The Heaven Makers , by Frank Herbert
The Heaven Makers is a short novel, but which encapsulates the essence of another facet of Frank Herbert, his cruelty. He is able to do what few authors can: to write compelling empathetic characters, then completely ignore their importance or feelings in order to tell stories bigger than any of them. It was thus with Dune, and yes Pandora, although I hated that series. Most authors are either in love with their characters and can't get the story right because it would inconvenience their infatuation, others are sadistic torturers of their characters in order to get a cheap thrill. Some manage to get trough by telling a personal story, one they can't change much and which they know exactly how it felt. I believe that Herbert is neither of these. His characters are not incidental to the story, but neither are they the pillars of the plot. He uses them like others would write about chairs or the weather.
This book is about an alien abduction and, indeed, it plays like that for most of its length. Only to then clobber the reader with a deep deep philosophical musing about the meaning of life, the value of death and both the insignificance and paramount importance of the individual in relationship with society and eternity. The style is quite archaic, the setup something that feels from the 50s rather than the end of the 60s, the small American town, the slice of life that one might imagine many American authors to write about. And yet, Herbert's unique way of thinking rises like a giant even in this book which seemingly is a serialized work for a magazine.
I mentioned the style, which is sometimes hard to swallow, but there are several other things that make this book less than it could have been. The characters are really, really weird. Forget the aliens. The people Herbert describes feel autistic, the world they live in small, limited and petty. They are not bad characters or formulaic, they're just nuts.
Bottom line: I think the book is a must read for a Frank Herbert fan, but it is neither his best or his worst work. A patchwork of deep philosophy and poor worldbuilding, great ideas and caricaturesque characters, it is short enough to be read quickly and enjoyed for the brilliant bits in it.
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