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

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…

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Five Photons - James Geach ****

It is generally acknowledged that Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is one of the most common books to be bought but not read beyond the first few pages. If you are the kind of popular science reader who found Hawking hard going, you can stop now - Five Photons is not for you. If, on the other hand, you found A Brief History of Time a piece of cake and wished you could get into more depth without resorting to heavy mathematics or a tedious textbook style, Five Photons could be just up your street.

Astrophysicist James Geach starts of fairly gently with a chapter on the nature of light that mostly sets aside quantum physics, leading up to the observation that light is our vehicle for for stripping back the history of the universe to its earliest times (or, at least, the point where the universe became transparent). From here on, the five photons of the title take us on different journeys, from the oldest surviving light of the cosmic microwave background radiation to that fr…