Mark Your Monster Calendar! FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Book Signing!

Greetings, Friends of FRAULEIN! I wanted to let you all know that I will be signing copies of the fabulous Shadowridge Press paperback edition of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN at the venerable Dark Delicacies horror bookstore in Burbank, California, at 4pm on Saturday, July 8th.

You’ll also have the opportunity to get signed copies of books by other wonderful Shadowridge Press authors, including Dennis Etchison (The Death Artist, Red Dreams, The Blood Kiss), Tracy Carbone (The Proteus Cave, The Rainbox), and my ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI co-authors Kelly Dunn (Beloved of the Fallen, editor of Mutation Nation) and the irrepressible Peter Atkins (screenwriter of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Wishmaster and author of Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Rumours of the Marvellous). We’ll have copies of the DIODATI chapbook available for purchase and signing, as well. Here’s a link to the Dark Delicacies website for more info, including directions to the store:

Dark Delicacies Bookstore Website

For those who can’t make it to Burbank on July 8th, you’ll be happy to hear that Dark Delicacies will take your pre-orders over the phone, and will ship your order for an extra charge. All of us at Shadowridge Press would like to express our sincere gratitude to Del and Sue Howison of Dark Delicacies for hosting the event.

Hope to see you all there!

 

Here She Comes to Save the Day…for only 99 CENTS! Your New Superhero–FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN!

Prettier than Superman! Battier than Batman! Deader than Deadpool! Yes, it’s your new superhero FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN! And she’s currently a Kindle Monthly Deal on Amazon, which means you can get the ebook of the novel for ONLY 99 CENTS! So let FRAULEIN save *your* day. Check out the deal at the link below:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

But hurry! This deal is only good for the month of May.

And don’t forget–if you prefer a copy of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN you can hold in your hot little hands, there is now a handsome paperback edition available from Shadowridge Press. Here’s the order page:

FRAULEIN Paperback Order Page

Thanks for reading, and please LIKE and SHARE this post with your friends so everyone can enjoy the FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN special offer.

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 5: GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON

If such a thing as a “rock star” had existed in 19th century Britain, George Gordon, the 6th Baron Byron, would surely have been that individual. Born in 1788 to Catherine Gordon and Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron (who sounds like a supporting character from Pirates of the Caribbean), Lord Byron inherited his ancestral title, yet managed to earn wealth and eternal fame on his own merits as a best-selling poet (back before that expression became an oxymoron). He remains best-known for epic narrative poems of machismo such as Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, and Byron’s own love life rivaled that of his legendary fictional libertine. His notorious sexual exploits and the sheer number of lovers—both female and male—he had during his short life would have put even Mick Jagger to shame.

No mere armchair adventurer, Byron lived as large as any of his heroes. Despite being born with a club foot, he became an outstanding swimmer. He even swam the one-mile breadth of the Hellespont, the narrow strait that leads from Turkey into the Aegean Sea, then composed a poem to brag about the exploit. (It’s a pity he didn’t teach Percy Shelley at least to dog-paddle.) He traveled extensively, partook of many and variegated cultures, and indulged in epic hedonism.

Eventually, his desire for real-life swashbuckling led to his downfall. Byron joined with Greek forces to fight for independence from the Turks. Before he could die heroically in battle, however, he contracted a terrible illness that was treated with an even more terrible remedy, a careless bloodletting that resulted in a lethal infection. He died in Missolonghi, Greece, in 1824, at the age of 36, which may not seem very old but is longer than Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain lasted, so for a rock star, he did pretty well.

On that tempestuous night at the Villa Diodati, Byron was the first to propose the ghost-story competition to the Shelleys and Dr. Polidori, yet his Lordship failed his own challenge. His own entry for the competition was a tantalizing “Fragment of a Novel,” which introduces the mysterious yet charismatic character of Augustus Darvell. Some readers believe Darvell may have been a prototype for Polidori’s “Vampyre,” although Byron’s sadly incomplete narrative leaves it open to question whether or not Darvell is a member of the undead.

But let us now imagine what might have been if, instead of a “Fragment of a Novel,” Byron had left us “The Novel of the Fragments.”

Hermit Tarot

 

The Novel of the Fragments

by

Lord Byron

 (as channeled by Peter Atkins)

 

I am to tell you, or so the muse instructs me, of the curious adventure that befell me during my wanderings in that mist-shrouded region of hills and caverns—nestled between two neighboring kingdoms and long the source of their centuries-old enmity—which our unimaginative guidebooks call merely The Taviani Pass (after the Venetian botanist who first mapped it) but which is known to one of its reclusive mountain tribes in their strangely beautiful mongrel tongue as Draumestauch, or The Place of Gentle Misfortune.

I was descending a south-facing slope, aware already of how low the sun was to my right, when I grew conscious of a whistled air, high and lilting and tantalizingly faint. At first convinced it was naught but the wind itself, transmuted into accidental melody by its passage through crevice and crevasse, I was forced to revise my opinion when a sudden sour note in a trilling climb within the tune prefaced a pause and then a renewed attempt at the melodic ascent. Neither wind nor accident then, I realized, and was at once—distance and nightfall be damned—determined to find the mysterious whistler. For you see, the air was not unknown to me; it was in fact one of those ‘Hebrew Melodies’ composed by Mr. Nathan some years earlier as settings for lyrics of my own invention.

A turn or two within the rocky bypaths brought me ere long to the narrow mouth of a cave hidden from the casual glances of most who would brave the mountain, and a walk of but a hundred feet or so within its shadowed reaches brought me to the source of the whistled refrain:

Illuminated by the dancing flame of a torch mounted on the cave-wall, a solitary Hermit in monk-like robes and cowl sat beneath a primitive looking glass of polished obsidian fastened to the rocky surface behind him. As I stepped into the pool of light cast by the torch, the fellow stopped his whistling.

“Welcome, my Lord,” he said, and beckoned me forward.

“You have the advantage of me, Sir,” I said. “In whose company do I find myself?”

“I am the Guardian of the Fragments,” he said, with a certain haughtiness not generally associated with—nor, to my understanding, encouraged in—those of the monkish persuasion.

“Fragments?” said I. For, I confess, curiosity had triumphed over my disdain for his cheap Mummers’ Show theatrics.

“Fragments of Time, my Lord,” he said. “Glimpses of worlds that were, worlds that will be, and even worlds that are.”

Well, the damned fellow had my attention. I had to give him that.

“Do we see them in the glass?” I said, nodding at the obsidian pane behind him.

There was a pause before his reply—“Alas, no,” he eventually said—and I realized I’d inadvertently knocked a chip out of his self-importance. Missed a trick there, he was probably thinking, while no doubt planning a quick bit of redecoration before the next punter wandered in.

Making the best of it, however, he reached within the copious folds of his robe and removed a document.

“From the distant past,” he said, and held the thing out for me to take, which I did.

It was a single sheet of a fine antique parchment and it was folded in half. On the outside of the fold, as one addressing an envelope, someone had written a three-word title in a decent copperplate while the inside, once unfolded, contained a prose passage of some two or three hundred words:

ONLY DEATH, SIR

           When the King of all the lands that were fair asked for berries, berries were brought. When his thirst sought sweet water, sweet water was found. So when he asked for wisdom, it was not long before his courtiers brought to him a man of whom no question had been asked for which he had not found an answer.

          And the King made the man his servant and bade him walk with him all his days so that wisdom was ever at hand.

          And the Servant showed him all the pleasures of the world and how to partake wisely thereof.

          And many years passed and the King, grown old with wandering, spoke again to his servant.

          “And after this, what then? After flesh and fruit and song, what more remains?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was kind.

          And the King, who by now was not himself unwise, accepted the answer but, seeking consolation, went to his window and looked out at his people below.

          “That sweet girl who runs eagerly, summer on her cheek, to find a faithful lover: Who will receive her embrace?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          “And that young man whose heart seeks glory, be he poet or soldier: What will he find?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          “And those trees, those flowers: To what end do they blossom? Those birds: To what end do they sing?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          And the King looked at his Servant and saw him for the first time and his heart was heavy in his chest and all his joys were ash. And he gave to his Servant one more question.

          “And who are you, o most faithful servant, who has shown me all these wonders, who has walked always beside me, thy footsteps planted next to mine down all my days e’en like those of my own shadow?”

          The Servant smiled. And he made him an answer and the answer was the same.

 

I refolded the paper, handed it back to the hermit, and watched it disappear into the hollows of his monkish robe.

“A lesson the learning of which is hardly the exclusive prerogative of the past,” I said. “Nor one reserved solely for Kings.”

“I know nothing of lessons, my Lord,” he said. “I am merely the Guardian.”

His routine could plainly benefit from better dialogue and I felt a moment’s temptation to offer my services in that regard, but I feared it might bruise his feelings. He was, in any case, getting on with the show.

“From the distant future,” he said, producing the second fragment for my perusal:

 

THE LAST TIME I ALMOST WENT HOME

         The guy we’d actually been hired by, the guy who rounded us up from the club, was just some flunky in a tough-guy suit, spending government money. Nicer than he needed to be, though. “Ladies,” he’d said, as he held the limo door and waved the three of us into the back seat. Not a trace of spin on it. You learn to appreciate the little things, believe me.

          The guy we’ve been hired for is quiet, naked, and not great on eye-contact. It’s hardly surprising that he doesn’t understand the subtleties, that his hand is limp and unresponsive when we shake, that he answers honestly when Brigid asks if he likes her hair. It’s hardly surprising at all. I mean, how far has he come?

           The guy with the clipboard and the ugly machine had tried to explain, but I couldn’t even. I’m like, “Wait, what?” Mind blown.

            “C’mon, Caitlin,” Jeannie says to me, like she hears this sort of shit every day. “Like David Bowie. You know, in that movie.”

            And Brigid’s like, “Right, the one where his eyes are weird.”

            And Jeannie, very offended, is all, “Those are Bowie’s actual eyes, Brigid.”

            But she’s forgetting the scene with the tweezers, I think, and besides, that was a metaphor. This is a man.

            The ugly machine can’t make up its mind about its numbers.

             Jeannie’s tongue is at the corner of her mouth and none of us are sure what to do now.

             “Perhaps you could dance,” Clipboard says. “Perhaps he’d like that.”

 

Fragment, indeed. Somewhat shorter, even, than the first. And certainly more perplexing; full of words which one could understand singly but which, woven together, produced a tapestry so baffling as to court madness. I would not, however, have this fellow—of whom I had come to think, for all his affectation of a monkish spiritual rigour, as being too pleased with himself by half—believe me to be without opinion or insight.

“A machine that works with numbers,” I said. “A sophistication, I assume, of Herr Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner?”

“Were Herr Leibniz to fall asleep and dream himself into a world of mechanical wonders unguessed-at in our present day and then, within that dreaming world of splendours, to fall asleep and dream of a world whose inventions put those of the first to shame, he would still be some distance from comprehending the …”

Good God. I know that I’ve been accused of as much myself, but it seemed to me that my monastic friend was making his point with an inordinate amount of excessive elaboration. I pretended to stifle a yawn but hints, it appeared, were not to be taken.

“… enormous strides in computational capabilities that await us in—”

“That’s as may be,” I said, finally cutting him off. “But I suspect two and two will probably still make four. In any case, there’s a far more important lesson to be learned from this little curiosity of yours.”

“Indeed?” said the Hermit, raising an eyebrow.

“Indeed,” said I. “It appears that, in the future, ladies shall still dance?”

“It appears so,” he admitted.

“Then the world shall not entirely have gone to Hell,” I said, and held out my hand for the third fragment.

“Past. Future,” I mused. “This next will, I take it, enlighten me regarding the present?”

A solemn nod was his only reply as he placed the document in my hand.

As with its companions, it was a single sheet of paper folded in half. As before, a title was on the outer fold:

HOW LONG DOES THE MAYFLY LIVE?

But the paper, once unfolded, was completely blank.

For a brief moment, I felt a chill of fear, its source unclear to me and its strength disturbingly disproportionate to the circumstance.

My second thought was that this was merely some ill-judged whimsy of the Guardian and that, upon renewed demand, he would provide the real document.

And then I understood. Or thought so, at least.

“The present is not ordained,” I said confidently, as one who has understood a clever puzzle. “It is ours for the writing.”

I looked to my cowled companion for what I fully expected to be an approving nod. But neither word nor gesture escaped him. How could it?

The Guardian was a statue. Man and robe alike hewn by some masterful ancient hand from the very walls of the cavern that appeared to be its home.

I snatched up the flaming torch from its niche in the wall and held it near my former companion. With every second, the thing seemed to be less well wrought until I began to wonder how I could ever have thought it the semblance of a man. A series of natural folds in the rock, and nothing more.

The flicker of the flame’s reflection in the obsidian panel above drew my attention to the looking glass. Holding the torch aloft and close to my own face, I stared into the glass’s darkling surface.

There was absolutely nothing to be seen within.

 THE END

© Peter Atkins 2016

 

For those unfortunates who have been living under rocks for the past few decades and may not be familiar with him, PETER ATKINS is the author of the novels Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Moontown and the screenplays Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III, Hellraiser IV, and Wishmaster. His short fiction has appeared in such anthologies as The Museum of Horrors, Ghosts, Hellbound Hearts, and Cemetery Riots, and has been selected eight times for one or more of the various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies. His recent book, Rumours of the Marvellous, a collection of his short fiction, was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award. He blogs at peteratkins.blogspot.com.

The author of this blog wishes to offer his obsequious thanks to Mr. Atkins for embodying the immortal Byron for this Villa Diodati recreation.

If you enjoyed this story (and the stories within the story!), please LIKE and SHARE this post with all your fellow Gothic aficionados. And, while you’re at it, don’t forget to mention that, for a limited time, they can get the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN for the pittance of ONLY 99 CENTS! That’s less than a convenience-store king-sized pack of M&M’s! And it’s way better for you–a fraction of the fat and calories. But this SPECIAL OFFER won’t last long. Order yours today! Here’s the link:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

Thank you all for joining our party at the Villa Diodati! In the spirit of that fateful evening in June of 1816, I hope we have given you a few memorable shivers for a stormy night. I would love to hear what you think and whether you have suggestions for future features you would like to see in this blog. Until next we meet…HAVE A VERY GOTHIC HOLIDAY SEASON!

 

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 4: JOHN WILLIAM POLIDORI

Born in 1795, John Polidori displayed a precocious aptitude for the medical profession, graduating from the University of Edinburgh at the age of nineteen. However, he never seemed content with his promising career as a physician and nurtured literary ambitions that would remain largely unfulfilled, leading to a short and tragic life. Despite his failure to make a name for himself as a writer, Polidori rather unwittingly made an indelible contribution to the field of horror fiction by introducing modern readers to the folkloric figure of the vampire.

His attraction to the glamour of the literati led the young Dr. Polidori to wheedle his way into a position as Lord Byron’s personal physician, and he accompanied the poet on his trip to the Continent in 1816. Indeed, Polidori’s diary serves as one of the primary firsthand accounts of Byron’s meeting with the Shelleys and of the celebrated ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati. The physician doubtless also deserves credit for contributing his medical knowledge to the discussions that inspired Mary Shelley’s conception of the overreaching medical student Victor Frankenstein.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Byron and Polidori was strained from the beginning and deteriorated rapidly. Polidori had an obsessive, fan-like attraction to Byron and quickly became catty and jealous whenever his Lordship lavished attention on Percy Shelley or anyone else. Meanwhile, Byron evidently considered his traveling companion an ingratiating toady and irritating nuisance, “exactly the kind of person to whom, if he fell overboard, one would hold out a straw to know if the adage be true that drowning men catch at straws.” (Byron’s words, not mine.) He effectively sacked Polidori not long after their sojourn at the Villa Diodati, and Polidori’s life entered a downward spiral after the two men parted company. Depressed by gambling debts and failed careers and relationships, John Polidori committed suicide by ingesting a lethal dose of Prussic acid (better known as cyanide) in 1821, just shy of his 26th birthday.

According to Mary Shelley, Polidori’s original contribution to the ghost story challenge at the Villa Diodati centered around a skull-headed lady. At some later date, however, he composed a far more memorable tale. Evidently inspired by the enigmatic character of Augustus Darvell in the “Fragment of a Novel” that Byron produced for the competition—and, more likely, by the aloof and sardonic personality of Byron himself—Polidori wrote “The Vampyre,” featuring “Lord Ruthven,” the first fictional bloodsucking noble in modern English literature. Literary critics generally agree that Lord Ruthven served as a model to Bram Stoker when he created his more illustrious vampire nobleman, Count Dracula.

What follows is a narrative with almost the same title but a very different tale to tell.

 

Schedel_1493

 

THE VAMP-PYRE

by

John William Polidori

(as channeled by Stephen Woodworth)

On my left, Warrick pitched the limp bulk of a pregnant woman onto the heap of corpses in front of us, while Lafontaine tossed a small boy atop the mound from the right.

“Think that’s the last of ’em,” Warrick declared. His shirt was slashed as if by a tiger’s claws, its front blotched and spattered with crimson. The blood was not his.

“We need to be certain,” I said. “We cannot allow even one to rise. Go search again, and make haste—we haven’t much time.” With a torch in one hand and a wooden stake in the other, Warrick headed back to the desolate village, and I turned to Lafontaine. “Philippe, help me scatter the kindling.”

The charnel mountain had piled higher than my head, with more than a hundred livid cadavers sprawled on top of one another in disarray. Old and young, rich and poor, men, women, and children, all tangled together. For nearly a week, the strange contagion had ravaged the village. Every body bore the telltale puncture wounds—most on the neck, some on the wrist, and some…in far more intimate places. The stakes we’d used to despatch them still protruded from the chests of many of the bodies. We’d had to go from door to door, house to house, to get them all.

But one could not rely on the accuracy of the stake. If one missed the heart by even an inch, the accursed victim might still revive and wreak havoc. Immolation was the only sure solution.

I placed bundles of twigs around the heap in a ring, and Lafontaine followed after, using a pitchfork taken from one of the dead farmers to stuff dry straw in among the sticks. We then doused wood and flesh alike with whisky from jugs we’d found in the village’s abandoned tavern. Taking up the burning torches we’d stabbed handle-down into the soft soil, we stood to wait for Warrick.

The will-o’-the-wisp of Warrick’s torch bobbed through the benighted hamlet. The eyes of darkened windows glowed fretfully as he probed each thatched-roof cottage. At last, he returned, carrying no corpse.

“Empty as a drunkard’s purse,” he declared.

“Then let’s have done with it,” I said, and touched my torch to the liquor-soaked barrier of sticks and straw.

The fire caught quickly, the twigs popping and snapping, their evaporating sap spitting smoke redolent of willow and oak. Lafontaine and Warrick continued around the oval, thrusting their torches at the kindling until the entire mound of corpses was skirted by flame.

Then the bodies themselves began to smolder. The acrid stink of singed hair and woolen clothing tainted the air, followed soon by the oddly appetizing scent of fresh, roasting meat.

When it seemed that the fire had engulfed the mass of carrion without incident, I turned to the others. “Enough, lads! Let us rest—”

“Garde-toi!” Lafontaine exclaimed. “Behind you!”

I’d barely glanced back toward the bonfire when I felt a pair of vise-like hands seize the lapels of my frock-coat, dragging me toward the blaze. I found myself nose-to-nose with a face awash in flame, the visage shriveling to a death’s-head as if it were burning paper. The figure’s entire body was sheathed in fire but for its blackened, grasping hands, and I recognized it solely by its distended stomach: the pregnant woman was trying to claw her way out of our mass cremation. She let out a hideous banshee scream, her breath gusting in my face with the hot fury of a forge, and I feared she would set me afire.

Then her wail shrilled even louder as Lafontaine snatched up the pitchfork and drove its prongs into her chest. Still, she did not let go of me. I beat at her with the burning torch I still clutched, and her grip loosened as the fire consumed her limbs. Like the devil he was, Lafontaine used the pitchfork to thrust her back into the pyre.

Even then, the horror did not end. Bubbling with fried fat, the woman’s belly, like a well-cooked sheep’s bladder, burst open, and the unborn infant pawed blindly for freedom. Leeched of blood like its mother, it now shared her curse of abominable resurrection. Still leashed to her by its umbilicus, it scrabbled out of its charred womb only to dangle in the flames, mewling piteously.

“Over here!” Warrick yelled.

Lafontaine and I tore our gaze from the ghastly un-birth to see Warrick swinging his own torch at a tall, emaciated man who had erupted daemoniacally from the other side of the funereal mound. Before we could help Warrick stop him, the flaming figure had leapt onto the grass outside the bonfire’s oval. He began a frantic, staggering run, his scarecrow arms flailing and flaring against the black night sky. Warrick pursued him, and when the man stumbled and fell, Warrick batted at the man’s head with his torch until the burning skull broke from the quivering body and rolled away.

An ominous moaning drew our attention back to the pyre. We saw the dark heart of the fire pulsing, the mountain of corpses undulating as if alive. Flickering silhouettes appeared behind the curtain of flames as buried victims groped their way out of the carnage only to be immolated. They did a horrid dance of agony, screaming and screeching, as if already tormented by the furnace of Hades.

With pitchfork and torches, Lafontaine, Warrick, and I beat back all those who tried to escape the pyre. Penned within, they ultimately succumbed to the flames, their charred skeletons collapsing back into the fire like so much kindling. The heap of corpses diminished and lay still, its only sound the snap and sizzle of burning flesh.

At last, Lafontaine threw down his pitchfork. “C’est tout, mes amis!”

He grinned, his lips and chin still red with dried gore from our most recent feast. Warrick laughed, baring his own crimsoned fangs.

I winced. I could not help but pity the pathetic creatures that I’d seen shrieking and withering in the conflagration, and could not keep from imagining the inferno that awaited us if we ever ended up in the Hell we so richly deserved.

I could still taste the salty, metallic tang of blood on my own tongue. We three had fed well since our arrival in the village, but now that we had exhausted the local prey, we needed to ensure that none of our victims became members of the un-dead themselves. Too many vampyres marauding the countryside would alert the natives to our existence and might endanger our capacity to hunt, and that would never do. Thus, we killed our prey twice—once by draining their blood, and then again by stake when they turned from human souls to creatures of hunger and darkness like ourselves. Afterward, we consigned the bodies to the flames to be certain there were no survivors.

We watched the fire burn late into the night. The mound crumbled into a pile of blackened bones and dimming embers. With dawn approaching, we sought shelter in one of the town’s vacant houses, drawing shades and closing shutters on the windows to keep the sun off our sleeping forms.

At fall of dusk, we shall rise again and journey out under cover of darkness to find another village and more souls to send into fiery perdition.

THE END

Copyright 2016 by Stephen Woodworth

Nothing like a roaring fire to ward off those winter chills, eh, fiends? Er, I mean, “friends.” If you liked this morsel of morbidity, please SHARE it with your own fiends–friends–and check out the terror tales from Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron.

And don’t forget: For a limited time, you can get a Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN for the INCREDIBLE BARGAIN PRICE of *ONLY 99 CENTS*! That’s a deal so good, it’s scary! But this deal won’t last long. Order yours NOW, and SHARE the deal with everyone on your holiday horror list! Click the link below to order:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

Thanks for reading. Until next we meet at the Villa Diodati…STAY GOTHIC!

“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:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

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

Thanks again for reading!

 

 

“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.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

FRAULEIN Welcomes You to Castle Frankenstein!

As we enter the month of October, FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN is preparing for the ultimate Halloween Monster Bash. She invites you to enter the ancient medieval fortress where she was brought to life–Castle Frankenstein!

The accompanying photo shows the real Burg Frankenstein in Darmstadt, Germany, ancestral home of a line of barons that can trace its heritage back to the tenth century A.D. A bas-relief in a nearby church depicts one of the illustrious barons, Georg von Frankenstein, in full armor, victoriously trampling a serpent-like creature underfoot, so the family has had a special connection to monsters throughout the ages. Although the true-life Castle Frankenstein does not appear in Mary Shelley’s original story, some scholars believe that Shelley visited the castle as she traveled the Continent prior to writing the novel and that it provided her the legendary name of the title character .

When writing FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, I thought it would be fun to have FRAULEIN born in her namesake castle, and so I researched Burg Frankenstein and Darmstadt and set much of the book in that vicinity. I hope this real-world detail will give adventurous readers a visceral “you are there” Gothic ambience!

The ebook of the novel is now available from Kindle Press for the bargain price of only $2.99. Here’s the link to the order page on Amazon:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

Please Like and Share this post to let any fellow monster mavens know about the book. For those who’ve received advanced copies, I hope that you are enjoying the story and will share your enthusiasm with other readers by posting a brief review on Amazon and by recommending the novel to your friends online. Thanks again for all your support, and let’s get ready for a Mad Monster Par-tay!