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.


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

Swords v Cthulhu read-a-thon #10 | Ben Stewart, Wendy N. Wagner

As outlined in an earlier post, in the coming weeks I will be dedicating an entry to each story in the new anthology Swords v Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington and published by Stone Skin Press. 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.


Two Suns over Zululand by Ben Stewart

Ordo Virtutum by Wendy N. Wagner

The terrors of Lovecraft are a flexible bunch. Because Cthulhu and his fellow eldritch pantheon have no affiliation to established religious creeds — and are more or less stand-ins for the cosmic indifference of the universe to human foibles, though that’s not all they are — they can easily be applied as the antagonistic entity of choice to stories set within any country or cultural milieu.

Wagner and Stewart’s stories in particular play on the notion of the Great Old Ones infiltrating a particular social space, and the hook and twist of the stories lies in the way in which their writers manipulate our expectations of how these micro-worlds would deal with the Cthuloid threat.

Stewart’s story plunges us straight into a reconnaissance mission embedded within the Anglo-Zulu War, and on the face of it, Stewart appears to be attempting a piece of full-blooded historical war fiction of the kind we’ve already seen earlier on in the anthology with A. Scott Glancy’s Trespassers. But the real thrust of the story is more straightforward, as our protagonist, Lwazi, is told in no uncertain terms that he must retrieve the idol of ‘H’aaztre’ — an obvious stand-in for Lovecraft’s Hastur diety — from an Englishman who has it in his possession.

If Lwazi fails in his mission — as he is told by the mentor figure Mandlenkosi — they will be powerless to stop a cataclysmic event triggered by these otherworldly dieties.

Stewart wastes no time in laying out the raison d’etre of the story, and even has Mandlenkosi plainly declare what Lwazi must do in direct speech. This evokes a similar ‘gamified’ effect as other stories in the collection, and it matches the enjoyably direct, unpretentious thrust-and-parry of the rest of the tale.

Défense de Rorke's Drift (detail) by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville

Défense de Rorke’s Drift (detail) by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville

And in a strand that once again brings to mind Glancy’s story, the threat posed by ‘H’aaztre’ and everything he’s set to unleash trumps the ‘mundane’ struggles between the Zulus and the British. Though the details of these particular monsters and how they operate are influenced by Lovecraft, it must be said that the ‘common enemy who unites us in the end’ is a familiar trope to the alien invasion genre. And more than gods, Lovecraft’s creatures are alien invaders — albeit ones that tend to inspire cult-like fervour among a select group of maddened devotees.

This fervour is the engine of Wagner’s story, which takes the striking historical personage Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) as its main inspiration: in fact, the title refers to a famous piece of music by this German Benedictine abbess — who apart from being a mystic and polymath was also a composer and writer.

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen

Wagner is clearly infatuated with Bingen, and has no qualms about casting her into what amounts to a badass superheroine role in the story. But what’s more interesting is how Wagner builds the clerical world that Bingen belongs to — suggesting its political and social structure, and Bingen’s role within it, before it is undermined by an eldritch-struck outsider.

Though Lovecraft himself was often lost inside the rabbit hole of his psyche — which was in turn hemmed-in by his oft-discussed prejudices — these writers are adding colour and specificity to the cosmic horror that lies at the core of his work.

Read previous: Caleb Wilson, Nathan Carson & Orrin Grey