On Dean Koontz's Frankenstein (written before book four had come out)
In the near two centuries since the publication of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein has become almost synonymous with horror itself for many, with only Bram Stoker's Dracula being more widely known.
But like Dracula, the years have not always been kind to Frankenstein - both are often considered fair game for authors; filmmakers; comic writers; games-designers and merchandising manufacturers - not all of whom have been all that concerned with maintaining the legacy of the original.
In summer 2005 Dean Koontz became the latest author to take a stab at adding to the Frankenstein mythos, with the first of a series of novels based on his concept for a proposed, but never realised, TV series.
Koontz's basic premise is an updating of the Frankenstein story, accepting the events of Shelley's novel but asking what would happen next.
We find out early in Prodigal Son, the first book (co-written with Kevin J. Anderson) that Dr Frankenstein still lives, having prolonged his life by artificial means far beyond normal limits. So too does his seemingly immortal creature, now going by the name of Deucalion and residing in a remote monastery far away from civilisation.
The first thing you notice about this series is that the two main protagonists have changed sides somewhat. Victor Frankenstein, now living under the alias of Victor Helios, is an intensely driven evil man. Any hint of the misguided scientist of Shelley's original has gone. This is not a man attempting to push science for science's sake only. He has a much more sinister purpose in mind - the creation of an artificial super race controlled by him, and intended to replace regular humans.
Deucalion is a much more peaceful individual, he has learned to control his anger and is seemingly content to remain in his monastery home. However when he hears his creator still lives he knows he must stop him from completing his scheme.
In the middle of it all are two New Orleans police officers investigating a murder where the corpse appears to be not entirely human.
There are some good ideas here. The updating of the myth introducing twenty-first century science to Frankenstein's work is handled well. Add to that, three interesting interweaving main plot lines (scientist, creature, police), well rounded characters and skilful prose that is a joy to read with just the right amount of humour to lighten the mood from time to time and there is the making of a great novel in this.
But it's the members of the New Race and, in some ways, Frankenstein himself that are the let down of the book. That Frankenstein is the villain of the piece is not a problem, but what is, is the fact that he seems to have mutated into the over-the-top stereotype villain you would associate with James Bond movies - although perhaps he might be a little too much even for a Bond flick.
And his creatures are hate-filled, over-athletic sex machines. Okay, within the framework of the story some of this is understandable. Frankenstein has engineered his creatures with the desire to kill us normal humans - a hatred they find difficult to contain - and with a powerful sex drives so they have a means of releasing their tensions. But it seems almost a trashy exploitation gimmick, a literary equivalent of the ten-minute plot-break heavy sex scenes you get in straight-to-video horror films.
On balance though Prodigal Son comes out well ahead. It's an entertaining read, one could easily read in a couple of sessions, and it sets up the series well.
Book two, City of Night, followed later in 2005, this time Dean Koontz having swapped his co-author Anderson for Ed Gorman.
The book picks up the action straight from the end of book one, and sees Victor Frankenstein/Helios increasing his work to replace humanity. Okay, there is a lot of extra suspense thrown into the mix but the book suffers from a definite "in-the-middle" feeling. It's not a book that gives any real answers to the questions book one raised. You might say this is not a fair criticism for the middle book of a trilogy, but I've always felt the "trilogy" concept was one too often forced.
Just because a story is going to last longer than a single book, why does it have to reach three volumes. If a story can be told just as well in two books, it should be left at two books. As a result of fitting into the expected trilogy format, this book feels it is a little stretched.
But despite that it is far from a bad book. Koontz and Gorman have ramped things up a little. The dangers are growing, the numbers of the New Race out in the world are growing and our heroes are facing ever-greater odds.
It successfully builds on the story of book one, develops it, adds in some unexpected twists and sets up the conclusion well.
And therein lies the series' main problem. Book two came out at the end of 2005 and left a story hanging in mid air. Anyone who bought the book and read it at the time would have been aching for the conclusion.
Well the third book was delayed, being published nearly four years later. It's been such a delay that many people will have forgotten about the series entirely and will never read this third book. At the very least the delay will mean that many people will approach this book almost cold, remembering little but a general outline of the first two volumes and having to relearn all the character names etc.
That would be okay though if the book were good. And that's a real pity. It just doesn't measure up to the first two volumes. The action here feels lacklustre. The characters have moved more into stereotypes and have flattened into very two-dimensional beings.
I'm probably going to buy book four when it does come out but I can't say I'm holding out all that much hope.