“The God Machine” by Martin Caidin

[amtap amazon:asin=B001YU5XZC]

[amtap book:isbn=0671698273]

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.

1 comment to “The God Machine” by Martin Caidin

  • aelfstone

    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!