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Frankenstein Monster

Entry updated 31 August 2018. Tagged: Theme.


The term is in general use, not only in sf Terminology but in common parlance, to mean a Monster that ultimately turns and rends its irresponsible creator. Readers of sf are aware that in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley original novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1811; rev 1831), Frankenstein was the name of the creator and not of the monster; in popular usage and pop-culture iconography, however, it is all too often assumed that the unnamed monster itself is Frankenstein. It should also be remembered that the novel's monster, though ghastly in appearance, begins life as a gentle soul who is gradually made monstrous by his creator's and humanity's horrified rejection. In critical talk, Frankenstein is often equated with Prometheus and Doctor Faustus, two other legendary Icon figures who were guilty of hubris in their quest for knowledge, and were therefore struck down. Isaac Asimov's Robot stories refer repeatedly to the "Frankenstein Complex" – a term he introduced in "Little Lost Robot" (March 1947 Astounding) – generalizing the Paranoia-spawned fear of retribution for impious creation from biological to mechanical beings. Discussions of future AI possibility are likewise frequently tinged with the Frankenstein complex, and in John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades (2006) the Genetically Engineered part-Cyborgs who are humanity's best defenders are troubled by the thought that unmodified humans may regard them as Frankenstein creations.

Asimov's nonfiction introduction to The Rest of the Robots (omni 1964) discusses Frankenstein and the Frankenstein complex, also invoking Faust and positioning himself as a pioneer who challenged the embedded Pulp assumption that "there seemed only one change to be rung on this plot. – Robots were created and destroyed their creator; robots were created and destroyed their creator; robots were created and destroyed their creator –" This is a trifle disingenuous, since "'I, Robot'" (January 1939 Amazing) by Eando Binder and several earlier tales (see Robots) had preceded Asimov with positive presentations of robot characters.

Relevant anthologies include The Ultimate Frankenstein (1991) edited by Byron Preiss and (anonymously) Martin H Greenberg, Frankenstein: The Monster Wakes (anth 1993) edited by Martin H Greenberg solo, and The Frankenstein Omnibus (anth 1994) edited by Peter Haining. [DRL/PN]

see also: Frankenstein; Horror in SF; Monster Movies; Zombies.

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