Frankenstein Unbound

by Brian W. Aldiss

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The Plot

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In the year 2020, worldwide racial war has broken out. Retired diplomat Joseph Bodenland writes to his wife, Mina, asking her to return and describing an odd ceremony performed by their grandchildren. The children buried a motor scooter, adorned the “grave” with flowers, and danced around it, asking for a “good Feast.” Bodenland observes that “children live in myth.” He refers to this enigmatic incident several times during the course of the novel.

Nuclear warfare in the stratosphere has damaged the infrastructure of space. When a resulting “Timeslip” takes his household to the richly sensuous world of nineteenth century Switzerland, Bodenland goes out to explore and is stranded when the ranch and the rest of its inhabitants return to 2020.

One of the first people Bodenland meets is Victor Frankenstein, who is agonizing over the murder of his six-year-old brother, William, by the monster he created. Subsequently, Bodenland attends the trial of William’s nursemaid, Justine Mortiz, who is convicted of the murder. Bodenland realizes that he is witnessing events from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).

Concluding that this world includes both fictional and historical persons, Bodenland seeks out Lord Byron and the Shelleys at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, hoping to find a copy of Frankenstein, which he remembers only vaguely. At Villa Diodati, he argues about the consequences of technological advancement with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who believes that science will liberate the individual and usher in an era of equality. Bodenland has an ecstatic sexual encounter with Mary Shelley. Her book is only partially written, however, and she cannot tell Bodenland how it will end.

Believing that taking control of the events in the novel will head off disaster in his own time, Bodenland becomes obsessed with destroying Frankenstein’s monster. Bodenland pursues the scientist to his laboratory, where he is about to bring to life a female mate for his creation. Convinced that there is a direct causal link between Frankenstein’s recklessly optimistic view of technological progress and the disastrous war in his own time, Bodenland kills Frankenstein when he brings the female to life and threatens to create yet another monster. Frankenstein’s male and female creations engage in a touching mating dance, reminiscent of the children’s feast at the beginning of the book.

The Timeslips of Bodenland’s day have spread to the nineteenth century, and frigid lands have supplanted the lush Swiss countryside. Bodenland follows Frankenstein’s male and female creations through the wasteland to a gigantic city, reminiscent of Hell in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). There, under a sky with two moons, he shoots both of the creations. The male monster promises that Bodenland will resurrect him, even as he seeks to bury him.


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Aldiss, Brian W. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction, 1973.

Hall, H. W. Review in Library Journal. XCIX (August, 1974), p. 1988.

Rogan, Helen. Review in Time. CIV (August 5, 1974), p. 84.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818.

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