James P. Hogan
Code of the Lifemaker
Ballantine Del Rey Books
Reviewed by Gary McGath
Copyright 1983 by Ergo and Gary McGath

This review originally appeared in Ergo, November 9, 1983. I am including this review here to preserve some of the material which appeared then, and which may otherwise be found only on deteriorating newsprint. Ergo was an Objectivist-Libertarian weekly in newspaper format which was published at MIT.

James Hogan, one of the most noteworthy science fiction authors to emerge in recent years, has taken yet another step forward with his latest novel, Code of the Lifemaker. Like its predecessor, Voyage from Yesteryear, this novel dramatizes a conflict between two basically opposed views of life. In its broadest terms, the conflict is one of faith against reason, willful gullibility against critical thinking. The focal character in this conflict is Karl Zambendorf, a brilliant but cynical man who has used detective work and magician's tricks to give himself a worldwide reputation as a psychic.

Zambendorf's attitude is that he is simply giving people what they want. "Do you think I make people the way they are?" he asks a critic. "I merely accept them as I find them, and if they have failed to develop the sense that would serve them better, or if society has failed to educate them in the use of it, why am I supposed to be the one to blame?"

It surprises many people -- including Zambendorf himself -- when he is offered a seat on a North Atlantic Space Organization flight to Mars, ostensibly to test his psychic powers at long distances. When the actual purpose of the flight is revealed, though, the mystery only deepens. For both the Mars trip and the psychic testing turn out to be covers for the real purpose of the mission: to make contact with a race of thinking robots that has been discovered on Titan. The robots, forgotten products of a million-year-old alien manufacturing project, are living in a Dark Age and seeing the emergence of a church-science conflict with striking parallels to European history.

Zambendorf realizes he is being used as a tool -- but by whom and for what purpose, he cannot tell. His reaction when at last he finds out sets off a series of well-prepared surprises that lead to a dramatic climax.

Set in contrast with Zambendorf are, on one side, Gerald Massey, a professional magician and critic of psychic claims who seems to be modeled after James Randi, and on the other side, Osmond Periera, a promoter of the paranormal who is as gullible as his own readers. Massey is almost as well-drawn as Zambendorf, and the interaction between the two is fascinating. Hogan has never been so successful at characterization before.

The portrayal of the robots is less successful. Hogan draws so many parallels between their culture and Earth's history that some parts of the story get ludicrously predictable. Moreover, there is a philosophical problem with the way Hogan presents the robots. A robot is a deterministic entity; it follows its program and has no choice about doing so. Yet two of the robots in this novel face crucial choices about whether to think for themselves or accept the assertions of other robots. How a robot could have a choice of thinking or not thinking is something that Hogan fails to explain.

What is important about Code of the Lifemaker, though, is its presentation of people and the way they think, and in this regard Hogan is highly successful. This applies not only to the human characters, but to many of the robot characters once the reader is willing to grant the premise of alien robots acting exactly like humans. Anyone who enjoys science fiction and takes ideas seriously should read this book.

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