amorphous form, so that it is now an actual entity, and worse yet one that has gained self-awareness and plans to take over our world.

The Rogue, as Honor makes clear, is really just the Collective Unconscious that Jung wrote about. What I find so strange about this is that Pendleton turns the typical assumption on its head and makes the Collective Unconscious evil! It’s often proposed that Jung was only re-discovering the god of the Gnostics, the “god of Plato” and etc – ie, the “True God” who has nothing to do with the Demiurge, aka the Judeo-Christian god. Anyway, here the Jungian god is evil, and Pendleton implies quite often that man himself is the true god.

Which brings me to the title: “Godmaker” is a term Hadrin gives Honor during one of their astral-realm chats. Hadrin explains that each human being has the potential to become a god, and Honor spends the rest of the novel tyring to teach that lesson to his colleagues. Soon he has Clinton and Clinton’s wife involved, and together they with Honor and Barbara are having orgies…all to combat the Rogue, of course! But again Pendleton skips over the naughty bits and instead has ‘em all getting ready to go at it, then after a few breathless exchanges of dialog they’re all in the astral realm.

Things get super goofy when the friggin President gets involved, “initiated” into the astral realm of PPS-assisted sex by Clinton’s wife and Barbara! (Goofier yet, Honor later informs us that Abraham Lincoln is still out there in the astral realm, a fellow Godmaker fighting the Rogue!) Anyway the President is very interested in PPS research, and there follows many scenes where he just sits around and listens to Honor tell him how much evil the Rogue threatens. Pretty soon he’s even calling fellow world leaders and warning them!

It’s all just hard to believe. Also problematic is the nature of the Rogue’s threats, and the way Pendleton delivers his metaphysical action scenes. Simply put, you have no idea what the hell is happening. Our heroes will disrobe, engage in group sex, instantly be transported into the astral realm, and then they’ll be yelling incomprehensible things to one another, like “Follow me into the root square!” or “Slice through the plane and into the geometer!”

I find it interesting though that Honor, even after “ascending” to his Godmaker status, still shows flashes of that pre-PC mindset, always referring to Barbara and Clinton’s wife as “the girls” and giving them the simple tasks. Or the sexual ones…there are many other goofy scenes where the ladies go about telepathically feeling out the sexual impulses of others and goosing them into public displays of sex…all to fight the Rogue, of course.
Also interesting is that Pendleton never once mentions homosexual sex…not that I look for such things, but it just seemed an obvious question given his position that one must have sex to fight the evil god we humans have created. Yet Pendleton never mentions what the gays are supposed to do – he makes it clear that heterosexual sex is the only way to combat the evil Rogue, that men and women are of different genders so that they can combine and achieve Godmaker status through sexual union.

Maybe the fact that the novel even caused me to think about such things is a sign of its success, that Pendleton was at least getting me to think about and question his sentiments. (The novel also promotes a healthy "question everything" attitude.) However I still feel a much better story lurked within Pendleton’s concept. Less semantics, less exposition, and a bit more understandable action would’ve made a big difference. As it is, though, I appreciated The Godmakers for its ideas and its psychedelic, sex-as-sacrament mindset.

Here’s the original edition, which sported a cool Frank Frazetta cover:


Bob/Sally said...

Hmm, I have to admit to being curious about this one. Your review has definitely dampened some of my excitement, but the premise you've set out still makes me think it might be worth a read.

Joe Kenney said...

Bob, thanks for the comment. You should check out the book -- one thing I neglected to mention is that, despite the exposition and the lack of forward momentum, the book is still an engaging read, due as always to Pendleton's mastery of the craft.