Fiction Reviews

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein

(2004) Dean Koontz & Kevin J. Anderson, Harper Collins, 5.99, pbk, 469 pp, ISBN 0-007-20313-6

This is a distanced (in both time and literature) sequel to the original Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. Here Frankenstein's creation (whom you will recall from the original book) never died is still alive. It transpires that he (it?) is either very long-lived or an immortal. He has been spending his time growing up learning the ways of the world. Consequently this is a different Frankenstein creation to that as portrayed by Boris Karloff in the James Whale movie (1930) and its numerous follow-ups. It is also arguably a different one to Shelley's though one might mount a case for it potentially being closer to hers than the Whale / Karloff manifestation. Anyway, the creation has been in seclusion for a number of years (having spent some time wandering the Earth) in a remote Asian monastery, when a letter arrives that prompts him to go to New Orleans. Meanwhile in New Orleans a tough woman cop, Carson O'Connor, is called upon to investigate a particularly gruesome murder and soon finds herself tracking a serial killer. As for the good doctor, Frankenstein, it transpires, created his monster not so much as a piece of blue skies research to learn about 'life', but as a piece of applied science in order to gain immortality. This he appears to have done and he too is living in New Orleans in the early 21st century. (You'll recall that Dr Frankenstein never died in the Shelley original even if there was an implication of that inevitability.) In fact not only is Dr Frankenstein going for immortality, he is out to create Homo superior and take over the Earth, but will his first creation let him and what of the forces of law and order...?

Koontz, some of you will know, actually started out as a writer of SF, but fairly quickly moved into horror; to be precise more specifically SF horror. If you are not that into horror then think of the film Demon Seed (1977) as it was based on a Koontz book (1973) of the same name, and it is easy to see that this book has many SF horror roots.

So far so good. So what is Dean Koontz doing writing with someone like Kevin Anderson? Very good question, and there is a very good answer. It transpires that a US television network asked Dean to script a pilot for a new series that was to bear his name. As is often the case (and I can never forgive Hollywood for killing off Anderson's UFO for Space 1999) the nice TV folk had their own 'ideas' on the creative front so changing the proposed pilot sufficiently far from Koontz's vision and approval that Koontz left the project. (I have no idea whether the series was ever made: I simply don't watch that much TV or take sufficiently a detailed an interest in TV affairs.) However Koontz must have wanted to ensure that the public (or his readers) could at least glimpse his own vision and so set about bringing it to print. Equally, Koontz either did not want to invest more time in this project (because as an established writer there would have been no problem), or he perhaps wanted some clear water but, no matter, enter Kevin J. Anderson as co-writer. Now, whatever you think of Anderson as a solo writer with his own ideas, he is a commercially proven co-writer -- cf. his books with Brian Herbert on the Dune spin-offs -- as well as spin-offs themselves -- cf. the aforementioned Dune but also Star Wars and X-Files.   Here together they have turned out a reasonable SF-thriller-horror that does what it says on the tin (or cover). In short, the book (and its own book series) will undoubtedly have appeal for Koontz fans, not to mention Anderson fans and, of course, if the TV series has been made then the book will pick up sales that way. So it is perfectly commercial. Indeed its perfectly readable and even if it comes across very much as a screen story (as opposed to screenplay or script).

The question then arises as to whether the book will appeal to someone with an interest in the genre as a whole as opposed to that springing solely from fulfilling a need for passing entertainment? (No subliminal better-than-thou attitude intended: I engage in passing entertainment activities too as part of life's tapestry.) Or for someone who is into the orginal Frankenstein mythi? Here I think the answer is 'yes' for several reasons. The Frankenstein story is so iconic that it is interesting to see how a big name author handles a modern, sequi spin-off (and Koontz is a big name author). Second, there is this business of the story's evolution from its origins as a classic masterpiece from one writer a couple of centuries ago, into a failed proposed pilot (notwithstanding that the TV company may have separately done their own thing) and then back into a written story form. In this sense this book encapsulates much about the state of present-day SF as a genre functioning across a number of media, and so in its way is a lesson.

Be it functional passing entertainment or an object lesson in SF, this book deserves some notice beyond Koontz's many, and Anderson's readers, let alone the viewers of any TV series. I have to say that while I myself might not read every book in this book series I am rather curious to find out if Koontz's vision was for one single story arc (as in Babylon 5) or a series of stand-alone stories which have excellence in their individuality at the expense of moving forward the book series' backdrop. I will be checking that out.

Jonathan Cowie

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