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 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…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…