Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #9 | Betty Rocksteady

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Postpartum by Betty Rocksteady

And so, Ross E. Lockhart impresses me with his sharp editorial skills once again. Just last review, I was speaking about how we in fact don’t speak about Frankenstein as a book about artistic creation all that often, spurred on by what seemed to be a subtle treatment of that very same strand in Michael Griffin’s novelette ‘The Human Alchemy’.

But turn the pages over to the next story on the TOC — Betty Rocksteady’s ‘Postpartum’ — and bang! there it is. Nothing subtle about  it: Rocksteady decides to not only place that metaphor at the front and centre, but to make it the main motivating engine of her contribution to Lockhart’s anthology.

However, the title also suggests a more pained and universal fact of human life, and one that will also remind us of another key element in the fabric of Mary Shelley’s original text. Rocksteady’s protagonist is a reluctant teenage mother who has lost her sweetheart soon after their baby — the poor, unfairly derided Timmy — is born, and her first-person narration does very little to endear us to her plight beyond the fundamental misery, and recent tragedy, that underlies her existence.

Still from Hannibal, 'Trou Normand' (Season 1, Episode 9)

Still from Hannibal, ‘Trou Normand’ (Season 1, Episode 9)

Rocksteady uses this to create suspense — the central artistic creation could easily be something out of NBC’s Hannibal — but the idea of a mother rejecting her child of course also recalls Victor Frankenstein’s heart-breaking (and instant) rejection of his own Creature.

But where Victor Frankenstein is all neurotic self-justification in his own version of events — really, it reaches Humbert Humbert like proportions at times — Rocksteady’s teenage narrator has no such qualms, coming across as bratty at best and downright spiteful at worst. This only increases the aforementioned suspense, because in that mental state, our otherwise powerless (psychically and economically) protagonist gains an unsettling degree of amoral freedom.

Rocksteady’s story is at its most affecting when the emotional satisfaction of creating art is being detailed: the only real relief that our narrator gets, and one that his sanctioned by her doting mother, who knows full well that art is her only real method of release. The trouble is that the raw matter used in the act of creation preclude the essential beauty of the idea, much like Victor Frankenstein’s ambitions to create life ex nihilo lose their luster when confronted with the groaning hodge-podge Creature springing into life and demanding to be recognised and loved.

A taboo-prodding tale with a shocking ending that’s fully earned.

Read previous: Michael Griffin

Advertisements

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #8 | Michael Griffin

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

The Human Alchemy by Michael Griffin

We rarely speak of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as being about the angst related to artistic creation, and instead grasp at more solid metaphors. Understandably enough, received wisdom has it that this is first and foremost a parable warning against scientific hubris on the thematic level, and emotionally, it resonates with us thanks to the undeniable pathos we feel towards the creature: rejected by a father who only half wanted him, with no reference points in a world that wants nothing to do with him.

So I was glad to see that Michael Griffin’s creepy but complex tale of a successful pair of surgeons — with otherwise also picks up on the ‘standard’ intertextual cues stemming from Shelley’s original text — also pitches its Frankenstenian couple, Reysa and Magnus Berg, as frustrated creatives looking to satisfy their unconventional cravings in a world that has yet to — ethically as well as aesthetically — catch up with their tastes and ambitions.

In the case of Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein’s initial revulsion at the Creature he’s made could find a direct corollary in the way most young writers — or artists of any stripe — would view their juvenilia. “I expected to create something at least as beautiful as the work of the forebears in the field that I admire,” they think to themselves as they grimace at that first draft, or that hesitantly completed painting, “what the fuck is this shit?!”. And in it goes into the proverbial fire.

Pedro Almodovar's own take on Frankenstenian surgeons: The Skin I Live In (2011)

Pedro Almodovar’s own take on Frankenstenian surgeons: The Skin I Live In (2011)

But Reysa and Magnus are not young: Aurye is, and though their wine-soaked gathering at the rich couple’s mountaintop castle may suggest all the trappings of a cliche seduction into a three-way, this mundane idea is dispensed with fairly quickly. In fact, the couple reject all mundane ideas suggested or imposed by society, a dogma whose limits are tested by this increasingly disconcerting, but equally sensitive and intelligent, contribution to the anthology.

And the way Griffin manages to walk this tightrope is, in fact, by couching the couple’s past history and future dreams in the most precise, and even reasonable, discourse. As one example, let’s get back to the artistic creativity metaphor. Midway through the story, the couple start explaining — always to Aurye, as their increasingly eager acolyte — the challenges posed by their unconventional lifestyle.

In the meantime, the story’s unsettling vortex intensifies, and Griffin actually piles all of the cosmetic details you’d expect from a Frankenstein story

Without spoiling anything, the way Reysa describes it sounds exactly like the kind of set-up a freelancing couple of any profession would face; with partners alternately sacrificing time and comfort while the other aims for their dream job, or at least helping to create a mutually beneficial situation for both based on their relevant skills.

In the meantime, the story’s unsettling vortex intensifies, and Griffin actually piles all of the cosmetic details you’d expect from a Frankenstein story: the Gothic castle, the operating table, the thunder… and a monster. But on their own, these details are now blunt: Frankenstein’s Creature is indeed eternal, yes, but the moralistic discourse about scientific ambition needs fine-tuning and updating if it is to sustain its chilling menace into the modern day.

And this is precisely what Griffin does with his two surgeons. But arguably, he completes this effect with the help of the young Aurye most of all, whose role in the drama flouts expectations in more ways than one.

An urbane and superbly structured little chiller that is intellectually engaging more than it is viscerally scary, but that is all the more rewarding for it.

Read previous: Edward Morris

 

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #7 | Edward Morris

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Frankenstein Triptych by Edward Morris

One of the great things about intertexuality is that it is the literary-cultural equivalent of friends bonding over shared memories; only instead of real-world happenings you’re bonding over books, music, visual art or films.

Of course, an anthology like Eternal Frankenstein practically runs on this impulse: intertextuality is its engine, and in this case it’s a particularly well-oiled one because the authors comprising it have — as far as I can tell this deep into the read-a-thon — taken on the challenge posed by Lockhart’s anthology with a canny understanding that simple pastiche (perhaps one of the ‘lower’ forms of intertextuality in practice) will not be tolerated.

But there’s fun to be had in pastiche too, and this is not lost on Edward Morris, who deliberately presents three science fictional micro-tales as his contribution to the anthology. But the pastiches here are not direct piggybacks on Shelley’s original novel, and instead take an inspired swerve into varied, forking directions.

And in the case of the first segment of this mini-anthology, ‘Dolly’, we’re not really talking about pastiche at all so much a formally interesting take on the Artificial Intelligence sub-genre. In a thread that will continue throughout Morris’ entire piece, we’re thrown into a close-third-person focus giving us a window into an unconventional perspective; in fact, it’s not even that of a ‘person’ — a particularly sophisticated doll experiencing the pangs of an existential crisis in the first instance, a mecha-warrior of sorts (we think) in the second segment, GRUNT.

Unreal cities: Morris dedicates the final segment of his piece to HR Giger

Unreal cities: Morris dedicates the final segment of his piece to HR Giger

The link to Frankenstein is tangential in one sense, but very much on-point in another. In his maddened collage — which I imagine to have been a blast to write, really — Morris taps into Shelley’s essential idea of imagining what a Creature not conceived through natural means would think about, and even feel, as it tries to make sense of the world it’s been thrust into.

GRUNT is particularly inspired on this front, and the random perceptions evidenced by this poor military cog — as he/she/it witnesses the eradication of its comrades — appear confusing but in fact accumulate to paint a vivid piece that resembles poetry more than prose. It brought to mind the powerful and unique pen of Joe Pulver and, lo and behold, as the segment concludes I see that Morris in fact dedicates it to Pulver, among others.

The final segment, ‘Wir Atomkinder’ slots into more conventional formal shape but, being the confessional of a Nazi Mad Scientist that’s dedicated to the memory of HR Giger, ‘more conventional’ in this case certainly does not translate into ‘more mundane’.

Stitching together his flash fiction narratives, Morris reminds us that there’s more to the legacy of Frankenstein than scientific hubris and the dour reminder of humanity’s indifference. It’s also a story of creation — for better or for worse — and the confused by animating force on which it runs.

Read previous: Rios de la Luz

 

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #6 | Rios de la Luz

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Orchids by the Sea by Rios de la Luz

We can all pretty much agree that on one level — a significant one — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a warning against scientific hubris: don’t meddle with nature, because God will punish you for encroaching on His territory. It’s to the novel’s credit that this inherently conservative thread did not sour the entire weave of the book. Instead, it’s just one animating neurosis amidst a whole army of them; as any novel penned by a preternaturally intelligent 19-year-old with a turbulent family background would be, I guess.

But in Rios de la Luz’s brief contribution to Eternal Frankenstein, the binary of Victor Frankenstein vs God is turned on its head, with Luz’s Frankenstein stand-in being presented as a Christian fanatic who believes that God himself is compelling him to breathe life into new people after stitching them into shape from the body parts of others.

The thing is, Luz’s Frankenstein — he’s never referred to by name — doesn’t believe he is “playing God” but that his victims-cum-subjects are: like the suicidal female whose brain he scoops out of the river and puts into a deliberately asexual body:

“His creation was not to have genitalia or anything resembling breasts. His creation needed no means of procreation. His creation would not be a born sinner.”

If nothing else, this shows up all of the possible dangers of any extreme position or behaviour: one extreme ends up resembling its cousin on the opposite spectrum pretty quick. So the original Frankenstein’s deep-seated concerns about the creature possibly procreating and creating more monsters of its ilk is here transferred into an urge to control sexual desire and its after-effects.

Both Shelley’s and Luz’s Frankenstein’s are men who create life only to turn away from what makes it vital in the first place: the imperfection of living beings (as made manifest by the Creature’s superficial ugliness and his shambling attempts at mimicking human life) and the effort you need to put in first before you can reap the psychological benefits of love — an effort and a degree of responsibility that Frankenstein is never willing to invest.

Thankfully — though no less tragically for it — the focus then shifts to the ‘creation’ herself, who adamantly remains a “she” despite her newfound master’s best efforts, and who escapes the creepy experimental enclosure — more bona fide Gothic than anything in Shelley’s landmark novel — to try and experience the world outside.

Her failure to find any solace is delivered with inevitability and pathos that’s far removed from the Strum und Drang of the pitchfork wielding hordes we see in more conventional representations of the Frankenstein story. The world is merciless, yes, but this is made even worse by the fact that this callousness isn’t a deliberate, calculating move made by a select few.

Instead, and like the bullying kids who thoughtlessly drive the creation to her ultimate fate in Luz’s story, it’s a casual fact embedded in us all.

We often forget how casual life is, and how lonely most of us are. We often forget to tread with caution, until it’s too late.

Read previous: Autumn Christian

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #5 | Autumn Christian

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Sewn Into Her Fingers by Autumn Christian

We’ve commented on Victor Frankenstein’s neurotic bent before; how his lack of any emotional control and steadfast denial to confront his creation and its after-effects is what propels the drama of Mary Shelley’s original novel towards its tragic conclusion.

With her contribution to Eternal Frankenstein, Autumn Christian side-steps this crucial element of Frankenstein’s character to create a story that’s by turns chilling and deeply affecting.

Told from the perspective of her Victor Frankenstein stand-in, Christian’s story is a clinical tale of a deepening obsession whose (clinical) form matches its (clinical) subject.

The story’s opening lines have him frankly confess to breathing life into the creature — a female, this time — out of pure boredom: as an extension of his day-job skill set and to be able to work on something beyond office hours. This could have been played for (dark) laughs but is instead ‘played’ for nothing at all, as we soon realise that such a flippant approach towards life is what informs our protagonist’s MO.

Bros before bots: Ex Machina

Bros before bots: Ex Machina

Siobhan Carroll’s story gave us Victor Frankenstein as the Marquis De Sade; doing away with the original Frankenstein’s skewed moral panic and putting sheer sadism in its place. Here the re-imagining is more muted but no less powerful for it. Christian’s protagonist isn’t a sadist, but he’s certainly missing a couple of empathy cogs. At least at the beginning of the story, what we see is the logic of the abuser being laid out to us with no frills and in no uncertain terms.

But then, something strange and wonderful happens. In another direct contrast to Shelley’s body-snatching, body-collaging man of science, our protagonist learns to embrace the creature. In a strange way — but again, also in a way that swerves away from the obvious trajectory of doomed and/or abusive scientists — the narrator’s thought process reminded me of the tiptoeing around the AI creation that we see in Ex Machina — one of my favourite movies of the past couple of years.

Unpeeling the truth: Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina (2015)

Unpeeling the truth: Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina (2015)

Like Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) in that very 21st century take on the nub of Shelley’s text, the protagonist of Christian’s story takes time to consider the various aspects and potential of what he’s just created. But whereas Ex Machina’s Ava (Alicia Vikander) reveals herself to be something of a femme fatale by the end, Christian’s creature demands to be treated as an equal.

The protagonist’s hedged acceptance of this demand is what pushes the story into truly original territory. And, helped along by the clear-eyed, clinical style — after all, a logical choice when a scientist is telling the tale — the story makes for a disturbing but satisfying arc.

An unsettling tale that’s also strangely uplifting.

Read previous: Walters, Scandal

Please donate to our Patreon page and help us make Malta’s very first serialized comic

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #4 | Damien Angelica Walters, Tiffany Scandal

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

They Call Me Monster by Tiffany Scandal

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice by Damien Angelica Walters

It takes guts to commission two stories with virtually identical thematic hooks in the same anthology. It takes even more sizeable viscera to place those stories exactly side-by-side in the table of contents. But Lockhart isn’t afraid to take this risky but logical leap, and with Scandal and Walter’s stories creates a logical double-bill: a teenage interlude for the Eternal Frankenstein experience, if you will.

Yes, both stories take the teenage high school experience as their springboard into — and out of — the core of Shelley’s text. While they are similar on one level — both concern themselves with a Frankenstein’s Creature teenager put together by overprotective and/or scientifically overzealous parents, who are offstage for most of the narrative — their differences are also crucial.

Scandal takes a more straightforward route (her story is also the shorter one), and has the Creature-stand in protagonist, Imelda, narrate her own experience of being bullied across various high schools as her parents move her from one town to another once the bullying gets too much to handle.

Sissy Specek as Carrie

Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976), dir. Brian De Palma

“We can’t punish the whole school,” becomes a refrain, and it serves as an equivalent to the the pitchfork-happy mobs that have become synonymous with Frankenstein stories ever since Hollywood got its mitts on Shelley’s text. While Walters builds a sense of dread through a carefully chosen framing device, Scandal pulls the rug from under our feet right at the end, mingling the satisfying arc of the coming-of-age story with something far more sinister.

In fact, Walters embraces our expectation for ‘Frankenstein stories’ from the word go: she knows that we are calibrated to expect a certain kind of arc from any take on Shelley’s text. She even throws in an extra reference for good measure: the narrator of the story — we soon catch on that we’re hearing one side of an interrogation — mentions the cult favourite film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie as a trigger for the grisly episode she would set in motion with her friends.

And there’s a nasty thrill to be had with how Walters dangles the carrot (or rather, bucket of pig blood) of what’s about to be recounted. Unlike Carrie, however — in which there is never any doubt about the ferocity of the bullies — this is a story of casual bullying that builds into something more malignant as it progresses. But on the other hand — and because we’re given everything from the self-justifying perspective — it’s also a reminder of how easy it is to victim-blame and scapegoat those who appear to be innately different from us.

Remember the pitchforks. They haven’t gone away.

Read previous: Siobhan Carroll

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #3 | Siobhan Carroll

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Thermidor by Siobhan Carroll

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has inspired dreams and nightmares about weird science and body modification, but let’s not forget that at the core of this much-referenced Gothic text is a tortured meditation on what it means to be human… and what it means to be its opposite.

If a creature is made from scratch with very little reference points to guide it, what does it think and feel? This is the tragedy of the Creature — a shambling creation in more ways than one, improvising his way through a makeshift life with only sporadic successes along the way.

But the Creature’s problematic physical make-up is nothing when compared to the chilly and nervous reaction of Victor Frankenstein to his creation. It shocked me to listen to Kenneth Branagh describe Victor as intrinsically a “good man”, while he talked about the thought process behind his own take on Shelley’s novel in a Charlie Rose interview, because while Frankenstein may be many things, I struggle to imagine him fitting into even the most liberal of ‘good man’ molds.

In fact, one of the main strands of the novel, to me, is Victor’s chronic inability to take responsibility for what he did — to allow himself to feel enough empathy to accept the Creature’s pain as a legitimate enough sign of his humanity.

So apart from its oft-propagated Gothic trappings and monster-movie-ready fodder, Frankenstein is a story about dehumanization, from both ends of the scale: the abjection of the creature exists as a result of Victor’s callousness, or denial of all of the things that should bind the two together in mutual understanding and love.

justine

All this being said, Siobhan Carroll isn’t shy to indulge in a variety of cosmetic thrills that Frankenstein brings up, and neither does she resist making some delicious intertextual and historical connections to dream up her merciless little tale.

But by connecting Victor Frankenstein to the Marquis de Sade — using the name ‘Justine’ common to both Shelley’s text and Sade’s oeuvre — Carroll betrays a sensitivity to how dehumanization is what infects Victor’s project from the word go.

Like Sade’s own early novel Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue — which takes place just at the brink of this key moment in history — Carroll’s story is saturated in the spirit of Revolutionary France, as seen over the shoulder of Justine — a character whom we could more or less equate to a Bride of Frankenstein figure. To wit: she procures still-breathing bodies for her master, who in this case is not a nervous weakling but a scientist who views torture as a necessary part of the experimental procedure.

Being a product of the very processes she helps enable Justine is in a perfect position to show how chilling lack of empathy can really be. And the story’s most intriguing passages concern her faded, ghostly rememberance of empathy past, when she sees but doesn’t feel previous pain and fails to put two and two together upon witnessing the suffering of others.

This is also a subaltern story in many ways, with Justine catching on to the Victor’s — aka the patriarchy’s — privileged and exploitative ways. But because she’s hard to sympathise with for obvious reasons, Justine’s ideological struggle makes for complex reading.

Like Shelley’s novel, Carroll’s story is about humanity at its outer limits, and throwing Sade into the mix feels like a logical extension of that literary experiment.

Read previous: Orrin Grey

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #2 | Orrin Grey

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet by Orrin Grey

Check it: Orrin Grey’s contribution to Eternal Frankenstein has its close-second-person narration talk about a kid watching a movie. Now, an outwardly rational but profoundly misinformed part of your brain may be passing these signals right about now: Gee, a story about someone just sitting there watching a movie sure sounds boring as heck!

I hear that, I do. But not without raising you The Prayer to Ninety Cats by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Haven’t read it yet? That’s fine. Help yourself. I’ll wait. Really.

Done?

Okay, now comparisons are odious, and a comparison to one of the (pretty much) undisputed champions of contemporary weird fiction may feel particularly odious indeed. But Orrin Grey is not to be thrown away — a direct translation from my native Serbian that also happens to rhyme, hooray! — especially given that his recent short-story-anthology-Kickstarter* was a runaway success, and that his prolific output has proven he’s a name to watch out for, if nothing else.

But when talking about an anthology that aims to build on the literary reputation of an undisputed — no doubts about it in this case — classic, it’s also good to point out stylistic commonalities. After all, Frankenstein is the hook here, and intertextual joy is one of the main reasons both readers and writers tune into these books in the first place.

And I have a feeling that Grey will be the last person to contradict that statement, given how this story is shamelessly seeped in enough nostalgia to make the folks behind Stranger Things blush with (neon) envy.

Still from Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

Still from Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

To those with even the slimmest knowledge of what’s being channelled here, the title announces both the premise and the vibe of the piece: it’s a ‘Tales of the Cryptkeeper’/Elvira kind of affair, where Baron von Werewolf curates a selection of creepy flicks for an impressionable and eager young audience.

(Being non-American, my own first-hand exposure to this kind of thing is slim indeed, and I was mostly made aware of it through the legacy of Ed Wood and David J. Skal’s excellent The Monster Show)

But apart from the Tim Burton/Stranger Things element of a nostalgic love-in for all the things that made these ‘vintage’ horror films special, Grey reminds us of another key aspect of Shelley’s original novel: that when it came into contact with the Hollywood machine, it spiraled into directions that Shelley could never have imagined.

So now we have Frankenstein battling an entire planet populated by malignant alien forces. Which is distinctly separate from Shelley’s pained meditation on absent fatherhood and scientific hubris. But it’s also, of course, awesome! And it’s a joy to go along with Grey’s wide-eyed narrator: expectations are tugged for both of us, and the affection the young one feels for Baron von Werewolf is oddly touching.

So much so that when a moment of genuine menace arrives, you feel it in your guts. This, despite all the metatextual trappings and the story-within-a-story nature of Grey’s tale. The gaps in the already-mysterious film being presented by the Baron here also add their own spooky spice in the background.

A love letter to vintage monster mash-ups done with affection and grace.

Read previous: Amber-Rose Reed

*Please donate to our Patreon and help us make Malta’s first serialized comic book, MIBDUL. Thanks!

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #1 | Amber-Rose Reed

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Torso, Heart, Head by Amber Rose-Reed

I was gonna make all cool and not in fact start at the very beginning, but perhaps it’s a testament to the editorial prowess of Ross E. Lockhart that the opener to Eternal Frankenstein lured my bolshie self into going conventional, at least just this once.

Mostly, this is down to the fact that Reed’s story — more of a tone poem than anything else — latches onto some of the core themes of Mary Shelley’s original text in a way that’s succinct, seductive and with an aftertaste of irony that lingers and urges you to dive back in for that re-read.

Which, incidentally, you should be able to do with relative comfort and ease. Slightly dizzying the story may be in terms of any ‘narrative’ structure that you may expect, but it’s certainly brief enough to invite second helpings.

The anatomical segmentation suggested in the title announces Reed’s clever idea early on. To wit: just like Frankenstein’s creature is a ‘cut-up’ creation made up of various disparate parts, so does this very text appear to the reader as a fragmented series of images and incomplete episodes.

Opening with a pugilistic micro-chapter (whose title is not in fact suggested by the story’s title-proper) we are then taken to the ‘Torso’ — an upsetting episode witnessed by a carpenter or ironmonger — before proceeding to the ‘Heart’ and the ‘Head’. Each of these are stories that hint at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; that have the whiff of that seminal text but that don’t try to pin it down and suck any remaining juice out of it by force.

An infant death, a thwarted love story and a father’s imploring letter to a young man pursuing his studies abroad. It’s only the final one that gives away an explicit connection to Frankenstein, including as it does a reference to a seemingly determined anatomy student…

And as in the ‘galleys’ that separate pages in a comic book, the reader is invited to fill in the rest. This is an inspiring take on the pastiche. Or rather, it shows that Reed openly resists one of the biggest temptations imaginable when submitting to anthologies like this: to amp up the cosmetic thrills of classic literary works and forcibly reshape them into something you’ve always wanted them to be.

Thankfully, what Reed does is more open, more worthy and, well… more eternal.

Read previous: Introduction

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon | Introduction

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

But first, kindly indulge me in a bit of a personal reverie on what made me fall in love with Mary Shelley’s seminal novel in the first place…

*

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite novels of all time. I guess this isn’t particularly unique – what with the book being the source of one of the most perennial features of multimedia pop culture since the beginning of the 20th century – but that doesn’t of course take away from the intense love I have for the original novel.

It’s not a childhood favourite, either: I first decided to finally tick it off my virtual to-read pile for a very functional reason. I was in the final year of my Bachelor’s course in English Lit at the local Uni, and one of the elective courses I chose that year was ‘Literature and Technology’, taught by the inimitable Prof Ivan Callus, and which had Frankenstein as a required text for obvious reasons.

Frontispiece for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Illustrated by Theodore Von Holst (Steel engraving; 993 x 71mm)

Frontispiece for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Illustrated by Theodore Von Holst (Steel engraving; 993 x 71mm)

My social life at Uni was at its highest ebb at the time, but so were degrees of academic stress – what with a dissertation to complete and synoptic exams to cram for – but despite all this, I decided to put everything aside and check out the austere Everyman edition of Shelley’s groundbreaking, genre-creating work from the University of Malta library and finish it asap.

I guess I expected it to be fun-by-accident, and stylistically creaky in a similar way to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, whose essence – in my humble opinion – was improved and made far cooler by subsequent iterations. In other words, I suppose I was expecting to find an old-timey version of all the things that have made Frankenstein great for generations to come.

But actually, I ended up being humbled by a novel whose raw power was undeniable. She wrote this when she was nineteen! I kept saying to myself in disbelief, but there was also something peculiarly appropriate to this fact. Far from being creaky, it moves at a breakneck (if pained) pace – the work of a young woman trying desperately to give shape to the confusing mess that life can sometimes be.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Despite the fact that – much like its central Creature – the novel mashes together various preoccupations (the scientist’s hubris, motherhood, absent fathers and the inability to function in the world as a context-less outcast), it also felt like a barely-edited transcription of a fever dream. Which is even more surprising given how the story is stacked together against various frame narratives – a gradual build-up with a shifting POV that immerses you deeper and deeper into, instead of alienating you from the story.

(It always saddens me to think just how outmoded this style of storytelling has become… how easily we would dismiss a novel that tries this nowadays as being ‘long-winded’ and/or accuse it of ‘taking ages to get going’.)

Thankfully, even if its pop culture counterparts sometimes loom larger – like Karloff’s original Hollywood creature – than the reputation of Shelley’s own novel (I wonder how many people familiar with the Frankenstein name even know there is a book), it’s heartening to know that Shelley is in fact getting respects from the quarters who matter. The legacy of this, her first novel, has been discussed and celebrated ad infinitum for various reasons, and I won’t get into that now.

Despite the fact that – much like its central Creature – the novel mashes together various preoccupations, it also felt like a barely-edited transcription of a fever dream

Suffice it to say that it was great to hear that Word Horde, one of my favourite indie presses, has decided to dedicate an anthology to Shelley’s influential novel, amassing an army of some of the best writers working in the genres that same book has helped give rise to.

I look forward to reading and reviewing each of the stories, as I’m fairly confident that all of the 16 writers whose short fiction makes up the contents of Eternal Frankenstein has felt a similar electric charge as I have when first experiencing Mary Shelley’s work.

Because after all, it is a charge that has run through my own fiction too. My debut novel, Two, contains a somewhat hidden but nonetheless deeply embedded debt to Shelley… and I’m confident that anything else I write in the future will contain at least a shred of Frankenstein’s legacy in one way or another.

So, despite it not being a dreary November night, I look forward to unleashing my little micro-creations (aka mini-reviews) into the world very, very soon.

I hope you enjoy them too.

Watch this space.