This anthology is, according to its introduction, the revised and updated version of The Mammoth Book of Frankenstein. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a collection of stories about one of the all-time greatest of classic monsters, and therefore irresistible to an old school monster kid like myself. There are some names on this author list that stand out, not least of which is Mary Shelley herself, whose own tall shadow is cast upon the entire collection. It seems almost spiteful to make every other story offered here follow her original, to be judged against that masterwork. Then again… that’s sort of the nature of the beast, isn’t it? All of these authors are playing in — and paying homage to — the sandbox she built for us, a testament to her enduring legacy. The anthology pulls from a variety of styles and eras as well. There are three short novels, some short stories pulled from classic pulp magazines, some more modern short stories, and a poem. Some angle towards the science fiction, others lean more on the horror.
Since any anthology is going to have its hits and misses due to its variety of styles and the wide-ranging tastes of its target audience, it’s necessary to talk a bit about each of these stories in turn. That’s going to make this review more than a bit lengthy as there are a total of 25 titles in this anthology. The collection begins with a foreword by Neil Gaiman (which for some reason he didn’t narrate himself) and an introduction by the editor, Stephen Jones.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – Mary W. Shelley
The original and still the best. You can find my original review of it right here. As a bonus, there are multiple narrators on this audio version, representing the different points of view from which the story is penned.
“A New Life” – Ramsey Campbell
Campbell is considered to be one of the leading horror writers of his generation, and sadly, my only experience with his work before this point was Ancient Images, a book with an idea far better than its execution. It involved a lost film with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, so you can see where it drew my interest. Before he did that one, he wrote a number of novelizations in the 70s involving the classic Universal Monsters under the name Carl Dreadstone. This short story was written in roughly the same time period.
Unlike in many film versions of the story, Mary Shelley doesn’t say anything of the nature of the brain that went into the creature. It wasn’t labeled “Abby Normal” or anything else. We know in her version the creature is intelligent, able to quickly grasp language and literature. Perhaps too quickly? Makes you wonder who the brain belonged to before it was put into that body, doesn’t it? That’s where this story comes in. The mind inside that brain is wrestling with the unfamiliar body as it wakes, and that consciousness has its own story to tell.
I’ll say that Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t have a hunchbacked assistant in the original novel, so if Igor is here, that brain is a criminal brain that goes into a Creature with extremely limited communication abilities. That means this brain is not likely to offer the POV presented in this story. Good idea, and interestingly presented, but clearly the continuities are crossing here.
“The Creator” – R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes spent a lifetime writing ghost and vampire stories, and apparently a great many other horror stories that earned him a Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award. Half the fun of an anthology is discovering authors that maybe you didn’t know before. When the author’s backstory includes pickling a sheep’s heart at the age of 16 after a screening of Son of Frankenstein, you know the author is more than a little invested in the material, even if he never actually got around to making a monster in physical form.
After watching some classic horror movies on late night television, Charlie wants to build a monster. He’s decided that Baron Frankenstein went wrong by creating one that was far too big to control. Start small: that’s the ticket. Also, get the bodies while they’re fresh, before they go into the ground. It’s easier that way. His recently-deceased grandfather seems to be the perfect place to begin, provided he can liberate him from the coffin before the funeral. And who said all of the body parts need to be human? After all, monster-making is all in the name of science, and any enterprise that promotes higher thought should be encouraged.
This author is officially on my must-read list. Picture a Frankenstein tale told with the wit and quirkiness of a Monty Python skit. Bravo. Now I need a narration of it by Eric Idle. Seriously, somebody make this happen.
“Better Dead” – Basil Copper
Copper’s work has been reprinted constantly in anthologies and has been translated to radio numerous times over the years. According to the introduction, this story is something of a companion piece to the author’s story “Amber Print,” a tale about movie collecting.
The story revolves around a film collector, Robert, who has seen Bride of Frankenstein at least 100 times and intends to do so 100 more. His wife, Joyce, at her wits end, has had a running affair for a couple of years. Joyce’s concern, beyond lack of conversation and involvement, is that Robert’s hobby has cost a small and growing fortune of late. When Joyce sneaks into her husband’s private cinema, what she sees is enough to make her snap.
Let’s just say that I was underwhelmed and have no intention of tracking down “Amber Print.”
“Creature Comforts” – Nancy Kilpatrick
Kilpatrick is an award winning author, once called “Canada’s answer to Anne Rice” by Fangoria Magazine. She’s primarily known for her vampire and Lovecraftian stories. This story was written in mind of the idea that the vampire had transitioned quite well into the modern era, and she wanted to see how Frankenstein would fare similarly. I’m guessing she didn’t bother to take a look around at her contemporaries.
Picture, if you will: a 90s rock band called Monster in the same vein as Nine Inch Nails, with a lead singer called Creature. The lyrics to all of their songs have to do with being an outsider, a non-human. You can see the appeal for the grunge / Goth generation. Throw in all the visual clichés. The story revolves around a groupie named Elizabeth, nicknamed Candy, who wants to meet Creature. She gets in to meet him by faking press credentials for an “interview” and ends up confirming he is, in fact, the original Creature, created by Victor Frankenstein two centuries ago. Victor’s account, recorded in Shelley’s novel, was “a lie,” and Creature wants to set the record straight. Candy wants only to be with him.
Thought for the day: does sex with Frankenstein’s creature count as necrophilia even though he’s technically alive? I’m pretty sure I could have moved on with my life just fine without ever pondering that question. This story is essentially Goth erotica, if you want to be generous in the description. Thankfully it’s a short story, because I’ve far read better fanfic than this. But then, I’m not a fan of Anne Rice either, for much the same reasons. Not my jam.
“Mannikins of Horror” – Robert Bloch
Bloch was one of the youngest of Lovecraft’s circle, mentored by Lovecraft himself, and went on to write some of the greatest horror stories ever written. He not only won pretty much every award that can be awarded for such, he has an award named for him. He’s best known for his 1959 novel Psycho as well as three episodes of the original Star Trek. This story was translated for screenplay for the anthology TV series Monsters, but was picked apart due to budget restrictions. Suffice it to say, this is the opportunity to explore the original.
A former doctor, locked away in an asylum, makes clay medical models that get more and more sophisticated as he goes. They’ll need souls.
This story predates Psycho by 20 years, and to my mind it’s better. It’s a pleasure to see the same creative intensity here, obviously the Lovecraftian influence at work. That intensity is a hallmark of Bloch’s writing that built his reputation. I should also note, this was later adapted to film as Asylum for Amicus Films (the studio rival of Hammer Horror).
“El Sueño de la Razón” – Daniel Fox
After traveling to Taiwan, Daniel Fox became obsessed with the culture, learned Mandarin, and ended up writing about the land in three different genres. Before that point, he wrote all manner of award-winning short stories. Fox claims he always read Frankenstein as a tragedy rather than a horror, for it’s easier to make a man than it is make a place in the world for him.
Nathaniel is the product of eugenics. His parents and foster parents were selected by passing every kind of test imaginable to allow for the creation and raising of the perfect child. He was raised in a controlled environment, every spare moment given to study and excellence. Start stupid; learn fast. In the short time he’d been with others his age, he managed to embarrass or offend everyone else for simply being better, faster, smarter. But like in chess, even the most powerful piece on the board can be felled by a lowly pawn. Not good enough. Can one built to be the best become stronger in a team of lesser individuals?
Though not a Frankenstein tale in the strictest sense, the logical through-lines are pretty obvious and worth exploring. Though told through the cold and impersonal perspective of Nathaniel, this story comes across as engaging. Fox is officially on my must-read lead.
“Pithecantropus Rejectus” – Manly Wade Wellman
Wellman was one of the great pulp writers, producing a ginormous body of work from the 1920s through the 1960s, resurging in popularity in the 70s and continuing at a reduced pace though the 80s, writing in nearly every fictional genre you can name plus non-fictional biography and history. His career launched in sci-fi, after reading someone else’s work and deciding he could do much better. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The narrator of this story is known as Congo. Congo is an ape, born in the Bronx Zoo and brought to live in human society alongside a human child as part of an experiment. Playing into the originating themes of The Planet of the Apes, Congo has enhanced brain power, speech abilities, and opposable thumbs as a result of experimentation. Ultimately sold into slavery as a Shakespearean actor, Congo learns enough to know what defines a man, and whether or not that’s a good thing.
It’s a heavy-handed story, as pulps tend to be, but it makes its mark accordingly and effectively with themes of racism and philosophy. I found this one to be very well executed.
“Tantamount to Murder” – John Brunner
Brunner was one of Britain’s most influential science fiction writers, in addition to writing a number of other genres, a blend of which is represented in this tale.
When a woman becomes sick, her rich husband has her maintained in suspended animation at the moment of her death, hermetically sealed that she might rise again once her condition is cured. When the seal is broken seven years later by her brother seeking inheritance money, the situation escalates as a legal matter. Was the woman dead for seven years as her brother claims, or did breaking the seal kill her as her husband says?
This one comes across a bit tongue-in-cheek, which is always a nice touch when dealing with otherwise morbid subject matter. A twist ending offers resolution to the story, but I won’t ruin it by pointing out the obvious that this is an anthology of Frankenstein stories. Oh, wait…
“Last Train” – Guy N. Smith
The son of pre-war historical author E. M. Weale, Smith has written a wide variety of genres under his real name at two pseudonyms ranging from Disney film novelizations to werewolf stories to a series about killer crabs to softcore p0rn. I can’t make this up, even if I tried.
Determined to experience the touch of a woman for the first time, Jeremy buys a ticket to London in search of a prostitute who’ll help him out. When things don’t work quite has he’d hoped, he finds himself being chased by would-be muggers, dodging them by hopping the last train. The three passengers on the train with him appear to be an older pimp and his two whores, but… it’s a Frankenstein anthology; you connect the dots.
While I admit that I didn’t expect the twist that wraps up the story, I can also say I didn’t care either. Vampire stories are more open to erotica than Frankenstein stories, and this was neither erotica nor vampires. It was just… trying to hard to be edgy? Meh.
The Hound of Frankenstein – Peter Tremayne
Tremayne is the pen name of Peter Berresford Ellis, noted Celtic scholar, biographer, and historical novelist. His fiction includes murder mystery novels and stories of Dracula. This short novel was the first title published under his pen name.
When a doctor moves to a small Cornwall village to partner his medical practice, he arrives with his partner’s daughter to learn that his future partner is missing. Another local scientist, introducing himself as “Baron Franken…berg,” makes himself known. The Baron’s brutish aide Hugo is a misshapen being who, according to the daughter, bears her father’s missing arm, recognized by his distinct tattoo and scar earned in a sword duel. “Franken…berg” is revealed as (surprise!) Frankenstein when he resumes his experiments, first on dogs to prove his original success wasn’t a fluke, and then with the intent of recreating his original experiment on humans.
This novel feels so much like a Hammer film you can practically taste the Technicolor. It’s written to be something of a sequel to the “original” story (the original Shelley novel is mentioned), but there are details such as Frankenstein’s wife still being alive and the original creature being rather mindless that point to the chronicle of that novel being “inaccurate.” And in classic Hammer spirit, it really doesn’t matter because you’re having too much fun to care.
“Mother of Invention” – Graham Masterton
Masterton is the grandson of an eccentric scientist, the inventor of day-glow. Masterton himself is the author of numerous horror stories, thrillers, and historical fiction tales as well as a long list of sex instruction books. I can’t make that up.
A man with a disapproving mother decides to win some brownie points by presenting her with a gift of a photo album. When he researches his mother’s past, however, he finds that photos are few and far between. Digging further, he learns of an accident where she was crushed to death when he was only a year old. In comparing photos before and after the accident, physical discrepancies become apparent, and identities are questioned.
Sometimes knowing what to expect because a story is in a specifically tailored anthology can take the suspense out of it. Accordingly, I think had this story not been part of a Frankenstein anthology, it might have been considerably more surprising. Even so, it’s well written and well presented.
“The Frankenstein Legacy” – Adrian Cole
Cole grew up interested in sci-fi and fantasy, becoming inspired to write after reading The Lord of the Rings (my kind of guy!). He began selling fantasy and horror tales to magazines and anthologies while working as a librarian and education administrator.
As the title suggests, the story here questions the validity of the narrator’s letters in Shelley’s novel that confirm the death of Doctor Frankenstein and the hell-bent course of destruction to be undertaken by his creation. Was the narrator the honest, upstanding man he presented himself to be? What would a lesser man do with the information bequeathed him? How far might he go?
I’ve gone through a number of sequel stories over the years, but this one’s not a direction I’d ever considered before. Once it’s out there, it seems pretty obvious, but rather clever all the same.
“The Dead Line” – Dennis Etchison
Etchison attended UCLA film school, and in addition to his many short stories, he has written screenplays based on his work and the works of others such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. He’s also known for having written novelizations for the first three Halloween films under pen names Curtis Richards and Jack Martin, as well as a rejected screenplay for Halloween IV and radio dramas for The Twilight Zone.
This one starts in a hospital. A woman had a stroke eighteen months previous, and as the story opens, her husband breaks some glass and sprinkles the dust in her eyes. If that’s not enough to get your attention from the beginning, I don’t know what is. The tale that follows completely flips reader expectations, becoming a heartbreaking commentary on medical ethics, bodily mutilation, experimentation, and organ donation. Kind of makes one wonder what Mary Shelley might have thought about such things. This story is easily the one in this entire collection that most follows her original fears.
“Poppi’s Monster” – Lisa Morton
Originally beginning her Hollywood career as a modelmaker on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Morton worked as co-writer and producer on a number of films before starting an award-winning career of short horror fiction in the early 90s and becoming an expert on Halloween.
10-year-old Stacy struggles with neurological disorders and an abusive father. She has connected her “Poppi” with images of Dr. Frankenstein on TV, and she sees in herself similarities to the monster. While written in a more innocent, childlike tone, it’s every bit as brutal and heartbreaking than the story preceding it.
“Undertow” – Karl Edward Wagner
Originally trained as a psychiatrist but ultimately disillusioned with the medical profession, Wagner was a writer and editor for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. He’s noted for being the one who restored Robert E. Howard’s complete Conan the Barbarian series to its original form as written, for writing several Conan pastiches, and for creating his own character, Kane, the Mystic Swordsman. He ultimately died young from alcoholism and heart failure at age 48. “Undertow” is said to have been his favorite of his Kane stories.
Kane is a medieval style antihero / villain, a killer beyond any kind of moral compass, more somber than Conan, and more accepting of sorcery. He reads like a combination of the Biblical Cain and Michael Moorcock’s Elric. He’s immortal, weary of his immortality, and plods through life trying to find meaning. Put a Frankenstein spin on that (meaning necromancy is involved) with a story about a “sorcerer’s mistress” who laments how she loves and hates this guy in equal measure, and you’ve pretty much got this story. She tries to escape with the help of a barbarian, Kane chases after them. Plenty of outlandishly pulp-level prose and “inspiration” ripped off from the stories of Conan. Not a bad little pulp story, but it doesn’t stand out either. I probably would have enjoyed this more in my pre-teen years.
“A Complete Woman” – Roberta Lannes
Lannes is an accomplished sci-fi and horror writer as well as a graphic artist and photographer. This story was written following her research into homosexuality and learning that it manifested at the cellular level. By her own account, she wrote this story for those who think there is a choice in such things.
A woman in her late 70s whose body has been ravaged by cancer is approached by a doctor who promises the miracle of a new body through surgery that no one else can do. In an interesting twist, these characters are completely aware of Frankenstein stories, and comment directly upon them. The doctor receives bodies and body parts through donations from private hospitals across the world, though as yet a completely intact body in superior condition has not yet come through, else the procedure would simply be a brain transplant into a new body. Before her surgery, she falls in love. As the surgery and recovery proceeds, the woman takes account of her physical and emotional experiences, discovering a very different attraction.
Considering the author’s objective, I’d say mission accomplished. It’s by no means an awkward read, and rather thoughtful, even if there’s nothing particularly horrific about the story beyond the obvious Frankenstein connotations. There are a great many things the author took into account about the surgery itself, from nerve regeneration to temporary blindness. The impact of the narrative is boosted from being written in first person.
“Last Call for the Sons of Shock” – David J. Schow
Schow’s stories have been recognized by a number of genre awards. In addition to short fiction and novels, he has written screenplays for such movies as The Crow, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and has provided DVD commentaries for Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Green Mile, and The Dirty Dozen. This story was written on a dare when approached to write for a Frankenstein anthology. Despite it being “a dopey idea,” he wrote one that could fit into a Frankenstein, Dracula, or Werewolf anthology, thinking it might end up in all three.
The story follows “Blank Frank,” “The Count,” and “Larry.” The Count runs a bar, Blank Frank is his bouncer, and Larry is perpetually late. All three are former horror movie stars. While they wait on Larry, Blank Frank and The Count discuss life, the world at large, and The Count’s career as a designer drug creator. When Larry arrives, it’s revealed he’s a professional wrestler.
The story is a character sketch written in the style of gritty pulp noir. All I can say is I’m unimpressed with this “dopey idea.”
“Chandira” – Brian Mooney
Mooney claims to have generated this story out of whole cloth, working backwards from the ideas that the original Frankenstein was pathos rather than horror and that most of the adaptations end in fire. He then worked from the Hindu tradition Sati, the immolation of a living spouse upon the funeral pyre of their dead partner, a practice anathema to Westerners but acceptable to some Eastern communities.
The narrator is a wealthy British nobleman, born in India and thus raised with an understanding of the culture, old as the story begins, but young during the events he describes. The events in question take place in the time of the Raj, when he is an officer at the age of 20, more than 60 years ago.
The title character Chandira is the wife of a Rishi, both of whom are met by the narrator at a Hindu temple. The Rishi claims to be over 200 years old, his will strong enough to defy death. When the Rishi dies, Chandira intends to become Sati, and the narrator feels it his duty to stop it. When Chandira reveals herself to be composed of the best parts of his past wives, held alive by the Rishi’s now-extinguished will, the narrator must make a choice.
This is probably one of the most original takes on the Frankenstein story I’ve encountered thus far. It’s neither an exciting nor profound story, but it is thought-provoking.
“Celebrity Frankenstein” – Stephen Volk
Volk is best known as the author of the Afterlife series and the television Halloween hoax Ghost Watch. The idea comes from the ideas of puppet masters and Svengalis crossed with tabloid TV.
A man wakes up in a Frankensteined body comprised of parts from people he knows as the subject of a chat show. From there, it’s the entertainment circuit, endorsements, and all that implies as the man slowly begins to self-destruct.
This story is told first person from the perspective of the Creature. I dunno… maybe I’m just too fed up with pop culture to want to wallow in it with the narrator. If not for the Frankenstein motif, you’d never be able to tell it apart from any other story about destructing celebrities. The only interesting bit is how the narrator keeps referring to his various parts by their original owners.
“Completist Heaven” – Kim Newman
Kim Newman is a prolific pulp, horror, and film writer and film critic for Empire Magazine. He is one of my favorite writers. I am especially impressed by his Anno Dracula and Diogenes Club series. This particular tale is recently reprinted in his anthology Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Tales.
A new technology has been developed that enables old TV signals beamed out into space to be recaptured, allowing for the restoration and viewing of previously lost episodes. The narrator has subscribed to a service that offers up this lost programming for the purposes of cataloging all of it, which includes horror films that do not exist in our own world… including a film that has been seemingly spliced together seamlessly from parts of other films from radically different eras. Channel 1818 (the year of Shelley’s original novel) is The Frankenstein Channel.
Keeping up with the encyclopedic mind and enthusiasm of Kim Newman has always been a futile effort, but it’s a big part of what keeps me coming back to his work. Given the nature of what he’s doing, if you don’t know what’s real and what’s not, you’d find the largest part of this completely credible… at least for the first half of this story. After that, it degenerates into ridiculous fun. Every anthology has at least one oddball story in it. Found it!
“The Temptation of Dr. Stein” – Paul McAuley
McAuley was a former research biologist who became a full-time writer in 1996. His stories were appearing in anthologies and winning awards well before that. This story was written for the original edition of this anthology and won an award in 1995 for Best Short Story. It’s set in the same alternate history as the author’s novel Pasquale’s Angel, where the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci (the Great Engineer) turned Florence into a world power. The novel features a cameo from the character of Dr. Pretorius (from the film Bride of Frankenstein), and this story involves his exploits in Venice some 10 years before the novel.
A doctor in Renaissance Venice makes a show of reviving a woman from the dead. It seems that might be easy, perhaps too easy. For Dr. Stein, who has lost his daughter, the temptation is real enough. Reconstructing or replacing a body part… that’s hard.
Pretorius, the Italian Renaissance, and Frankenstein? This one had me “hello.” I feel like I’ve missed out not reading — or knowing about — Pasquale’s Angel. I’ll be correcting this oversight. The milieu of the Renaissance is of little point to this story, other than to connect it back to the novel, but it’s fun to have a “first meeting” of Pretorius and Frankenstein.
“To Receive is Better” – Michael Marshall Smith
Smith is largely a short story writer, but amongst his handful of novels is one entitled Spares. At one point, this was to be made into a film, then the rights lapsed. The writers made something similar called The Island, but Smith decided it wasn’t worthwhile to pursue legal action. Too bad. Had he done so, writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (two writers at the very top of my list of unforgivable hacks) might have had a small course correction in their careers that might have prevented a lot of fanboy fallout given that another copyright claim was filed. A double hit might have done real damage. Perchance to dream.
This story ties into the original novel Spares. The concept involves a farm where clones are grown and raised for replacement body parts. If clones can think for themselves and become aware of who and what they are, sooner or later one of them will want revenge. This tale is a first person perspective of one such clone.
We live in a world where it’s not much of a stretch to imagine a story like this coming to pass… which is precisely the kind of science fiction morality warning that inspired Mary Shelley in the first place. Accordingly, it’s a challenging read, told well enough to be visceral. It’s also open-ended, so your mind dwells…
The Dead End – David Case
Case is best known to me as the writer of Fengriffen, a novel adapted as the film And Now the Screaming Starts! starring Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom for Amicus Films. Case’s works are typically graphic enough to get across everything his characters are feeling, with surprisingly little or no “splatter factor.”
An anthropologist travels to South America, investigating a missing link in human evolution reported by natives. Whatever it is, claims are that it’s larger than a man and preys on animals in such a way as to make other animals terrified of it.
This short novel reads very similarly to me in its setup as as a land-based version of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Of course, it becomes a Frankenstein story in short order, this one dealing with genetics. There’s a sense of scientific wonder and plenty of suspense as the story builds into a good old fashioned monster hunt. The horror is purely psychological as the implications at hand become known. It admirably serves as this anthology’s grand finale.
“Frankenstein” – Jo Fletcher
Fletcher is an award winning poet, journalist, critic, writer, editor, and publisher.
This poem serves as a kind of epilogue for this collection, tying the whole together in the mind of the reader by hearkening back to the original imagery of Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster. I seem to recall that I’ve encountered this one somewhere before, though in an earlier time, long before I learned to appreciate poetry.
On the whole, as with any anthology collection, it’s hit and miss. I’m pleased to say it’s more hits than misses. The good ones were really good, too, which ultimately means this old school monster fan is rather pleased.