This book has been on my reading list for some time. In fact, the paperback in the photo above has been on my shelf for nearly six to seven years, and finally I have gotten around to reading it. I’ve been hesitant with Koontz. Partly because my last reading experience with him was not good. The first of Koontz’s catalog to reach my hands was a novel called Tick Tock, which attempted to mix slapstick comedy with horror. For me it was the literary equivalent to smearing ice cream and cake into Spaghetti. Left a bad taste in my mouth. Plus, any time I would hear someone talk about his books, they always emphasized how hit or miss he is, and it seemed, at least based on the opinions I experienced, that he was more miss than hit. Well, I must say, with Frankenstein, I lucked out with a hit.
The story introduces us to Deucalion, a mysterious sleight-of-reality artist who has isolated himself in the Tibetan mountains for some time, living the lifestyle of a monk. Deucalion is well acquainted with suffering. “I don’t fear pain,” Deucalion says at one point before his departure from the Tibetan hideaway after receiving bad news from a messenger. “Life is an ocean of pain.”
Meanwhile, Detective Carson O’Connor and her partner Michael Maddison are investigating a string of victims in an ongoing serial killer case. Nicknamed the Surgeon, the killer removes different parts of the body with surgical precision, hoping to find the element of humanity he is lacking. When Deucalion and Detective Conner’s paths cross, they learn of a far greater threat to the city. As Deucalion describes it, Victor Helios (the scientist once known as Frankenstein who created Deucalion two hundred years prior in Austria), has created “machines of blood and bone”, an entire race of killers described by Victor as The New Race. Stripped of human passions and emotions, these beings are meant to replace the imperfect Old Race and assert a new society. However, many of Victor’s creations, once released into society, become confused as they realize they lack a completeness that the Old Race exhibits, which drives some of them to kill and dissect in the search of understanding the happiness and contentment they lack.
It’s truly an inspired play on the Frankenstein narrative, updated to a modern audience. Instead of creating this new race by harvesting body parts from corpses, Victor does it through synthetic biology. Yet Deucalion remains a link to the old Frankenstein narrative. Two hundred years ago he was formed using the body parts of criminals. Starting out as a brute monster, he develops humanity over time. His creator, Victor Helios, demonstrates a reversing arc. Originally a man, driven by his obsession, he becomes a monster. I really enjoyed the reverse dichotomy between the creation and creator. Victor views all passions, emotions, and religious beliefs to be imperfections, along with physical flaws. Using direct-to-brain downloading, he programs his creations to be free of human passions, running strictly on the program he designs. Even sex becomes merely a means of venting stress for the potential New Race, animalistic and instinctual, free of any feelings of love or infatuation.
The struggle between domineering rationality and emotional passions became a common conflict throughout the novel. Victor Helios reveres rationality as the path to enlightened perfection and sees human passions as a distracting pollutant to human progress. Even Detective Carson O’Connor, driven by a job that requires the proficient use of reason and analysis, struggles to repress her feelings for her partner Michael, believing such feelings will be a distraction, negatively effecting her job performance. A theme is pronounced from this conflict that seems to say that human passions and cold rationality lessen the human condition when one or the other is deprived of the other. One driven and possessed by human emotions alone becomes reckless and harmfully volatile. While one driven by indifferent rationality becomes the merciless, selfish tyrant represented in Victor Helios. Emotions of love and compassion temper the brute instincts and create a more enriching human experience. Meanwhile, rational proficiency motivates the competencey necessary for productivity in society. Both are needed for healthy function, but both must be bridled.
Overall, I give book one of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein a 4.5 out of 5. I marked it down half a point because something seemed off concerning the narrative tone in the novel. Perhaps some of this had to do with the flippant banter between O’Conner and Michael throughout the story, which made it feel more like a cheap Hollywood cop movie at times. At one point, after O’Conner has opened up about her encounter with Deucalion, and they are on route to meet him at the old movie theater, Michael says, “Do his palms grow hairy when the moon is full?” O’Conner replies, “No. He shaves them just like you.” Har de har har. Roll your eyes. Perhaps I’m being too sturm und drang, which is something I’m guilty of in my own writing, but some of these quips didn’t work for me.
Overall, book one of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein both thrills you and provokes thought, the chief delights of great fiction. I highly recommend it.
Frankenstein Prodigal Son is available on Amazon.