Unlike the ghosts and dark gothic castles that used to scare our great-great-grandparents, science going wrong is one of the cornerstones of modern horror. An experiment with devastating consequences, the creation of a monster that defies the laws of nature, the figure of the mad scientist who decides to play God. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818, has all these elements. It is also the classic responsible for one of the most famous contemporary monsters.
Here is a list of 10 more books with themes of Frankenstein displayed in entirely new ways. As frightening as they are, these stories help us better deal with death, loss, and the limits of science.
1. The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H. G. Wells
As immortal in popular culture as Dr. Frankenstein, the evil Dr. Moreau was even more efficient. Instead of a single creature, H. G. Wells’ mad scientist created an authentic colony of monsters forged by his scalpel. This 1896 chilling story is narrated in diary form by Edward Prendick, a castaway rescued by a small schooner. He is taken to a mysterious island and becomes a guest of Dr. Moreau, a controversial scientist who was forced to leave London after conducting gruesome experiments in vivisection. Soon Prendick will discover the island’s terrible secret.
2. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Few things define the theme of “science going wrong” better than someone cloning dinosaurs and losing control over gigantic, ferocious animals willing to retake their place in the food chain. Michael Crichton’s 1990 bestseller also adds some current themes to the plot, including the risks of capitalism. The clones are not produced for scientific purposes, but for commercial exploitation in the amusement park that gives the book its title. Jurassic Park was written by an expert in science fiction stories who had previously flirted with the themes of Frankenstein in his 1972 novel The Terminal Man. But Jurassic Park is probably one of Crichton’s most popular works, which inspired a very popular movie directed by Steven Spielberg in 1992 (and a long film franchise that continues today).
3. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Kiersten White
Specially dedicated to fans of Mary Shelley’s book, this 2018 novel proposes a curious experiment. It’s a retelling of the story of Frankenstein from the point of view of secondary character Elizabeth Lavenza–the adoptive sister of Victor Frankenstein who later becomes his bride. Elizabeth has a tragic end in Shelley’s story, where she’s murdered on her wedding night by the monster created by her own husband. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein tells details about the girl’s childhood and her complex relationship with Victor’s family. Author Kiersten White takes advantage of her narrator’s completely new approach (as opposed to Victor Frankenstein’s account in the original novel) to present a different angle on the iconic events from the classic book. In addition to giving a new polish to well-known characters, White draws a dramatic portrait of how hard it was to be a woman in 19th-century society.
4. The Monster Men, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
An author specialized in pulp fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs was the creator of two famous literary characters: Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars. But he also had a prolific sci-fi/horror production, including this adventure that sounds like a cross between Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Published in 1913, it tells the story of Experiment Number Thirteen, a humanoid being created by two scientists on an island off the coast of Borneo. The experiment rebels against its creators and lives a series of jungle adventures with pirates, natives, and even the other 12 monster-men created before. The Monster Men is one of the first stories to feature the creature as the hero, not a monster to be feared. The result is an entertaining mix of action, horror, and even a hint of romance.
5. Deadly Friend, by Diana Henstell
Published in 1985 under the original title Friend, Diana Henstell’s horror story was adapted to cinema in the 1986 cult movie Deadly Friend. The plot can be summarized as a mixture of tragic romance and some ideas borrowed directly from Frankenstein. Paul is a 13-year-old precocious genius who lives with his divorced mother Jeannie. Unable to communicate with her or with younger people, the boy has a robot as his only friend. Until he falls in love with Samantha, a shy neighborhood girl. When she dies in a tragic accident, Paul decides to use technology to resurrect his beloved friend. The book has a greater focus on the relationships between the characters, giving more space to Paul’s mother, for example. The tone is darker, with the resurrected Samantha in a constant process of decomposition throughout the story.
6. This Monstrous Thing, by Mackenzi Lee
Geneva, 1818. A young inventor named Alasdair Finch has just lost his girlfriend and his brother Oliver. The first broke up with him and the latter died tragically. Unable to overcome both losses, Alasdair uses mechanical parts to resurrect Oliver. But he ends up giving life to a monstrous creature. To make things worse, a newly published book called Frankenstein narrates an experiment very similar to the one the young scientist has just performed. What is the author’s relationship with Alasdair? This 2015 reimagining of Frankenstein is addressed to teenage audiences who may not be able to read Mary Shelley’s book as easily. In addition to being fast-paced and entertaining, This Monstrous Thing uses fantasy to address serious and relevant topics, such as death and mourning, prejudice, and even police brutality.
7. Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi
This is an amazing book published in 2014 by Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi. It’s a contemporary fantasy set in the city of Baghdad occupied by US troops. Given the number of missiles and car bomb explosions, the bodies of Iraqi citizens are rarely returned to their families in one piece for burial. In this macabre scenario, the mysterious Hadi decides to save all the human body parts he finds and sews them up to create a full man. Hadi’s intentions were symbolic, to force the government to give a proper burial to these anonymous human pieces. But the corpse comes back to life in search of revenge against the American and Iraqi military. Beyond fantasy, Frankenstein in Baghdad balances doses of satire and criticism while showing an Iraq virtually unknown to Western readers–with an endless cycle of pain and unburied/unrecognizable dead bodies amidst explosions.
8. Brittle Innings, by Michael Bishop
Imagine that the creature in Mary Shelley’s book decided to start a journey around the world to find its humanity. That’s what prolific sci-fi/fantasy author Michael Bishop did in this sensitive and original book published in 1994. The monster created by Victor Frankenstein reappears in the United States in 1943 during WWII. A young boy named Daniel joins a minor-league baseball team trying to make up for being too young to join the army. Between the typical dramas of the age (and the fear of war), Daniel discovers that one of his teammates–who goes by the nickname “Jumbo”–is actually Frankenstein’s creature trying to lead a normal life. Brittle Innings is a story about two misfits trying to find their place in a changing society. Author Bishop dodges the absurdity of the plot addressing real-life themes such as sport, war, and prejudice.
9. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Originally published in 1886, this is another horror classic with a famous character who has become a synonym of “mad scientist.” The most interesting element in this variation of Frankenstein is that the monster created by Doctor Henry Jekyll is not an autonomous creature, but the uncontrollable violent side of the scientist himself. By consuming a formula he created, Jekyll turns into a sinister guy who assumes the identity of Edward Hyde. The dark half can unleash the good scientist’s primitive instincts, including vice and murder. Dealing with a curious psychoanalytic approach to the subject, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde still works because the story reminds us of that “evil side” of ourselves–a part of our personality that fortunately most of us manage to keep under control.
10. Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction, by Michael Sims
A must-have anthology for anyone who wants to better understand the context of the century when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Editor Michael Sims has compiled 20 short stories or chapters from famous books by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells. In common, all stories were written in the 19th century and deal with themes of “science going wrong.” Some are frighteningly visionary, anticipating contemporary questions such as environmental disasters and plagues. But Frankenstein Dreams also brings the opportunity to read stories by four women who wrote fantasy at the time and aren’t as famous or celebrated as Mary Shelley. One of them is Alice W. Fuller, who satirizes the central theme of Frankenstein. In her short story “A Wife Manufactured to Order,” there’s a service that creates perfect, artificial wives for bachelors without social skills!