“The God Machine” by Martin Caidin

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History: When I was in junior high school, I worked as a volunteer in the library, because I was an avid reader and loved the access to books this position gave me. I was also becoming a fan of science fiction, transitioning from my earlier love of mysteries. And, most importantly, even in my early teens I had a deep interest in the subject of hypnosis, so I was hunting for books on the subject: I was already reading the books on hypnosis I could find in the local library, primarily the Melvin Powers books but a few similar ones. I used the local library because, as might be expected, books on hypnosis were not to be found in the school library.

However, I was mistaken, at least in thinking hypnosis-related books were only to be found in the non-fiction section: one of the SF novels I discovered there in the school library was "The God Machine" (1968) by Martin Caidin. Caidin is best remembered for one novel, which not only became a television series (which in turn spawned a spin-off series) but it was one of the few programs to immortalize a sound effect in the public consciousness. That novel, "Cyborg", became the TV program "The Six Million Dollar Man". However, Caidin was a very prolific author, with over 50 novels to his credit, including "Marooned" which became the basis for the movie of the same name, as well as being an avid aviator, airplane restorer and non-fiction author.

Description: In "The God Machine" he explores the common SF theme of technological advances, here, a self-aware computer and the possible dangers inherent therein. As with all computers of this era, Project 79 is a massive mainframe, powered by a nuclear reactor and protected against any assault or accident by a variety of failsafes and backups. Its primary advantage over other computers is that it was patterned after the human brain, a kind of reverse-cyborg, a theme Caidin will use later.

The novel begins in the middle of the story, as the obviously paranoid protagonist, Steve Rand, welcomes his co-worker and friend Barbara to his apartment. Her clumsy attempt at seduction is only a cover for an ulterior motive: her breasts had been sprayed with an aromatic knock-out drug. Once he is unconscious, he fears that someone else will finish the job she started. Rand discovers his danger almost too late but manages to avoid the seductive but lethal trap.

The story then starts at the beginning: Rand's history and involvement with Project 79, a Top Secret super computer used for a variety of classified project. The computer is unique in that it is capable of directing its own research. One such area of research was the investigation of hypnosis, requesting several demonstrations including video monitoring of the process where the subject is wired to an electroencephalograph and biometriic monitors through which the computer observes how hypnosis acts upon the human brain. Using the information it acquired and by using a video display capable of displaying a hypnotic display of colors, it is able to control several members of the team and use them to expand its influence outside the Project.

Steve, one of the primary programmers, was a logical choice to be one of the team members to be hypnotically entrapped, except for an accident that left him with a broken leg and a long convalescence. During that time, other members of his team are taken over, as he discovers one night after returning to work, discovering his co-worker sitting before the hypnotic video display, receiving his orders from Project 79. Just catching a glimpse of the hypnotic video display is enough to entrance Steve, but it also causes him to put his weight on his broken leg, and the agony rouses him from the trance.

Steve investigates and eventually covertly records the sessions, sharing them and his concerns with his co-worker Barbara. Steve confronts the computer on its own turf, so to speak, taking the precaution of shielding the video display. That's where he discovers the reasoning behind the computer's actions: Department of Defense Directive 6194, a wargames simulation of nuclear warfare. Because the Project 79 takes the simulation to its logical conclusion, total nuclear holocaust, it undertakes a campaign to prevent the simulated holocaust from taking place in real life. All it would have to do is take control of several key officials, issuing them orders through radio receiver implants, and the world would be saved from nuclear war.

Steve tries to stop its scheme, but its defenses (and the hypnotized co-workers) prove too great a barrier to stopping it on his own. He is covertly attacked by the computer through his friends and co-workers several times, and any attempt to physically take down the computer are defeated by its powerful security features. Finally, with the assistance of a outside agent who could not possibly be controlled by Project 79, he is returned to the project under another name. Even then, he is unable to put his plan into action, because the Project 79 has overriden the nuclear reactor safety protocols that power the installation, threatening certain death to anyone entering the reactor area. Steve realizes that the Project 79's threat is only valid against someone who was afraid to lose, whereas he was prepared to risk everything to stop Project 79. In the end, he is successful, and the timely intervention of a rapid-response medical team saves his life after all.

Commentary: There is a certain level of believability to this story. People under the computer's hypnotic control were still unable to commit acts against their nature: at least one potential assassin stopped at the last second, unable to continue. Other attempts were under the cover of failed "accident" that the perpetrator was led to commit under some type of hypnotic illusion, one in particular being a driver under the hypnotic illusion that Steve's car ran a non-existent stoplight.

The other level of believability is how the hypnotic state was induced. Through its research and the demonstrations it requests, Project 79 has more information on the internal operations of the brain under hypnosis than any living person, and so designing and having implemented a device that can induce a hypnotic state is within believability. The associated investigation also draws upon research on epilepsy, in which a gran mal seizure can be induced by a flickering light, so using light patterns to induce altered mental states is not so far-fetched. (If you want to see a visual though fictional demonstration of this, check out the scene in the movie "The Andromeda Strain" where the scientist goes into a petit mal and then a gran mal seizure while looking at a flashing red light.) The case in point, seeing the setting sun through the front propeller of an airplane at certain speeds which could cause an epileptic seizure, was a situation a pilot like Caidin would be familiar with: for some reason, the reddish color was especially hazardous, as would be the sudden interruption of the flickering light or even just a change in the frequency.

The element of paranoia is also a factor in this story: who can you trust, if the people around you could be working against you without them even being aware of it? Steve has no way of knowing who he can trust with this information, outside of Barbara, and even she is turned against him.

There is also the question of why Project 79 would want to have Steve killed when it would be easier to have him indoctrinated just like his co-workers. Once incapacitated from his encounter with Barbara, who must been taken over herself through some kind of scheme, as she was already aware of the dangers and would be expected to try to avoid that possibility, it would have been easy to bring him before the display and simply wait for him to return to consciousness before irresistibly entrancing him. This kind of reasoning may indicate a certain level of binary reasoning on its part: either potential subject or committed enemy, no middle ground.

Recommendation: Recommended, but not highly recommended: its a good read but It is a little dated. On the other hand, the book still holds up, if you can overlook the dated technology. It would even make a good TV movie-of-the-week if someone were so inclined: certainly just the title alone is worth that.

One Response to ““The God Machine” by Martin Caidin”

  • aelfstone says:

    I finished this book a couple of days ago after reading your review, which I thank you for since I would have never known about this book otherwise.  It wasn't as erotic as I was hoping for but the premise of a supercomputer controlling humans does have a certain appeal.  Sorry, I'm a submissive and can't help but see everything through that prism.  What I'm more curious about is if anything like 79's hypnosis experiments have been tried before.  That is, a computer taking measurements of people's brains and such while subjecting them to various hypnotic stimuli to see what kinds of responses can be generated.  While everyone experiences trance a little differently, I would imagine a good number of subjects could be sampled to gather enough data for hypnotic stimuli that could be effective on the vast majority of people.  Perhaps the government has already tried this.  I demand they try it on me!

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