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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Frankenstein Unbound

It is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, which in some ways was the first science-fiction novel. There have been many pastiches that look at the story from different angles, and many film adaptations, and I've read/seen quite a few. In 1973, science-fiction author Brian Aldiss, who passed away last year, did his take on the subject with Frankenstein Unbound.

The narrator is Joe Bodendland. It is the year 2020, and a conflict, "largely an irrational war of varying skin-tones," has ripped the fabric of space-time, enabling things called "time-slips," or portals to another time. Bodenland goes through one, and ends up in Switzerland in the year 1816. He quickly realizes he's inside the novel Frankenstein.

You may wonder how that could be, given that Frankenstein is fiction. Well, Bodenland does, too. Later, he will find himself in the company of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and his future wife Mary during that dark summer when she dreamt up her famous work. He explains it: "But I had come to an 1816 (and there might be countless other 1816s of which I knew nothing) in which he shared – and his monster shared – an equal reality with Mary and Byron and the rest."

This is a wonderful premise but Aldiss makes some errors that diminished my enjoyment. For one, he tries to write in Shelley's florid style, which means he breaks one of Elmore Leonard's rules: too many exclamation points. For another, Bodenland, who is a grandfather, becomes attracted to Mary and they share an intimate relationship (she's only 19) which really amps up the "ew" factor. What are we to do with dialogue like this "‘Oh, Mary, I had to journey two centuries to find such a lover! There never was a love like ours before! Dearest Mary!’" other than wretch?

Also, Bodenland's mission is unclear. At the outset he is trying to save the life of Justine Moritz, who in the book is executed for the murder of Victor Frankenstein's brother William, when it was the monster who killed him and Victor knows it. He fails at that, though, and for much of the novel just kind of wanders around. Then he tracks the monster and his mate to the far north with the intent on killing them.

I would recommend this book only for Frankenstein enthusiasts such as myself. For the casual reader, it requires having read the original to fully appreciate.

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