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Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists Hardcover – August 5, 2015
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
''All together, a pleasant summer read delivering exactly what it says on the tin. If this is up your alley, you'll probably quite like it: weird, fun, playful, and full of lesbians doing mad science and breaking out of social conventions.'' - --Brit Mandelo for Tor.com
''Here is a collection of science fiction and fantasy that offers you everything from ice weasels to shrunken immortality to robots to probability-calculating mutants, and on top of that you can be assured every time you start a story that it will be full of women and at least several of them will be queer. This is no small thing. There is a kind of profound relief in reading a collection where you know for a fact that you needn't brace yourself for boringly typical male protagonists, for casual homophobia, for a dearth of interesting women or for female characters that obviously ought to be dating but inexplicably will barely touch. It's a real pleasure to just focus on the stories, to appreciate the imagination on display and evaluate the craft without having to constantly push such tiresome tendencies aside.'' - --Miranda Meyer for AfterEllen.com
''Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists is full of stories that follow their premises to the fullest. There's always a risk in an anthology with an extremely narrow focus that the stories will suffer from a certain sameness or an air of collective desperation. Editor Steve Berman has no trouble avoiding this trap as the 18 stories here range from poetic steampunk to Scooby-Doo homage....there's a wide and wonderful buffet of stories available within.'' --Karen Burnham for Locus
About the Author
Steve Berman's anthologies have been nominated for the Golden Crown Literary Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. He is the foremost editors in the field of queer speculative fiction and is the owner of Lethe Press. He resides in New Jersey.
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I have no doubt several of these stories COULD be turned into full novels (Bank Job Blues and Doubt the Sun, for instance), but they are perfectly complete as-is.
Full of meticulously researched alternate histories with endlessly fascinating characters, this is a book that will be hard to put down.
I really didn’t know what to expect from Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists.
Edited by Steve Berman, who is perhaps the most prolific editor of queer speculative fiction today, the eighteen stories in this anthology range from sober to zany, but all have a lot of heart.
Though I picked it up with some trepidation, Daughters of Frankenstein certainly exceeded my expectations.
In the anthology you’ll find Zombies, sleuths, pirates, robots, revolutionaries, aliens, Minotaurs, bank robbers, and Rosie the Riveter.
The stories vary considerably, but one thread running through the book is a wonderful self-awareness of the project and its place in a history that has largely forgotten or neglected female scientists, especially lesbian scientists. The cover itself is a delicious parody of mid-twentieth-century lesbian pulp fiction.
Jess Nevins sets the stage with a chapter about the history of female mad scientists, in the same vein as Emma Donoghue’s Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature (a personal fave).
My favourite characters in the anthology were in “Doubt the Sun” by Faith Mudge, “Meddling Kids” by Tracy Canfield, and “Hypatia and Her Sisters” by Amy Griswold. I laughed out loud while reading “The Moorehead Maze Experiment,” which is a spoof on the Stanford Prison Experiment written out as a transcript of a fictitious documentary.
It’s refreshing to read a LGBTQ book where the characters experiment with more than their sexuality. These women are remarkable for more than their bodies, their sex, and their sexual preference.
With their intelligence and ingenuity they push the boundaries of nature itself. Indeed, these women are queer in more ways than one and these stories are meant to shock, provoke, amuse, and inspire.
It was gratifying that the authors of Daughters of Frankenstein do not take diversity for granted. At the end of each story, I was never under the impression that they included diverse characters for diversity’s sake. In these pages class, race, ability, gender, and sexuality intersect as the characters challenge societal norms and test theories that often concern our very humanity.
In the aftermath of Dawn’s “trip,” a cat named Treacle appears in Alyssa’s house, having apparently crossed over from another world.
Alyssa tells Dawn: “You’ve dreamed there before.” Dawn nods. Alyssa goes on: “And you saw Treacle there.”
“Yeah,” Dawn answers. “She was different.”
“A person,” says Alyssa. Dawn asks how she knows this. Alyssa explains: “she wore striped socks and a pinafore over a frock dress.”
This reference to the title character of Alice in Wonderland (and specifically to Sir John Tenniel’s contemporary illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy novel) makes it clear where both Dawn and Alyssa have gone, not only in dreams: to Wonderland, where nothing is the same as in the world we know.
This story sets the tone for a diverse anthology of stories that are both original and full of allusions to actual history as well as to literary history. The stories are preceded by a brief introduction by Connie Wilkins and an essay, “From Alexander Pope to Splice,” by librarian and pulp-fiction historian Jess Nevins. This overview of female “mad scientists,” both fictional and real, dates back to writer and amateur scientist Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) and to medieval scholars before her. Women who have wanted to understand the physical world and to change it are shown to have existed for much longer than most of us have been led to believe.
Some literary historians trace sci-fi by women to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (first published 1818), a cautionary tale that warns of the consequences of meddling with natural processes by creating a hideous new being that is tragically rejected by humans. By contrast, several stories in this collection feature the creation of humanoid female robots that are capable of complex thought and emotions, and who interact with humans to everyone’s benefit.
One theme of this collection is the thin line between “artificial intelligence” and the more organic kind, and several central characters show their lesbianism by falling in love with female robots. The most moving of these stories, “Doubt the Sun” by Faith Mudge, takes its title from a Shakespeare poem: “Doubt thou the stars are fire/Doubt that the sun doth move/Doubt truth to be a liar/But never doubt I love.” A lonely girl who learns to restore a burned, abandoned “Gorgon,” a kind of bionic experiment, names her Athene and develops an indivisible bond with her. Eventually, Athene is able to return the favour when her human rescuer seems damaged beyond repair.
There is much reference to political and social history in these stories, and to the inventions that are inspired by desperation. The fast-paced period piece “Bank Job Blues” by Melissa Scott is set in the Dirty Thirties and follows a gang of female bank robbers. In the brilliant “Riveter” by Sean Eads, “Rosie the Riveter” of the Second World War (the image that encouraged actual woman to support the war effort by filling factory jobs left vacant by men at the front) is an actual woman who fascinates Adolf Hitler’s mistress. “The Eggshell Curtain” by Romie Stott shows an unusual relationship between two women during the intellectual and social upheavals that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Each of these eighteen stories contains a perfectly-realized miniature world in which strong, quirky, resourceful women create what they need, for better and worse. The tone of these stories is extremely varied, from the young-adult-adventure tone of “Meddling Kids” by Tracy Canfield to over-the-top comedy of “The Ice Weasels of Trebizond” by Mr. and Mrs. Brenchley to the realistic horror of “The Moorhead Maze Experiment” by Tim Lieder, in which a lesbian academic couple of the 1970s subject university students to a devastating psychological experiment.
If you read only one anthology of science fiction this year, Daughters of Frankenstein should be it. Each story presents a thought-provoking thesis wrapped in a delicious plot.