In May, MIT Press will publish a new edition of the original text, “annotated for scientists, engineers, and creators of all kinds.” As well as the explanatory and expository notes throughout the book, there are accompanying essays by historians and other writers that discuss Frankenstein’s relevance and implications for science and invention today.
It’s a smart idea, but treating Frankenstein as a meditation on the responsibilities of the scientist, and the dangers of ignoring them, is bound to give only a partial view of Shelley’s novel. It’s not just a book about science. Moreover, focusing on Shelley’s text doesn’t explore the scope of the Frankenstein myth itself, including its message for scientists.
I didn’t know what the Weird was when I wrote my first book. All I knew was that there was this crazy story I wanted to tell, that involved immigrants and dive bars and aliens and underground cities and a whole mess of music, and I wanted the prose to be part of the craziness. I wanted form to follow function—just like I do now, writing this essay. The decision seemed easy enough, and I wrote like my hair was on fire over the space of eight months while I was in graduate school for public policy, grabbing spare hours where I could. I wrote most of it on the New York subway. Some of it on buses. The last part of it in Guatemala. When I was done, all I knew was that I’d either written a literary novel with lots of genre elements in it or a science fiction story that leaned pretty heavily into the language. I didn’t know there were any other choices.
In the end, and for all its narrative leaps and disquieting gestures toward genre, the novel makes most sense as a piece of regional portraiture, an eerie but lovingly detailed delineation of a landscape that, like all landscapes, is part external reality and part memory.
“Charming” would seem to be the wrong word to use of such a dark book. Yet this is a fairytale of a sort, and Brooks is clearly interested in the meaning of enchantment.