TITLE: Creatures: The Legacy of Frankenstein
AUTHOR: edited by David Thomas Moore
RELEASED: October 2018; Rebellion Publishing
KEY INFO: Anthology, 5 unique stories, monsters, ominous stories
REPRESENTATION: characters of colour, f/f romance
CONTENT NOTICES: body horror, decomposing bodies, violence, disfigurement, amputation (Warren), male love obsession (Meloy), death, all stories end in tragedy, stealing dead bodies, animal experimentation (Thompson)
Creatures is a phenomenal anthology which brings together 5 unique stories which not only reimagine but extend’s the legacy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Progressing in chronological order from Tade Thompson’s 1850’s London to Kaaron Warren’s modern-day cruise ship, Mary Shelley (and Adam) are felt within each story in new and interesting ways. David Thomas Moore, the editor of the anthology, introduces the collection’s creatures as important ‘ciphers’ which encode messages about human experiences: Tade Thompson’s Kaseem’s Way confronts and criticizes Britain colonial heritage; Rose Biggin’s haunting The New Woman examines the objectification of art, beauty, and women; British nostalgia, innocence, and spine-chilling infatuation come to clash in Paul Meloy’s Reculver, the wonderful Emma Newman’s Made Monstrous exposes sexism and injustice through monstrosity, and Kaaron Warren’s ominous Love Thee Better captures capitalist alienation and embodied estrangement.
Before I even knew much about the book, I knew I needed to get my hands on a copy of Creatures based on the concept alone! I’m incredibly grateful to the good folks over at Rebellion Publishing for sending me an ARC of it. Although I hadn’t yet read Mary Shelley at the time of reading, I am endlessly fascinated by the enduring legacy of Frankenstein and how much it has come to influence our understandings of, ideas about, and attitudes towards morality, bodies, the ethics of science, and humanness. I loved how this anthology not only builds upon Mary Shelley’s contributions to these topics but also offers us interesting new perspectives on a familiar story. I was also pleasantly surprised at how present Adam is within each story, to a greater or lesser extent, lending a new dimension to the enduring captivity of his mind within his assembled body and within the pages of these very books.
Although I enjoyed every contribution in the anthology, two of my favourite stories were Tade Thompson’s outstanding Kaseem’s Way which opens the anthology and Rose Biggin’s fascinating The New Woman. It was interesting to see how both of these stories explored the experiences of marginalized bodies in the 19th and 20th centuries in similar yet different ways.
Set in 1850’s London, a young black orphan (Kaseem) is discovered on the grimy streets of Lambeth by a famous scientist who recruits Kaseem into the dark, secret world of science in Kaseem’s Way. Beginning with experimentation on dead prisoners bodies which quickly escalates to live experimentation, Kaseem and his assistant pursue the elusive knowledge of reanimation and immortality. Told through the alternating perspectives of Kaseem, as he pursues this knowledge, and Adam, as he haunts the streets of London in search of someone to patch up his decomposing body, events are set in motion which cannot be undone. The remaking and taking of life revolve around the characters lives, weaving together stories of ‘undesirable bodies’ in 19th century London.
Picking up almost 100 years later at the end of the 20th century, the characters in The New Woman straddle precariously on the edge of past and future ideas about love, art, beauty, and science. The story opens at a Slughornesque party held by national treasure Mrs Stella Moore who brings together some of the most interesting, elite and beautiful names in society for news (and gossip) of the latest developments in the arts. However, this party is different as a new figure sits at the table, a young medical student with a macabre obsession with bodily preservation through the latest techniques of embalming who attends with her equally talented sculptor girlfriend, Fran. As a result of these dinner party conversations, Christine and Fran unite the sciences and the arts in the pursuit of immortal beauty which later comes to fruition in the body of Eve. But not everything is as lovely as it first seems. As Christine, Fran and Eve hurtle towards the end of the 20th century, events are set into motion which promise to turn their world’s upside down and kick the new century off with a bang.
All 5 stories in Creatures are intriguing parts which make up a fantastically eerie whole, offering a reading experience which is simultaneously unsettling yet enjoyable. I would definitely recommend Creatures to lovers of science fiction and horror, especially those of you who are revel in body horror, and those who like creepy stories about forbidden science. It was a fantastic read for Halloween and is a sure bet for bringing some of that creepy Halloween essence into the rest of your year.