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 Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…