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The Priests of Psi – Frank Herbert #BookReview

Title:
The Priests of Psi

Authors:
Frank Herbert

Genre:
Science Fiction

Book procurement:
Bought this anthology in a heavily secured, highly stacked second-hand book store run by such a nice, though wary, old man. He looked like the gatekeeper to a secret library, awaiting the “Chosen One”.

Rating:

A mind-boggling 5 out of 5

Synopsis:

A psychic parasite who hijacks personalities.

A couple who discovers the house of their dreams … in the wrong dimension.

The priests of Psi, custodians of a forgotten wisdom which may exalt or damn mankind completely.

Five dazzling stories from one of science fiction’s masters

First Thoughts

Following the horrors of space in the last book I read Tales of Terror from Outer Space, I was expecting a lighter and perhaps more science-religious delve into the science fiction genre. And then I had an extremely vivid and emotional nightmare after reading the last story in the book. So… yeah.

Not at all what I was expecting and in a good way. Frank Herbert is a brilliant writer and articulates himself well. Each story was different from the other, with “space” being the bond that ties them all together. There is no horror, or not in its strictest sense. It’s the emotional and psychological horror of having your beliefs and ideas ripped apart by a story, while you’re undergoing emotional turmoil. And for me, that’s scary.

The Stories

Try to Remember!

A spaceship arrives on Earth. The aliens within send out representatives who speak in weird noises and make weird body movements. The reason: interpret the message or be eradicated. Thus the worlds greatest minds across the planet converge in an effort to make sense of the message.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective, who happens to be the only female in a room full of men. And desert sand. Really well written and a commentary on the different ways men and women think or rather, interpret the world around them. Women are the future!

Old Rambling House

This was an interesting story. Ted and Martha Graham live in a trailer, and are contacted by a couple willing to trade their house for the Graham’s trailer. Frank Herbert makes all of this believable in the sense that the couple was aware. Like they knew something was off, and when something seems to good to be true well…

Murder Will In

William Bailey is on his death bed, only he’s not William Bailey. Hasn’t been for the past 200 years or so because a parasite by the name of Tegas took over William’s consciousness and body. The Tegas has been body hopping for centuries, with one single powerful motivator – the emotions experienced by a murderer are the most thrilling. In that moment he hops from murdered to murderer and carries on life.

Fascinating concept isn’t it? Except this time William hasn’t been murdered and now the Tegas and his inner companion Bacit, must survive at all costs. What an amazing story. I could see it play out like a movie in my head. Not often you root for the alien… even when you know it’s a parasite. Odd.

Mindfield!

Ah. Humans. Such amazingly adaptive creatures. So in the far future, the earth is populated only by adults. I won’t tell you why since that would be a spoiler but there’s this psi-machine that “cleanses” the adult of everything and brings them back as effectively children. Your name becomes a variation of its original but never the original.

Priests and priestesses run the world. One is not allowed to dig anything in case one of the “Old-Machines” explode but of course there’s other reasons for that.

The story focuses on the head priest in control of the psi-machine, a rebel couple and their newly awakened partner, and an old-man who just came out of the psi-machine but is remembering too much. The shocking truth at the end is absolutely brilliant way of ending this story.

The Priests of Psi

Right, the final story centers around military man Lewis Orne who is an operator for the Investigation and Adjustment Agency. A hard man who has prevented countless wars from happening. Logical in every way. Which is why it comes as a shock when the religious Priest Planet, Amel, recruit him to be one of their disciples. The I-A, who have never been able to infiltrate the planet, send Orne as a spy. What follows is a psychological, emotional, spiritual journey he will never forget.

This story just messed with my mind. A planet encompassing every religion, all ascribing to one God, and explaining that miracles and other unexplained occurrences are the product of Psi. And Lewis Orne has this ability. What will that mean to a man who has rejected all forms of religion?

Writing

It’s quite interesting to see how each story is written so differently, set across different planes of reality, and each with their own commentary on us as humans.

Try To Remember has a very humanistic approach to it and in the style of writing. Focusing on the more real descriptions of the world, emotions, and frustrations seen through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s simple but the implications are quite massive. We tend to focus more on logic and less on emotion, as though “feelings” don’t have a role. When in truth, the body tells more truth than our words. It is also a commentary on how we as humans are never fully honest with each other, even if it threatens our existence. We must have some sort of power. Some kind of control. And we’ll remain uncooperative and mistrustful – not all of us of course but usually those in power *cough Government cough*.

Old Rambling House followed the same kind of writing. We are thrust into the world of a couple living in a trailer and hoping to get out. They are just regular people and it shows in their speech and in their encounter with something beyond their comprehension. More than that, they are stand-ins for a much larger story. A deeper complication with greater implications because of selfishness.

Murder Will In this one was again just human expression in an alien form. You see its fears and worries and hopes even though you know its a parasitic alien that thrives on the suffering of others to continue its own existence. Frank Herbert writes it in such a way that I was sympathizing with Tegas and Bacit and the many trapped conscious-es within. Herbert really knows how to capture emotion.

Mindfield! brings up the idea of forgetting the past and focusing only on the present under the guise of “Faith”. We know faith should be informed. Apart from that, the writing is quite fascinating. One of the characters is in a sense a relic and on the cusp of insanity so it’s amazing to see how they interact. Each person has their own voice and in the end the overall mystery is solved brilliantly.

The Priests of Psi broke my mind. This was a far more in-depth story. Lewis Orner is a fascinating character and so well written. You understand his fears, his worries, his skepticism and the gentle fraying of his mind when these opposing forces (science vs religion?) come against everything he knows and believes. There was also a really disturbing scene which probably fueled the nightmare I had while my mind was trying to decipher all the underlying meanings and suggestions this story was making. I’m still reeling.

Final Thoughts

It was a great little book with shifting perspectives and worlds. Top-notch world building, great, varying and believable characters, concepts that aren’t just about putting horror in someone but subtle ideas planted into your mind through cleverly veiled mysteries in a sci-fi setting.

 


The Priests of Psi was published January 1st 1981.

Did you know: Each of these stories appeared in different publications before being compiled into this anthology, the first being Old Rambling House in 1958.

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