In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley tells the tale of how Victor Frankenstein challenges the “natural order” and explores the secrets of life itself by creating a being made from the pieces of other men. But what if Victor had chosen another direction for his research? What if, instead of choosing to reanimate a human, Victor had chosen to experiment on something else? What if Victor had chosen to re-create a dinosaur?
Mary Sutherland has been fascinated by science since her childhood discovery of an unusual stone on the beach that turned out to be a fossil. Her interest, however, has always been seen as a curiosity. In Victorian England, young women are not supposed to be interested in fossils, or the creatures they represent. She had hoped that, once she married Henry, she would be allowed to pursue her studies alongside him. Marriage, however, simply provided another set of challenges and societal expectations that required her navigation even with Henry’s inconsistent support.
When Mary discovers that she is in possession of her great-uncle Victor’s journal, which recounts his scandalous experiments, she convinces Henry that this may provide them with the means of making a discovery that will ensure their acceptance into the scientific community. As they review Victor’s notes, they agree that they will not pursue Victor’s original line of research. Out of a combination of fear and revulsion, they decide they will not attempt to reanimate a human. But, if not a human, then what? What would two burgeoning paleontologists most want to bring back to life?
In Our Hideous Progeny, debut author C.E. McGill follows Henry and Mary Sutherland as they attempt to recreate one of the most famous literary science experiments gone wrong with fascinating and horrifying results. Our Hideous Progeny is both a Gothic fever dream and an articulate indictment of how science has been, and in many ways continues to be, a club catering to the privileged, white male.
By conducting the new experiments with two scientists, one male and one female, McGill illustrates keenly how the story in Frankenstein might have turned out differently if Victor, who acts recklessly, and is propelled by obsession, throughout Shelley’s novel, had stopped to consider some of the consequences of his actions or listened, for just a moment, to his conscience.
McGill’s characters are wonderfully written. This is especially true of Mary. Intelligent, focused, compassionate, and occasionally brilliant, Mary is as driven and capable as any of her male counterparts. While she constantly chafes at the restrictions Victorian culture places upon her, she never gives up or gives in to play the part others would have her play. In addition, she never loses sight of the question that has been the foundation of countless science fiction stories: just because we can do something, should we?
Our Hideous Progeny is a marvelously Gothic, moody exploration of what science can, and should do. But with dinosaurs!
Read an interview with the author here.