Skip to main content

Frankenstein (SF - Annotated) - Mary Shelley **

I am a huge fan of well-produced annotated books. For example, Martin Gardiner's annotated versions of Lewis Carroll classics such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are superb - a highly readable contextual introduction, followed by pages festooned with delightful points that bring out the context of a reference or simply provide an entertaining and relevant tidbit of information.

This being the case, I was really looking forward to this annotated version of Frankenstein, expecting a similar wonderful elucidation. And to be honest, Mary Shelley's book (conceived when she was still Mary Godwin) needs all the help it can get. Apparently the original book is well under 80,000 words long, making it a relatively short novel, but it seems far longer. There is no doubt that Frankenstein has been hugely influential, not just in the direct movies and spinoffs but in its influence on the development of science fiction - but oh, it's hard work to read, with endless wordy monologues between small fragments of action.

So I came to the annotated version full of excitement, but was to be sadly let down. Although explicitly labelled as being for scientists, engineers and the like, the annotation largely takes the form of lit crit interpretation in dull, academic swathes of text. There are plenty of opportunities for helping the reader with context which are missed, in favour of endless meandering on what words like 'sympathy' mean, or belabouring the reader with interpretations of the character's state of mind, or the author's intentions. It's like being dragged back kicking and screaming to a school English lesson.

At the end of the book proper, we get a number of essays, mostly in the same style, though one by Cory Doctorow shines out as being readable and interesting.

It's got a pretty cover and is a worthy concept - but those involved in this project seem to have missed the point of a great annotated book. 

Paperback:  

Kindle 


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…