Get your FRAULEIN on for Halloween! Only 99 Cents!

Fall is in the air, ghosts are in the graveyard, bats are in the belfry, and the Things That Go Bump In the Night are starting to boogie, which can mean only one thing: Halloween is just around the corner! And what better way to celebrate your Season of Monster than spending it with the Queen of Monsters–FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN! Just in time for Halloween, the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN is on sale for ONLY 99 CENTS. If you’ve been looking for the perfect book to put you in the monster mood, this is your chance! Here’s the link to order:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Kindle Ebook Order Page

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FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Paperback Order Page

Let all your freaky friends know where to get their best monster fix for the Pumpkin Time! Thanks for reading, and Happy pre-Halloween!

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Frankentawny Phil Sez: “Four More Weeks of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN at Only 99 Cents!”

Happy Groundhog Day, monster mavens! Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, so we are due for a long winter–a perfect time to curl up with a good book! And, lucky you, you have yet another chance to get your copy of the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN for the bargain price of ONLY 99 CENTS! But this offer is only good until February 28th, so get your discounted ebook TODAY. Here’s the link to the Amazon order page:

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And please SHARE this link with anyone you think might enjoy getting the novel at a BARGAIN PRICE. Thanks for your support, and stay tuned for further exciting developments!

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 3: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY

Formidable intelligence and futuristic free-thinking were wound into the DNA of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She was born in 1797 to radical political philosopher and atheist William Godwin and pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Although her mother died within a month after giving birth, Mary inherited her mother’s restless intellect and received an exceptional “masculine education” from her father (William Godwin’s words, not mine).

William’s progressive parenting backfired when his sixteen-year-old daughter fell in love with Percy Shelley, an atheist and radical free-thinker so much like William that they naturally detested one another. William’s antipathy to Percy might have had something to do with the fact that the poet was still married to his original wife, Harriet. Despite this technicality, Mary and Percy eloped to France in 1814.

Upon their return, Papa Godwin promptly cut them off from all financial support, which forced the couple to return to the Continent in 1816 in order to live on Percy’s meager income. It was then that they met Lord Byron and Dr. John Polidori and participated in that fateful contest at the Villa Diodati. Later that year, Harriet Shelley obligingly drowned herself, thereby clearing the way for her successor to marry Percy. Together, Mary and Percy had four children before Percy’s untimely demise in 1822. Alas, only one of their children, Percy Florence Shelley, survived to adulthood.

Mary Shelley first published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818, thereby securing her literary immortality. Although none of her other work would ever achieve such lofty recognition, she continued to write and publish books throughout her lifetime, including The Last Man, one of the first post-apocalyptic dystopian novels in science fiction, a genre she essentially invented. Although she died of a brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 53, she long outlived all three of her male counterparts from that celebrated Villa Diodati ghost-story competition.

In the following story, “Mary” weaves together many of the same themes that endowed Frankenstein with such timeless relevance—the sinister double, the creation of artificial life, the infringement of science and technology on the spiritual realm—while incorporating a cautionary feminist moral that would have made her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, proud.

 

Dearest Adiela

MY DEAREST ADIELA

 by

Mary Shelley

(as channeled by Kelly Dunn)

“You may open your eyes now,” my husband said.

I looked at the figure before me in amazement. “Why, it’s my very likeness!” I cried. It really was startling to see a machine that resembled me in so many respects. It sat in a chair at my worktable, leaning slightly forward as if eager to communicate with me.

Glimpsing it for the first time in the dim morning light caused me a momentary shock, for I thought I’d got caught in a dream and could see myself sitting in front of me. I confess I jumped a little, much to my husband’s amusement.

Dominik kissed my hand, his eyes sparkling with the success of his surprise. “Merely a plaything, dearest,” he said. “Its beauty but a pale imitation of your own.”

“But—how on earth—?”

“I constructed it, sweetest heart,” he told me. He went on to say that, as his family’s manse was so isolated, that he thought it would be amusing for me to have a sort of companion. Dominik had often lamented—more than I had—that my father’s objection to our marriage had painfully separated me from my small, proud clan. I chose never to speak of my loneliness, but it seemed Dominik had divined it.

“You ought to have someone about who is not a servant or a menial,” Dominik went on. “One who is like unto yourself, who can be a bosom friend, even a teacher for you, if you like.”

I looked more closely at the automaton’s finely modeled features, the hair that matched the chestnut shade of my own. I could easily see why my father had so valued Dominik’s skills as watchmaker and artist, for these were united in the automaton I saw before me. I pointed to it. “So you made it—for me?”

He smiled. “For you. And her name is Adiela, the same as yours, my love.” Seeing me hesitate, he added, “She cannot harm you. She is here for your improvement, your peace of mind.”

I moved closer to my namesake, examining the lace on its dress, its faintly blushing cheeks, its smooth tapered fingers. It almost looked as if it could breathe. A work of art, truly. No one had ever given me so precious a gift.

“Well, go on,” he encouraged. “Bid her good morning.”

I ignored my husband’s command, looking instead into his handsome face. “It’s very beautiful, but why should I need another companion when I have you?”

He didn’t answer, and I knew I had done what I’d tried so hard not to do—said the very thing to vex him.

“You will find her a useful friend when business calls me away, dearest. And you know that time is at hand.” He gestured in the direction of the front door, where a long box had already been strapped to the waiting carriage.

I did not want to appear ungrateful, had no wish to provoke his frown. “Is it—she, I mean—really so accomplished?” I asked.

“Of course! Try her and see.” He showed me how to activate the motions of the automaton, and how to command it to perform. Filled with the pride of creation, he seemed to find it easy to brush away my tears as he got into the carriage that morning to deliver a custom-made “marvelous machine,” as Dominik called his automatons, to a far-off princely patron, and to receive his further orders.

For my part, I would far rather have had my husband with me than any machine, no matter how intricate. Even my pet canary seemed a preferable companion, being a living thing with feelings, even if of the avian variety. But after days upon days of communing with the little bird, and giving unnecessary orders to my husband’s well-trained servants, and looking out the windows to the barren icy fields and dark woods beyond, I found myself drawn to her—the new Adiela.

I went into the day parlour, where the automaton still sat poised at my worktable, and gave the command. She straightened her posture and looked at me. “Good morning, Adiela,” she pronounced in sweet accents. “What shall we do today?”

The moment I heard that dulcet voice, my fears vanished away. What harm would it do to pretend, to play best-of-friends with the machine my husband had crafted with such care? I smiled at her, a gracious hostess. “Shall we begin with our embroidery?” I placed a threaded needle and hoop into her hands, and to my amazement, the new Adiela began to sew.

That evening I discovered she could sing, and play the pianoforte, and soon I began to repeat the words and memorize the music made by her mechanical hands. At first, I considered the new Adiela a pastime to beguile the hours until hearth or husband should require me. But with each visit, another of her talents came to light. From her I learned the rudiments of French, German, Italian, and Latin—all languages my father had not deigned to teach me. From her mechanical gait I learned the walk and gestures of the demimonde, for I had always secretly longed to be a woman of fashion. Adiela’s smiles of beaming approval would reward me for each task I mastered. Many and many a time I thought, ah, how pleased Dominik would be, if only he could see me thus! And yet, with each new morning, I found myself eager to gain the approbation of the new Adiela.

As my husband’s absence extended from weeks to months, I found myself on many occasions looking deeply into Adiela’s artificial eyes, taking her cold hand, telling her the secrets of my girlhood and newly married life. To my amazement, the new Adiela seemed to understand! She would nod, her eyes reflecting mine, as I confided some childish peccadillo, or revealed to her my thoughts from the most noble to the deeply uncharitable. Whatever the case, she would reply with gentle words of advice, quoting the ancients and the wits of the day. I told her, too, of my increasing loneliness, how I had begun to feel quite weak as darkness came on each night—”Not on account of you, dear Adiela, but because Dominik has been away so long”—and her cold hand would squeeze mine in seeming sympathy.

I felt sure my bodily weakness would pass when I received word of Dominik’s return, but his letters said he could not tell when he would be home again. With each additional day of his abandonment my weakness spread, turning my limbs to lead and my resolve to fog.

One morning I found even leaving my bed difficult. I shook my head at my maid’s indifferent “Shall I call the doctor then?” No, a doctor could not help me. I dressed and slowly made my way downstairs. Only one countenance could cheer me; only one companion could re-energize my enervated frame. I directed my halting footsteps to the beloved figure sitting in her usual place at my worktable. “Oh, what shall I do, my dearest Adiela?” I cried, throwing my arms around her neck. “If only you could help me!”

As I clasped the automaton in my arms, I experienced the strangest sensation. A shock like electricity ran through me. I saw the gears and levers of the new Adiela all at once, experienced a feeling of melting, dissolving away, and then I found myself looking out through her eyes—a pinhole camera of near-blindness. But I could see well enough to observe my body falling like a heavy cloak and crumpling on the floor.

I do not know how much time passed. It seemed an eternity, but at last I perceived my husband, my Dominik, approaching me. Ah, how I wanted to run to him, but I could do nothing unless he chose to activate my mechanism.

“So it has happened,” he said. “Can you hear me, sweetest heart? Your essence has been absorbed into the automaton. Your body is quite used up, as you see—” and here he actually kicked my body which still lay insensible on the carpet—”and your spirit could not sustain it. Therefore you shall animate this machine, dependent on your lord’s commands.”

I could comprehend his words, but my false lips could form no protest to counter them.

He came to me, gently touching my face. I could not feel the caress. “You will speak to me in any language I choose, you will walk for me, and play music for me, my Adiela,” he said. If I could have run away on my mechanical legs, I would have, but I could not. I could only respond to his desires; I could not act on my own. And so my body and my voice did as he required.

At last he nodded, satisfied. “My automatons are the most lifelike in the land,” he commented, “but you, my dearest Adiela, surpass them all. You will soon be delivered to the Emperor himself, and I believe he will be very pleased indeed with all you can do! Once he possesses you, every crowned head in Europe will demand one just like you or better—though I must say, my dear, that will challenge my skill to the utmost.”

He placed me upright in a long box, arranging the packing around me himself and placing the parcel in the farthest corner of the parlour. After another eternity of activity and abyss, his manservant came in. “Your new machine is quite the masterwork, sir,” he commented, jerking his head toward the day parlour’s interior. Dimly, I could discern a pretty female figure—a new “marvelous machine” to replace me.

“That’s all right, Christian,” my husband responded as he entered the room. He waved his hand, indicating the neglected nook where the container confined me. “Merely nail the lid on that box there, and have it securely fastened to the carriage.”

Even as he spoke, Dominik was hurrying a young, well-dressed damsel into the chamber. “Not yet,” he teased her, playfully. “Not quite yet.” The youthful lady held her hands up to her face, yet darted her head about as if trying to catch the slightest sound or scent that might give hint to the surprise. How I wanted to call out to her! But my lips had been sealed against free speech forever.

The man who had been my husband smiled upon the new lady. “You may open your eyes now.”

She gave a little smothered scream of shock as she looked upon the adorable automaton posed charmingly at the worktable. “O! I thought for a moment you were hiding another woman in here! But—it’s—a kind of doll?”

“Only a plaything, dearest—” I heard him say as Christian cut off my view by lowering the box to the floor and positioning a lid upon it, shutting me in darkness. “—its beauty but a pale imitation of your own.”

 THE END

Copyright 2016 by Kelly Dunn

 

The multi-talented Kelly Dunn is a professional journalist, editor, actress, and university instructor, to say nothing of her onetime stint as a hearse-rental dealer. Her fiction has appeared in such venues as The Dead That Walk, Midian Unmade, and the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology After Death. In addition, she has published the urban fantasy novel Beloved of the Fallen under her pseudonym “Savannah Kline.” and edited the speculative fiction anthology Mutation Nation: Tales of Genetic Mishaps, Monsters, and Madness: Oh…and she also happens to be the love of my life! No wonder, eh?

If you enjoyed this story, please LIKE and COMMENT–Kelly and I would love to hear what you think!–and SHARE it with all your Gothic-minded minions! And let everyone know that they can get a novel-length dose of monster madness with the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, which, for a limited time, is at the bargain price of ONLY 99 CENTS!  WHAT A DEAL!!! Get yours NOW by clicking the link below:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

And don’t forget to read ALL of the chilling stories from the Villa Diodati! If you missed it check out Percy Shelley’s story, and come back to see what horrors “John Polidori” and “Lord Byron” dredge up. It’s more fun than a blind date with Dracula!

Until next time…STAY GOTHIC!

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 2: PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Born in 1792, Percy Shelley lived to just a month shy of his thirtieth birthday, yet during that short time, he managed to secure a reputation as one of the preeminent lyric poets of the Romantic era. Best known today for such classic verse as “Ozymandias” and “To a Skylark,” Shelley was quite the rebel and free-thinker for his time, espousing atheism and nonviolent civil disobedience and taking up with sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin while still technically married to his first wife Harriet. After Harriet conveniently drowned herself (in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, no less!), Percy wed Mary in 1816.

Despite having multiple premonitions of his own death and having never learned to swim, Percy had a perverse, almost pathological penchant for sailing in small, open boats. His pastime proved his undoing in 1822 when his craft evidently capsized during a storm and drowned him.

A quintessential Romantic, Percy Shelley possessed an appropriately morbid sensitivity. Indeed, the ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati in June of 1816 was inspired, in part, by one of Percy’s panic attacks. One stormy night, Lord Byron had been spooking his friends with a reading from “Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. According to John Polidori, who was present, “the whole took so strong a hold of Mr. Shelly’s [sic] mind, that he suddenly started up and ran out of the room. The physician and Lord Byron followed, and discovered him leaning against a mantle-piece, with cold drops of perspiration trickling down his face. After having given him something to refresh him, upon enquiring into the cause of his alarm, they found that his wild imagination having pictured to him the bosom of one of the ladies with eyes (which was reported of a lady in the neighborhood where he lived) he was obliged to leave the room in order to destroy the impression.”

With that image in mind, consider yourself warned about the content of the story that follows. NOTE: THIS STORY CONTAINS EXPLICIT AND DISTURBING IMAGERY! WE PROMISE!

 

Orbs of Erato

 

THE ORBS OF ERATO

by

Percy Bysshe Shelley

(as channeled by Stephen Woodworth)

 She enters the villa from the courtyard, through the doors I have left open for her.The night, once racked by tempest, has become utterly still and clear, the nimbus dissolving to unveil a brilliant moon. Its beams frost her nude form in spectral white, the limbs sinuous as animate marble. Though the air is bitterly cold, no gooseflesh stipples her polished skin. Hair as wispy and lustrous as spider silk floats about a face so fine as to be featureless, its eyes shut, and she moves with the slow deliberation of a somnambulist. I am reminded again of the figure of blind Justice, but know that she is neither blind nor just.

I do not remember falling asleep, and yet the sudden, awful cessation of thunder has awakened me. I rise from my chair in the parlor and shamble toward the open doors, and I hear nothing in the smothering silence—not a footfall, no, nor even my own labored breath or beating heart.

She steps across the threshold into shadow, and I can see only her silhouette haloed in moonlight. Yet I can feel her nether gaze upon me as she waits with imperious bearing. I extend my hand to her in helpless invitation, and she, the guest, leads me to the bedchamber, as though I were the sightless one.

A single candle sits in a holder on the night table, and its wavering flame makes the rumpled sheets of the four-post bed appear to pitch and roll like an uneasy sea. She reclines on the down mattress, her eyelids still shut as if already in slumber. And that is when I see them—those other eyes that have no lids and never shut. One on each breast of her exposed bosom, the white of the eye like an aureole, a cornea in place of a nipple. The pupils contract in the candlelight, and the limpid orbs peer at me in languid expectation.

Under their stare, I grow faint, sickened, my head numb as the blood drains from it. When she raises her arms to summon me, however, I cannot refuse, nor tear my gaze from that of her nether eyes. Wearing only my nightshirt, I crawl forward like an infant, over the foot of the bed and onto her supine form. Despite my revulsion, I kiss and caress her stone-smooth bosom with insatiable ardor as the eyes follow the ministrations of my mouth. The pigment of their irises appears to shade from one hue to another, now green, now blue, now gray.

She grips me with the longing of a lamia, but she has come to nourish, not devour. As I touch my lips to her throat, to her jaw, to her cheek, the eyelids beneath her fine brows peel apart. Out of each opened eye peeks the iris of a reddish-brown aureole, its pupil a puckering nipple. I feel the flutter of lashes on my tongue as I lap at an exposed teat.

She lifts her breasts with her hands so that the nether eyes may continue to watch me. My mouth probes deeper into the hollow of her open eye until I suckle at the teat in desperate hunger. A taste sweeter than honeydew tingles my tongue, heady and dreadful and delicious, and it feels as if the milk flows not from her body but from the mind and soul behind that exquisite, implacable face. My brain dizzies with an intoxication of lurid visions and strange music, and I succumb to a drowsy numbness.

When I recover my senses, I am alone in the bed. The taper on the night table has melted into a frozen fountain of wax, its wick extinguished, and a haze of wan daylight shafts through the bedchamber window.

Far from lassitude, I feel an irresistible agitation. My skull is bursting, words leaking from its fissures. I jump from the bed and rush to my writing desk in my dressing gown. Verse gushes forth faster than I can capture it with ink and quill. The precious, elusive words threaten to skitter away, and I scribble madly to imprison them on the page. I write until eyes and arm and head are sore and still fail to catch all the fleeing rhymes.

Then the rapture dissipates like a vanishing dream, an ode half-finished on the paper in front of me. I am left with only a ghastly emptiness, a hunger that claws at me as if my stomach were full of rats.

I must see her again.

Night after night, I leave the doors open wide, but she comes no more. My mind is as blank as the sheets of foolscap that litter my writing-desk. Has she found another lover, one more worthy to nurse?

The thought is unbearable. I curl upon my bed and teethe my thumb, bawling, a babe bereft.

THE END

 Copyright 2016 by Stephen Woodworth

 

If you enjoyed this story, just wait until you see what “Mary Shelley,” “John Polidori,” and “Lord Byron” have in store for you! Stay tuned to this blog for more EXCLUSIVE, CHILLING, NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED STORIES in the Gothic tradition, including a SPECIAL CELEBRITY GUEST APPEARANCE by PETER ATKINS, screenwriter of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 and author of Morningstar and many other classic works of horror fiction! Don’t miss a single post!!! And please COMMENT, LIKE, and SHARE this terror with your friends!

While you’re waiting, if you need more monsters NOW, why not check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN? Your ticket to terror is just a click away!:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

Until we return to the Villa Diodati…STAY GOTHIC!

One Night at the Villa Diodati…with Monsters!

It was a dark and stormy night…

No, really, it was! That wasn’t just a Bulwer-Lytton/Snoopy reference. I am referring to that tempestuous night in June of 1816 that inspired Mary Shelley to  invent one of the most celebrated monsters in all of horror fiction. As we continue to celebrate both this year’s release of my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN and the 200th anniversary of the conception of Shelley’s original FRANKENSTEIN, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit that pivotal event in Gothic literature, which many scholars believe also spawned the nineteenth century’s other iconic monster character, Dracula.

Simple necessity occasioned this unlikely but serendipitous event: Not technically married yet due to the inconvenient existence of Percy’s first wife Harriet, Percy and Mary Shelley were up to their cerebral brows in debt, and Percy was persona non grata with his not-yet-father-in-law, William Godwin. With only Percy’s modest income for subsistence, the couple believed they could live more cheaply on the Continent. Mary’s half-sister Claire Claremont was one of the randy Lord Byron’s many groupies, and she convinced the Shelleys to rent the Maison Chapuis, a small villa on the shores of Lake Geneva near the one where his lordship was summering with his fawning sidekick, Dr. John Polidori. Percy and Byron, being mutual admirers of one another’s poetry and of a similar egotistic Romantic temperament, got along famously, and Byron regularly hosted the Shelleys at the Villa Diodati, which you may see as it appears today in the photo accompanying this post. Percy and Mary Shelley are pictured on the left, Byron and Polidori on the right.

It was on one such visit in June of 1816 that a frightful downpour began, and Byron invited the Shelleys to stay at Diodati so they wouldn’t have to venture back to their own villa during the storm. The thunder and lightning excited their morbid imaginations, and since they were cooped up anyway, they took turns creeping each other out by reading outre works of Coleridge and others. Byron puckishly proposed a friendly competition in which they should all write their own ghost stories.

Of the four participants, Shelley and Byron had soon produced abortive fragments of ghostly narratives. Polidori, who had pretentions of being a writer but little talent, even came up with a story. Only Mary seemed to suffer from writer’s block, unable to think of a good idea.

Then she had a nightmare. Evidently inspired by conversations that Percy, Byron, and Polidori had regarding the science of galvanism and how electricity could make the limbs of dead animals and humans twitch as if alive, Mary dreamt of a medical student who brings to life a horrible humanoid monster. Both the medical student and his nameless creation would come to be known by the eventual title of the story she wrote: Frankenstein.

Mary’s was not the only famous work inspired by this unique meeting of minds, however. Inspired by the mysterious main character of Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel,” Polidori  created his own charismatic antihero in “The Vampyre,” a popular novella that became the first modern fictional treatment of vampirism in the English language. Many critics believe Polidori’s work was a seminal influence on Bram Stoker when he first conceived of Dracula.

In honor of this momentous occasion in the history of monsterdom, I thought it would be amusing to recreate the legendary evening at the Villa Diodati in miniature. With the aid of my own lovely wife, Kelly Dunn, and a very special surprise guest writer, we propose to channel each of the celebrated Diodati literati to write four *new* Gothic tales for your enjoyment. You won’t want to miss these new stories, so follow this blog for every chilling installment!

While you’re waiting, you can get your Frankenstein fix by checking out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN on Amazon. Follow the link below!:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page

Thank you, and stay tuned!

“Why FRANKENSTEIN?” Part 2: How Mary Shelley’s Novel Is Cutting-Edge Science Fiction *NOW*

One of the primary difficulties filmmakers and others encounter in trying to update the story of Frankenstein and place it in a modern setting is that the very rationale for Victor Frankenstein’s experiment now seems obsolete. Not only does the technology itself seem dated–we know now that zapping a corpse with electricity will cause it to twitch but won’t bring it to life–but there are now so many more expedient options for creating an autonomous being. If Victor Frankenstein were a current researcher, he might focus on genetic engineering to engender the perfect human, or perhaps build an android with artificial intelligence, but would probably not be stitching pieces of dead bodies together. For this reason, the most successful dramatic adaptations of Frankenstein are either period pieces (the classic Peter Cushing Hammer Horror movies come to mind) or campy contemporary comedies such as the Re-Animator series.

Yet it is precisely because technology has surpassed Mary Shelley’s wildest nightmares that her cautionary tale is more timely than ever. In genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and other fields, science is now on the verge of accomplishing Victor Frankenstein’s aim of creating new life forms in ways no one in the nineteenth century could have imagined. And it was Mary Shelley’s genius to have anticipated ethical dilemmas in medicine and scientific research that are only now arising, two centuries later, as we begin to manipulate the building blocks of our own being. In this respect, she has become the Cassandra of the new millennium.

In an age of global warming, biological weapons, and nuclear meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima, we have little trouble seeing that technological advancement is a double-edged sword. But Shelley was writing shortly after the Enlightenment, an era in which the intelligentsia viewed science as a beacon that would banish ignorance and superstition and give humanity mastery over the harsh vicissitudes of Nature. At the time, there was little talk of “some things man was not meant to know,” to paraphrase a cliché from many a science-fiction B-movie.

On the contrary, the secrets of the cosmos were ours by divine right, bequeathed to us by the Creator himself. “The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation,” Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason. “It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, ‘I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all to be kind to each other.'” Clearly, the Enlightenment viewed science as an almost sacred force for good in the world, for it had yet to unleash the potentially apocalyptic devastation of which we now know it to be capable.

By the Romantic era, however, the downside of technological innovation had just begun to creep into the public consciousness. From 1811 to 1816–right before Shelley wrote Frankenstein–English textile workers protested the incursion of mill modernization and automation that reduced the need for human labor. The protestors took the name “Luddites” after Ned Ludd, a mill worker who supposedly destroyed a couple of stocking frame weaving machines in a fit of rage. The epithet Luddite is still used to describe an individual who resists adopting new technology.

Science has always been viewed with suspicion by those who fear (correctly) that it may overturn prevailing religious beliefs or social order. Mary Shelley’s concern differed, however. She did not object to the acquisition of knowledge through scientific discovery, per se. She worried more about what humanity would do with that knowledge once they had it. “Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world,” she wrote when speculating upon the results of irresponsible use of divine forces.

Hence, the subtitle of her book, “The Modern Prometheus,” in which she explicitly compared Victor Frankenstein to the mythical Greek titan who stole the sacred fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humankind. In this regard, she introduces a uniquely modern morality for scientific endeavor: that scientists themselves are culpable for how their discoveries are ultimately used by humanity. This sense of responsibility has since haunted scientists and inventors ranging from Alfred Nobel to Albert Einstein to Robert Oppenheimer, even though they have little control over the actions of those who abuse the power these researchers have revealed. Like Victor Frankenstein, these scientists have each attempted to rein in the exploitation of their achievements, only to find that the monster has taken on a life of its own.

There is a reason the adjective “Frankensteinian” still applies to any product of scientific experimentation that seems misbegotten and unnatural. When we get queasy at the thought of genetically-engineered “Frankenfood,” or of a goat whose genes have been spliced with those of a spider to give silk in its milk, or of a rabbit bred to glow in the dark just to show such a thing can be done, we think of Victor Frankenstein and wonder if we, too, will lose control of our own creations. And perhaps the most frightening realization is that, like Mary Shelley’s audience in the nineteenth century, we have yet to see all the potential horrors that science may eventually let fly from its Pandora’s box.

That’s why Frankenstein, Shelley’s parable of scientific hubris, will remain one of science fiction’s most relevant classics for as long as human beings seek to understand, manipulate, and alter their reality.

If you’ve enjoyed this two-part essay, please Like and Share it with your fellow Frankenstein freaks, and Follow this blog for further Franken-fun! If you have not already done so, I hope you’ll also check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, my own humble homage to Mary Shelley, here on Amazon:

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If you like the novel, please share your enthusiasm by posting a review on Amazon and by recommending the book to your friends.

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“Why FRANKENSTEIN?” Part 1: How Mary Shelley’s Novel Was Cutting-Edge Science Fiction *Then*

I could not have picked a more appropriate year to publish my new book FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, as it is the 200th anniversary of the conception of Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel. On a fittingly dark and stormy night in June of 1816, Mary, then only 18 years old, had a nightmare that would not only inspire one the most iconic characters of all time–it would serve as the progenitor of an entirely new branch of literature, a genre that would not even have a name until the 1920’s, when Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback dubbed it “scientifiction” or science fiction.

In researching the original novel while writing FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, I was struck even more forcefully by the visionary aspect of Shelley’s work. Nowadays, many critics will credit Shelley with giving Victor Frankenstein a scientific rather than a supernatural origin for his creation, but will dismiss the science she describes as little more than hand-waving necromancy. While the notion of fashioning a being from parts of dead bodies and then bringing it to life with lightning may still seem far-fetched and fanciful, it actually synthesizes several prescient speculative concepts that have since become scientific realities.

To recognize how perceptive Frankenstein really was in its scientific speculation, one must keep in mind the historical context. When Mary Shelley sat down to pen the story in 1816, electricity was still a little-understood force of Nature. Its effects had been observed in magnets, in electric eels, and in static electricity generated by the rubbing of wool or amber, but the underlying mechanism behind these varied manifestations had not been explained. It had only been 64 years since Benjamin Franklin had demonstrated that lightning was another form of electricity, and a mere 17 years since Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic pile, a battery capable of chemically creating a weak electric current. The idea that electricity could serve any useful purpose–to say nothing of raising the dead–was a novel one.

Mary Shelley’s ingenious extrapolation that electric current might be able to somehow reawaken dead flesh derived from another revolutionary–and relatively recent–discovery. In 1780, Italian physician and biologist Luigi Galvani found that he could cause a severed frog’s leg to twitch as if alive by passing a small electric current through it. The phenomenon, which we now call bioelectricity, was dubbed galvanism in his honor.

The scientist’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, went on to do a spectacular demonstration of the principle at Newgate Prison in London in 1803. He ran an electric current through the corpse of George Forster, a convict hanged for the murders of his wife and child, and the results of the experiment were, quite literally, shocking. “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver,” according to an account published in the notorious prison bulletin The Newgate Calendar, “and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.”

Although it is unlikely that Mary Shelley witnessed this spectacle herself, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his physician friend Dr. John Polidori would probably have mentioned it during their enthusiastic discussions of galvanism, which provided a key inspiration for Mary’s vision of Victor Frankenstein’s medical research. The idea that the same mysterious power inherent in a thunderbolt also energized the nervous system of human beings and all living things must have seemed a revelation to Mary, proof of a unifying force that bound together all animate and inanimate things in the universe…which it was.

One must also remember that the science of modern medicine was still in its infancy, its progress held back by society’s ongoing taboo against using cadavers for anatomical dissection. In Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein himself had to plunder churchyards to obtain the raw materials for his creation. “Resurrectionists,” or grave-robbers, did a thriving business supplying medical students with fresh corpses; ten years after the publication of Frankenstein, William Burke and William Hare would be tried for murder when they decided to skip digging in the graveyard and go for fresh, living meat when procuring bodies for sale.

But the idea of taking pieces of dead bodies and attaching them to a living being went far beyond the taboo of dismembering corpses. To readers of the early nineteenth century, it would have seemed like black magic. From our perspective, however, we can see that Shelley clearly prefigured the organ transplantation and limb grafting that have become an essential part of modern surgery. It is coincidental but significant that 1818, the year the original version of Frankenstein was published, was also the year in which British obstetrician James Blundell performed the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion, a necessary precursor to all the subsequent transplantation procedures that have evolved in the succeeding two centuries.

Yet Mary Shelley goes beyond even the prospect of simply grafting human flesh. In her novel, Victor Frankenstein actually fabricates some of his monster’s gargantuan limbs rather than using existing pieces of corpses, for the practical reason that bigger parts are easier to work on. (Any mechanical engineer would understand and empathize.) “As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed,” he says, “I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large.” His plan, of course, backfires badly, for he ends up creating a murderous behemoth with the strength of a dozen men. But, although Shelley never really describes how Frankenstein manufactures his monster’s enormous frame, the simple fact that he makes a human figure from scratch, as ’twere, presages the prosthetic limbs, artificial hearts, and cloned organs of contemporary medicine.

And that is precisely why Frankenstein is still a cutting-edge science fiction novel today, a topic I shall address in Part II. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you have not already done so, I hope you’ll check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN here on its Amazon order page:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

If you enjoy the novel as much as I believe you will, please post a review on Amazon and recommend the book to your friends.

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