Let me preface this review with a short caveat: In terms of enjoyment, Mosiman’s story scores an easy four- to five-stars. So why then did I give this novelette only three. The answer? Because of the way I’m defining the five-star system:
*One Star: A crime against God and man.
*Two Stars: Poor, or otherwise not ready for publication.
*Three Stars: A solid work worth the money/read.
*Four Stars: A superior, award-worthy achievement.
*Five Stars: A standard setter, a work to stand the test of time, a work to be studied and read again and again….
“Frankenstein,” by Shelley, much like Stoker’s “Dracula,” is not nearly as familiar a work as people might otherwise think. Yes, the tale’s iconic, as are a couple of the principle characters: The Doctor, of course, and, yes, his monster. Unfortunately, I’m of the mind that the work, again, like Stoker’s “Dracula,” is not often read, in its entirety, and in its original form. Rather, often, people presume the know all the relevant details. This is a shame, for the novel’s a phenomenal piece of work, and despite the familiarity of the concept (the warning?) of the story, and the ease in which the iconic Universal Studio monster is recognized, the original work is more than worthy of a reader’s time.
Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in an epistolary fashion, i.e., in letter format, the work documenting the letters between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Walton Saville.
In another review, Mosiman’s tale is called a “unique” take on the story. I’ve a differing opinion.
With “Frankenstein: Return From the Wasteland,” Mosiman, who typically does have a signature kind of style with her quality of writing, has managed to take herself out of the tale, removing any sense of Mosiman-esque author intrusion, and instead, has managed to capture the flavor and much of the voice (and literary value) of Shelley’s work, to the end that a person could read Shelley’s orignal, close the book, and then the next night, pick of Mosiman’s story, and feel like they’re getting a seamless continuation.
How does she do this? Well, if I really knew, and could bottle it, I’d be quite the wealthy man. On the other hand, the answer’s also simple: She took Shelley’s work, and using it as a template, continued the style of story.
“…Return From the Wasteland,” also written in epistolary style, continues with the same narrator/character, that of Robert Walton, and of him writing to his sister Margaret, and kicks off approximately 20-years after Frankenstein’s creature walks off into the wasteland.
And what a start.
As has been stated elsewhere, the work harpoon’s a reader with its opening lines:
My Beloved Sister,
I write to you about a deadly serious and Olympian idea. It is of a monster. I know you recall the one I mean, the only one that has ever been allowed entry into the world since Neptune was purported to rise from the deep blue ocean waters.
And the beauty continues…. Often with genre fiction, and not to say it’s a bad thing, a given work merely entertains, and does so on the most superficial of levels, the work being quickly consumed (even, dare I say it, skimmed!), enjoyed, and then forgotten. Being a man, I can’t help but think of a food comparison…in this case, a work not unlike a Happy Meal, some kind of stomach-filling fare that keeps a story addict from jonesing.
But then there’s fine dining. There’s stories that rise above mere entertainment, that become an experience. Such is Mosiman’s novelette. “Frankenstein: Return From the Wasteland,” is not meant to be skimmed, but read, with every word articulated, either out loud, or sub-vocalized, but READ. An ideal setting, would be in front of a fire, the work in-hand, a snowy landscape outside, and a large mug of hot chocolate sitting close, the reader journeying along with Robert Walton, and bearing witness to man’s obsession and journey into madness, his search for a god, and the ultimate fate whenever a god is found.
In the front matter, Mosiman has the following simple dedication:
… to Mary Shelley who gave us our first monster.
I love that, and love it for its simplicity, and for the fact that the author refrained from using the overused word “homage.” But make no mistake, that is what Billie Sue has managed to do. Without overwriting, without being pretentious, and without having to “say it,” but letting the work simply show it, she’s written an homage…a story that could be read the day after closing Shelley’s original, and without having any sense of being in an alien land.
A tremendous job, worth the read, worth the time, worth the money…and worth the patience to wait until the work can be consumed in a sitting, every word articulated…with that hot chocolate at-the-ready.
Rob M. Miller