The Godmakers by Don Pendleton
Pinnacle Books, 1974
Originally published in 1970
Price I paid: none
Patrick Honor was possessed by PPS, Psychic Power Sources, which led him, even though he could not understand them. Beyond understanding was feeling, beyond feeling was knowing. Patrick Honor knew only that he had to go on.
He had to explore the unknown, to escape his body, to travel to the root octave of the Ninth Parallax. And he had to find Octavia, the unearthly beauty who beckoned him from another world.
There was so much to learn. What was the real power source? Was it sex, or science, or…love? What was the meaning of the number nine? Why was the President of the United States going to die on June 15, 1975?
Eighty-one days, exactly, after Patrick Honor’s death!
This book came into my possession by means of reader and guest poster Philip Stiff. Philip is also the kind soul who made it possible for me to review the Star Quest books in 2015, so I’m starting to think he deserves an extra round of applause for all he’s done. Thanks so much!
Now, having said that, we can talk about this new book he’s kindly sent me. I think the best way we can start this off is by asking the question that’s been on my mind since, oh, page ten or so.
Dear God, Philip, what did you have me read?
Folks, this book was something entirely unexpected. What I thought I was getting into was some kind of ESP-based spy thriller by the author of the Executioner books and Civil War II. I figured there would probably be a fair amount of sexy stuff to go along with it.
What I got instead was a lot of raving that I didn’t understand! Yeah, there was sexy stuff, and yeah, psychic stuff was involved, but this book was by-and-large a series of diatribes and exposition dumps filled with words that don’t mean anything when put in that order.
We got a taste of that on the very back of the book, when we learn about the “root octave of the Ninth Parallax.” I figured we’d maybe learn what that means. I figured wrong. We do hear about it a lot. there are a lot of root octaves mentioned. There are a lot of nines and powers of nine. What we don’t learn is what any of it means. It seems almost deliberate.
Here’s what I do know:
Our main character is a guy named Patrick Honor. He works for the US government. For the first nine or ten pages, he’s a regular guy. He doesn’t believe in psychics or any of that weird stuff. He’s a hard-headed realist.
At the beginning of the book, he meets a woman named Barbara Thompson, whom he is immediately attracted to. She has a problem. She is assisting a guy named Professor Wenssler, who researches PPS, Psychic Power Sources. Honor scoffs at this idea, but continues to listen. She goes on to state that Professor Wenssler has begun to show signs of delusional and paranoid behavior. He is obsessed with the number nine. He has also predicted a series of high-profile deaths, all spaced 81 days apart.
Barbara explains that 81 is “nine to the first power,” which I thought was pretty funny and probably would foretell some future hilarity of that nature, but it did not.
The first several deaths have already come to pass. Left on the list are the President of the United States and Patrick Honor.
Not a bad kickoff, right? I didn’t expect the book to go where it went based on any of this either!
Patrick goes to meet Barbara, where she explains PPS to him. He scoffs at first, but then she explains that the Psychic Power Sources are harnessed by sex. She’s rockin’ hot—her breasts are at one point described as “globular”—so he figures he’ll give it a try.
Whatever she shows him must work, because he goes from unknowing skeptic to The One in a matter of a couple of sexy pages. Honor is taken to some kind of heaven where he meets Ideal Humans Octavia and Hadrin. The book then goes completely off the rails.
Part of what was so frustrating was that Honor never learns anything. He goes from zero to everything almost immediately and spends the entire rest of the book dropping exposition on people. First it’s Barbara, then they rope in a couple named Milt and Dorothy Clinton as their first acolytes and we get a lot of lectures meant for them. Later, the President is inducted and talked to at great length. It becomes quite tiresome.
The whole of Patrick’s new philosophy might actually be interesting if it were portrayed in a way I could understand better. The main gist of it is that Sex is Good. There should be no shame in it, no degradation, just an expression of the love between people. The more the better. Somehow this unlocks psychic powers. I can follow thus far.
Getting a little more esoteric, he also explains that there is no “good and evil,” but rather “truth and error.” Okay, we’re getting into slightly more dangerous territory here. I get that there are a lot of conversations to be had about good and evil and what they mean, but whenever they’re outright dismissed in a narrative, you usually get people doing terrible things. At best, you get into @dril territory.
This book fortunately avoids that kind of trope. Instead, it throws terms like that around and doesn’t explain while somehow managing to expound. We learn that the Christian God is actually bad—Error—and ought to be called the Rogue. Rogue is always in italics. Okay, we’re getting into some kind of gnosticism here, I guess. It also has something to do with Jung’s Collective Unconscious and repression of natural creative urges like gettin’ your bone on.
There’s always something vaguely threatening on the horizon throughout. It seems that the Rogue is an active entity and is working to stop our heroes. The heroes fight against it by having a lot of sex themselves, and by psychically inducing others to do so as well. A lot of orgies break out on college campuses throughout the second half of this book.
The Rogue finally materializes in the end of the book as a giant swarm. The swarm is summoned by a guy named Singh, who I think is the only person of color in this book and is regularly referred to as “The Little Hindu.” It is then defeated. Somehow.
Honor boomed up through the geometer in a pyramidal ream, hesitating only slightly in the universe of Singh’s mind and then following the power flow with an explosive expansion. For a micro-instant he experienced Singh’s consternation as 81 powers of libido displacement roared through his consciousness, and then Honor was through and expanding into the Universal Subconscious. Powering at nine progressions beyond the speed of light, he reamed up through the barrel parallax and swirled with exploding powers into the Rogue’s assimilation chamber surfacing at the geometric center and flashing unhesitatingly for the first ring of universal memory.177
It goes on like that and continues to make about as much sense. Whatever it is, it works, but it also kills Patrick and Barbara in the process. They reincarnate into twin babies in Dorothy Clinton’s womb, though, so there’s that. It’s a happy ending. Hadrin, the perfect man, tells us that he has discovered that “Man is the measure of all that is, even of his God.” Octavia, the perfect woman, replies that “a woman is the measure of a man.” I don’t know what any of that means but I don’t think I like it.
So I guess I’ve talked about what the book did, but there’s still a big question of what this book is.
At times it reminded me very strongly of East of Danger, which was concerned with the religion of Eckankar and attempted to explain that reality tunnel through fiction. Where the two books are similar is through the fact that they both threw out terms and concepts that didn’t make any sense, but felt like maybe they would if I were one of the Initiated.
Is that what The Godmakers is supposed to be? Is this an earnest rendering of Don Pendleton’s beliefs about good and evil and sex and psychic abilities and Plato and God?
I obviously don’t know the man’s mind, but I doubt it. Somehow this does not mesh with the fact that Pendleton is the author of all those Executioner books. But I might be wrong!
In fact, some Googling and Wiki-ing tell me that there’s a solid chance that I am wrong. According to Wikipedia, Don Pendleton, along with his wife, Linda, wrote several books talking about metaphysics, psychic phenomena, UFOs, and angels. One book, To Dance With Angels, seems to have quite a following!
Folks, my mind is blown right now. I’m a bit tempted to dive into one of these books just to see if it makes The Godmakers make more sense.
My second option is that this book is capitalizing on sexy culty woo-woo books to which it bears a resemblance. In particular, I think it’s trying very hard to cash in on Robert A. Heinlein. Now, I know I can’t prove it, but I was already thinking this before I saw the cover of the first edition of this novel.
If you can tear your eyes away from that incredible Frank Frazetta art, you’ll notice up top where it explicitly calls itself “Beyond” a particular Heinlein novel. What’s interesting is that The Godmakers is cashing in on a book that had been around for a solid nine years by the time Pendleton wrote it. My guess is that Stranger was going through a revival during the late sixties, early seventies.
(Also, it’s interesting that the book was originally published under Pendleton’s “Dan Britain” pseudonym, but not for this reprint. Was Pinnacle Books cashing in on his Executioner fame?)
I was about to draw a comparison in which I asked you to consider a version of Stranger in a Strange Land where Heinlein never tells us what grok means. I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. Grok would still make sense even if it weren’t explicitly defined by Valentine Smith for us. It’s used in contexts that would at least give us an idea of what is meant.
When The Godmakers uses words like “geometer” and “geometrize” and “Ninth Parallax” and “Ninth Inverse Parallax” and even words that already have meanings like “octave” and “truth” and “error,” there’s no context to explain what Pendleton is intending those words to mean. They’re just…used.
The most relatable character in this book is Milt Clinton, who is constantly yelling about how he doesn’t understand what’s going on. He’s looked upon pityingly by the rest of the cast, and they promise to explain things to him, but the explanations just use more nonsense words. He, and I, were never satisfied.
This leads me to my third possibility of what this book is. Maybe it’s taking the piss. Out of Heinlein? Maybe, but if there’s any weight to this idea, I think it’s maybe a bit more concerned with one of Heinlein’s colleagues, L. Ron Hubbard.
Dianetics was published in 1951, but Scientology was making headlines all through the sixties. Right around the time of The Godmakers, Hubbard was in the news for buying a small private naval fleet and sailing around with adherents. Couple this with the religion’s well-known arcane terminology—thetans, auditing, E-meters, and so on.
Scientology wasn’t the only new religion making the news, and Pendleton could have been looking at a general trend. Previously-mentioned Eckankar was founded in 1965, for instance.
I admit that this third interpretation of The Godmakers is probably the weakest one. Now that I know about all of the Pendletons’ metaphysical and spiritual nonfiction, it’s pretty difficult for me to nail down which of the first two options I think is the truest. My gut tells me that the reality is some combination of all three, but perhaps that’s being cynical.
I just don’t know.
What a frikkin’ ride, though.
I talked a lot about how difficult this book was to understand, but I need to tell you that this does not mean the book was difficult to read. In fact, quite the opposite. Don Pendleton can write, no two ways about it. This book went down smooth, and it was only later, usually when I would take a break from reading and started to reflect, that I would realize that all of this made no sense. It’s an odd phenomenon.
Anyway, thanks again to Philip for sending this my way. It led to a lot more than I expected! Some laughs, some frustration, and then I ended up learning a lot about Don Pendleton’s spiritual side, something I would never have expected from the creator of Mack Bolan.
Happy Easter, if that’s your thing, and stay safe out there.