Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen

The Frankenstein Papers
By Fred Saberhagen

Presenting itself simultaneously as a sequel to and an alternate version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen is a fairly impressive work. It picks up shortly after the original tale, however both Frankenstein and his creation have survived. These aren't the only details that are different in this version, though, as in this story Frankenstein is still a very real book, however it is a bastardized fictionalization of true events.

The nameless creature is our primary narrator here, as the majority of this book purports to be selections from the journal in which he sets down his version of the events depicted in Shelley's novel and chronicles his further adventures as he attempts to discover the truth of his creation, identity, and nature.

Scattered throughout the novel are letters written by a few other characters, giving us a more dynamic glimpse into this world. The writing style is done old-fashioned enough for it to be believable, but not so much that it becomes off-putting to the modern eye. As a reader, you can lose yourself in this universe without needing to pull out a copy of the 1812 dictionary for reference.

The monster is at once familiar and alien to us, as he is not the soulless creature in which we are accustom to seeing him depicted. He is philosophical by nature, all but human, and lost in a world he is unfamiliar with. He desperately wants answers that are always just out of his grasp, and is willing to circumnavigate the globe if that is what it takes to find them. And it practically does.

It's not quite horror, since the Monster is not really much of a monster at all--though there are plenty of dark undertones. It's not quite science fiction, though there is plenty of talk about questionable science. It's something of an alternative history book, complete with genuine historic figures (Benjamin Franklin, Franz Mesmer, etc.) mingling with wholly fictional ones--well, as far as we know, anyway.

I found the book to be thoroughly captivating and enjoyable--until reaching the final chapter. The grand reveal, where the creature discovers the truth of his past, is so sudden and completely out of left field that it seems almost as if the final chapter of the manuscript was accidentally swapped out with that of another book. It's a revelation that is jarringly out of touch with the rest of the story, and comes close to ruining the whole experience. I'm sure that Saberhagen was trying to give us an unexpected twist, but sometimes the expected is better.

Worth dropping a few bucks to have in your collection, but you might want to pretend the story ends a few pages early.


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