REVIEW: “The New Frankenstein” by William Maginn

Review of William Maginn, “The New Frankenstein” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 3-18 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Where to start with this story?! It’s the Frankenstein fanfic you never knew you needed. An unnamed narrator tells the reader a story told to him by an unnamed German that he was in quarantine with in Venice, and what a story it is! The German scientist studied at Leipzig and Paris, but it was when he was staying in Mannheim that he first came across a German translation of Frankenstein, which he promptly read, not knowing it was intended to be read as fiction. So when his old tutor, Scharnstein, appears in his lodgings one day after years of absence, bearing with him the selfsame monster of Frankenstein. But

Frankenstein has left his work imperfect; he has resuscitated a corpse: I will give him a mind (p. 8).

There follows a very detailed account, rooted firmly in the fine scientific premises of animal magnetism and phrenology, of how to engender a mind within a brain by compressing and elevating certain gasses in the cerebellum and the cerebrum.

I don’t want to destroy the reader’s enjoyment of experiencing this story first-hand by summarising too much, so let it suffice for the remainder to note that Goethe, Shelley, and Coleridge all show up, although Kant does not (due to being dead), there’s a trip into the Necropolis, and an invocation of Satan. I mean, what more could you want from a story? Add to that the fabulous story structure, and I was grinning ear to ear while reading this. So bold, so shameless, I’d love to see more modern SF in this vein!

(This is an abridged version of a story originally published in 1837.)