Some years into the twenty-first century, a newly devised weapon of mass destruction will do far worse than kill; it will disrupt time and space. Suddenly, land, buildings, animals, and people are falling through “timeslips” and being transported briefly back to earlier eras. One of these inadvertent time travelers, Joe Bodenland, is shocked when he finds himself parked outside a villa on the shore of Lake Geneva—and soon after, unbelievably, in the presence of nineteenth-century literary luminaries Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, along with Shelley’s very enticing fiancée, budding author Mary.
But when Joe comes face to face with a real, flesh-and-blood Victor Frankenstein and the monster the mad doctor brought into this world, the visitor from the future realizes that not only has time been disrupted, reality itself has been transmogrified. And this Frankenstein, it seems, is far from finished with his unholy endeavors, leaving it up to Joe to make it right for the sake of history—and for the bewitching lady novelist who has stolen his heart—before he is rudely thrust back to his own time.
An absolutely stunning reinvention of a cherished literary classic, Frankenstein Unbound proves once more that there are no limits to the unparalleled creative genius of science fiction Grand Master W. Brian Aldiss, one of the most revered names in the field of speculative fiction.
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About the Author
Brian W. Aldiss was born in Norfolk, England, in 1925. Over a long and distinguished writing career, he published award-winning science fiction (two Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award); bestselling popular fiction, including the three-volume Horatio Stubbs saga and the four-volume the Squire Quartet; experimental fiction such as Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head; and many other iconic and pioneering works, including the Helliconia Trilogy. He edited many successful anthologies and published groundbreaking nonfiction, including a magisterial history of science fiction (Billion Year Spree, later revised and expanded as Trillion Year Spree). Among his many short stories, perhaps the most famous was “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” which was adapted for film by Stanley Kubrick and produced and directed after Kubrick’s death by Steven Spielberg as A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Brian W. Aldiss passed away in 2017 at the age of 92.
Read an Excerpt
By Brian W. Aldiss
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Brian W. Aldiss
All rights reserved.
Letter from Joseph Bodenland to his Wife, Mina:
August 20th, 2020
My dearest Mina,
I will entrust this to good old mail services, since I learn that CompC, being much more sophisticated, has been entirely disorganized by the recent impact-raids. What has not? The headline on today's Still is: SPACE/TIME RUPTURED, SCIENTISTS SAY. Let us only hope the crisis will lead to an immediate conclusion of the war, or who knows where we shall all be in six months' time!
But to more cheerful things. Routine has now become reestablished in the house, although we still all miss you sorely (and I most sorely of all). In the silence of the empty rooms at evening, I hear your footfall. But the grandchildren keep the least corner occupied during the day. Nurse Gregory is very good with them.
They were so interesting this morning when they had no idea I was watching. One advantage about being a deposed presidential advisor is that all the former spy-devices may now be used simply for pleasure. I have to admit I am becoming quite a voyeur in my old age; I study the children intensely. It seems to me that, in this world of madness, theirs is the only significant activity.
Neither Tony nor Poll have mentioned their parents since poor Molly and Dick were killed; perhaps their sense of loss is too deep, though there is no sign of that in their play. Who knows? What adult can understand what goes on in a child's mind? This morning, I suppose, there was some morbidity. But the game was inspired by a slightly older girl, Doreen, who came round here to play. You don't know Doreen. Her family are refugees, very nice people from the little I have seen of them, who have arrived in Houston since you left for Indonesia.
Doreen came round on her scouter, which she is just about old enough to drive, and the three of them went to the swimming pool area. It was a glorious morning, and they were all in their swimsuits.
Even little Poll can swim now. As you predicted, the dolphin has been a great help, and both Poll and Tony adore her. They call her Smiley.
The children had a swim with Smiley. I watched for a while and then struggled with my memoirs. But I was too anxious to concentrate; Sec. of State Dean Reede is coming to see me this afternoon and frankly I am not looking forward to the meeting. Old enemies are still old enemies, even when one is out of office – and I no longer derive pleasure from being polite!
When I looked in on the children again, they were very busy. They had moved to the sand area – what they call the Beach. You can picture it: the grey stone wall cutting the leisure area off from the ranch is now almost hidden by tall hollyhocks in full bloom. Outside the changing huts are salvia beds, while the jasmines along the colonnade are all in flower and very fragrant, as well as noisy with bees. It is a perfect spot for children in a dreadful time like the present.
The kids were burying Doreen's scouter! They had their spades and pails out, and were working away with the sand, making a mound over the machine. They were much absorbed. No one seemed to be directing operations. They were working in unison. Only Poll was chattering as usual.
The machine was eventually entirely buried, and they walked solemnly round it to make sure the last gleaming part was covered. After only the briefest discussion, they dashed away to different parts of the area to gather things. I saw their quick brown bodies multiplied on the various screens as I called more and more cameras into action. It looked as if the whole world was tenanted by little lissom savages – an entirely charming illusion!
They came back to the grave time and time again. Sometimes they brought twigs and small branches snapped off the sheltering acacias, more often flower-heads. They called to each other as they ran.
Nurse Gregory had the morning off, so they were playing entirely alone.
You may recall that the cameras and microphones are concealed mainly in the pillars of the colonnade. I was not picking up what the children were saying very well because of the constant buzzing of bees in the jasmine – how many secrets of state were saved by those same insects?! But Doreen was talking about a Feast. What they were doing, she insisted, was a Feast. The others did not question what she said. Rather, they echoed it in excitement.
'We'll load on lots of flowers and then it will be a huge, huge Feast,' I heard Poll say.
I gave up work and sat watching them. I tell you, theirs seemed the only meaningful activity in the crazy warring world. And it was inscrutable to me.
Eventually, they had the grave covered with flowers. Several branches of acacia were embedded on top of the mound, which was otherwise studded with big hollyhock flowers, crimson, mauve, maroon, yellow, orange, with an odd scarlet head of salvia here and there, and a bunch of blue cornflowers that Poll picked. Then round the grave they arranged smaller twigs.
The whole thing was done informally, of course. It looked beautiful.
Doreen got down on her knees and began to pray. She made our two solemn grandchildren do likewise.
'God bless you, Jesus, on this bright day!' she said. 'Make this a good Feast, in Thy name!'
Much else she said which I could not hear. The bees were trying to pollinate the microphones, I do believe. But chiefly they were chanting, 'Make this a good Feast, in Thy name!' Then they did a sort of hopping dance about the pretty grave.
You must wonder about this unexpected outbreak of Christianity in our agnostic household. I must say that at first it caused me some regret that I have for so long stifled my own religious feelings in deference to the rationalism of our times – and perhaps partly in deference to you, whose innocent pagan outlook I always admired and hopelessly aspired to. As far as I know, Molly and Dick never taught their children a word of prayer. Perhaps the traditional comforts of religion were exactly what these orphans needed. What if those comforts are illusions? Even the scientists are saying that the fabric of space/time has been ruptured and reality – whatever that may be – is breaking down.
I need not have worried overmuch. The Feast ceremony was basically pagan, the Christian formulae mere frills. For the dance the children did among their plucked flowers was, I'm sure, an instinctual celebration of their own physical health. Round and round the grave they went! Then the dance broke up in rather desultory fashion, and Tony popped his penis out of his trunks and showed it to Doreen. She made some comment, smiling, and that was that. They all ran and jumped into the pool again.
When the gong sounded for lunch and we all assembled on the verandah, Poll insisted on taking me to look at the grave.
'Grampy, come and see our Feast!'
They live in myth. Under the onslaught of school, intellect will break in – crude robber intellect – and myth will wither and die like the bright flowers on their mysterious grave.
And yet that isn't true. Isn't the great overshadowing belief of our time – that ever-increasing production and industrialization bring the greatest happiness for the greatest number all round the globe – a myth to which most people subscribe? But that's a myth of Intellect, not of Being, if such distinction is permissible.
I'm philosophizing again. One of the reasons they chucked me out of the government!
Dean Reede arrives soon. My just deserts, some would say ...
Ever your loving husband, JOE
PS. I enclose a still of the leader in today's London Times. Despite the measured caution of its tone, there's much in what it says.CHAPTER 2
The Times First Leader, August 20th, 2020:
Western scientists are now in general although not entire accord – for even in the domain of science opinion is rarely unanimous – that mankind is confronted with the gravest crisis of its existence, a crisis not to survive which is not to survive at all.
Crises which in prospect appear uniquely ominous have a habit of assuming family resemblances in retrospect. We observe that they were critical but not conclusive. To say this is not to be facetious. Professor James Ransome's comment in San Francisco yesterday brought a sense of proportion to the increasingly alarmist news of the instability of the infrastructure of space – a sense of proportion particularly welcome to that large general public unaware until a fortnight ago that there was such a thing as an infrastructure of space, let alone that nuclear activity might have rendered it unstable. The professor's remark that the present instability represents, in his words, 'the great grey ultimate in pollution' should remind us that the world has survived serious pollution scares for over fifty years.
However, there are sound reasons for regarding our present crisis as nothing less than unique. All three opposed sides in the war, Western, South American and Third World Powers, have been using nuclear weapons of increasing calibre within the orbits of the Earth-Luna system. Nobody has gained anything, unless one includes the doubtful benefit of having destroyed the civilian Moon colonies, but the general feeling has been one of relief that these weapons were used above rather than below the stratosphere.
Such relief, we now see, was premature. We are learning yet another bitter lesson on the indivisibility of Nature. We have long understood that sea and land formed an interrelated unit. Now – far too late, according to Professor Ransome and his associates – we perceive a hitherto undiscerned relationship between our planet and the infrastructure of space which surrounds and supports it. The infrastructure has been destroyed, or at least damaged, to the point at which it malfunctions unpredictably, and we are now faced with the consequences. Both time and space have gone 'on the blink', as the saying has it. We can no longer rely even on the sane sequence of temporal progression; tomorrow may prove to be last week, or last century, or the Age of the Pharaohs. The Intellect has made our planet unsafe for intellect. We are suffering from the curse that was Baron Frankenstein's in Mary Shelley's novel: by seeking to control too much, we have lost control of ourselves.
Before we go down in madness, the most terrible war in history, largely an irrational war of varying skin-tones, must be brought to an immediate halt. If the plateau of civilization, on to which mankind climbed with such long exertion, now has to be evacuated, let us at least head away into the darkness in good order. We should be able to perceive at last (and that phase 'at last' now contains grim overtones) that, as the relationship between space, planets, and time is more intimate and intricate than we had carelessly imagined, so too may be the relationship between black, white, yellow, red, and all the flesh-tones in between.CHAPTER 3
Letter from Joseph Bodenland to his Wife, Mina:
August 22nd, 2020
My dearest Mina,
Where were you yesterday, I wonder? The ranch, with all its freight of human beings – in which category I include those supernatural beings, our grandchildren – spent yesterday and much of the day before in a benighted bit of somewhere that I presume was medieval Europe! It was our first taste of a major Timeslip. (How easily one takes up the protective jargon – a Timeslip sounds no worse than a landslide. But you know what I mean – a fault in the spatial infrastructure.)
Now we are all back here in The Present. That term, 'The Present', must be viewed with increasing suspicion as Timeslips increase. But you will understand that I mean the date and hour shown unflinchingly on the calendar-chronometer here in my study. Are we lucky to get back? Could we have remained adrift in time? One of the most terrifying features of this terrifying thing is that so little is understood about it. And in no time at all – I wrote down the phrase unthinkingly – there may be no chance for men of intellect to compare notes.
I can't think straight. Don't expect a coherent letter. It is an absolute shock. The supreme shock outside death. Maybe you have experienced it ... Of course I am wild with anxiety about you. Come home at once, Mina! Then at least we shall be among the Incas or fleeing Napoleon together! Reality is going to pot. One thing's for sure – we never had as secure a grasp on reality as we imagine. The only people who can be laughing at present are yesterday's nutcases, the para-psychologists, the junkies, the E-S.P.-buffs, the reincarnationists, the science-fiction writers, and anyone who never quite believed in the homogeneous flow of time.
Sorry. Let me stick to facts.
The ranch got into a timeslip (there's more than one: ours does not merit a capital T). Suddenly we were back – wherever it was.
Sec. of State Dean Reede was with me at the time. I believe I told you last letter that he was coming to see me. Of course, he is firmly in the President's pocket – a Glendale man every inch of him, and as tough as Glendale, as we always knew. He says they will never cease the fight; that all history gives inescapable precedents of how an inferior culture must go down to a superior one. Gives as examples the destruction of Polynesia, the obliteration of the Amazon Indians.
I told him that there was no objective way of judging which side was inferior, which superior: that the Polynesians seemed to have maximized happiness, and that the Indians of the Amazon seemed to be in complete and complex harmony with their environment. That both goals were ones our culture had failed to achieve.
Reede then called me a soft-head, a traitorous liberal (of course I had our conversation played in tape-memory, knowing he would be doing as much). He said that many of the West Powers' present troubles could be blamed on me, because I pursued such a namby-pamby role while acting as presidential advisor. That I should have known that my minor reforms in police rule, housing, work permits, etc., would lead to black revolt. Historically, reform always led to revolt. Etc.
A thoroughly useless and unpleasant argument, but of course I had to defend myself. And I remain sure that history, if there is to be any, will vindicate me. It will certainly have little good to say for Glendale and his hatchetmen. He even had the gall to instance our private picture gallery as an example of my wrong-headness!
We had got to shouting at each other when the light changed. More than that – the texture of the atmosphere changed. The sky went from its usual washed blue to a dirty grey. There was no shock or jar – nothing like an earth-tremor. But the sensation was so abrupt that both Reede and I ran to the windows.
It was amazing. Cloud was rolling in overhead. Over the plain, coming in fast, was thick mist. In a few moments, it surged over the wall like a sea and burst all over the garden and patio.
And not only that. Ahead, I could see the land stretching as usual, and the low roofs of the old stables. But beyond the roofs, the hills had gone! And to the left, driveway and pampas grass had disappeared. They were replaced by a lumpy piece of country, very green and broken and dotted with green trees – like nowhere in Texas.
'Holy saints! We've been timeslipped!' Reede said. Dazed though I was, I thought how characteristic of him to speak as if this was some personal thing that had been done to him. No doubt that was exactly how he saw it.
'I must go to my grandchildren,' I said.
With shrill shouts, Poll and Tony were already running outside. I caught up with them and held their hands, hoping I might be able to protect them from danger. But there was no danger except that most insidious one, the threat to human sanity. We stood there, staring into the mist. Nurse Gregory came out to join us, taking everything with her usual unflustered calm.
When a few minutes had passed, and we were recovering from our first shock, I stepped forward, towards where the drive had been.
'I'd stay where I was, if I was you, Joe,' Reede advised. 'You don't know what might be out there.'
I ignored him. The children were straining to go ahead.
There was a clean line where our sand ended. Beyond it was rank grass, growing as high as the children's knees, and beaded silver with rain. Great shaggy oaks stood everywhere. A path was worn among them.
Excerpted from Frankenstein Unbound by Brian W. Aldiss. Copyright © 1973 Brian W. Aldiss. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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