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Dreaming the Future
Created by ggrihn on 10/18/2017 7:43:49 PM

image Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction, edited by Michael Sims, reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

I got rather a flashback when looking into Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction. I flashed back to the 1970’s, when science-fiction and fantasy were just fighting their way into college curriculums, and numerous anthologies were produced seeing to establish science fiction’s literary roots and “respectability.”

Frankenstein Dreams could have been one such, although in these days that agenda is passe, given the robust presence of science fiction and fantasy in both academe and popular media these days. The collection, therefore, is more of a cabinet of curiosities, a collection of strange antiquities, for those not conversant with our field’s past. For the Steampunk reader, the attraction is reading what passed for science-fiction in the historical “Steam Age.”

This anthology collects a number of the usual suspects: sizable excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea; Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Where the anthology has interest is in the shorter subjects, some of which are quite good, and some much less so.

Not all of them are stories in the conventional sense. “Man-Bats on the Moon” by Richard Adams Locke was first published as a hoax—showing that “fake news” is far from being a new thing. “The Telescopic Eye”, by William Henry Rhodes is a mere vignette describing a child found to have a sort of “super vision”. “Mysterious Disappearances” by Ambrose Bierce is a catalog of supposed strange events. This was not intended as a hoax, but parts of it became what we now call “urban legends.” “The Thames Valley Catastrophe” by Grant Allen is an effective evocation of an unlikely disaster, but has no plot as such. Points to editor Sims for finding a Rudyard Kipling tale that could be considered science fiction other than the frequently collected “With the Night Mail,” but “Wireless” is another descriptive piece, evoking a projected future, but without real story.

For mood pieces, I found “The Automation Ear,” by Florence McLandburgh quite effective, reminding me of one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic tales, although the ending is weak. “The Clock That Went Backward” is a surprisingly modern time-travel story, and chooses an interesting critical point in history that few readers would be aware of. “The Senator’s Daughter,” by Edward Page Mitchell proposes an interestingly conceived alternate future, and predicts cryogenic suspension.

Others are good, sound stories, including “The Hall Bedroom,” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “The Five Senses,” by E. Nesbit, and “The Horror of the Heights,” by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The anthology is worth reading for the shorter fiction: I’m assuming most of the people reading this have already read the Shelley, Stevenson, Verne, and Wells pieces.

Frankenstein Dreams

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