by Michael Bunker
It takes a lot of guts to run with a title like this. Some may see it as a cynical marketing exercise, others as yet another attempt to reboot a tired, overused and largely misunderstood classic. Thankfully Brother, Frankenstein is none of these things and, while similarities may be drawn to certain characters and events in Shelley’s original, it is a work that stands firmly on its own (albeit cybernetic) two feet.
When a brilliant scientist comes in contact with Frank Miller, a young autistic Amish boy, they form an unexpected relationship and when the boy becomes terminally ill, Dr. Alexander, who has been working on a top secret government project to create a state-of-the-art war machine controlled by the brain and heart of a donor, decides to save the boy by using him as the donor. When his employers find out, they naturally want their investment back and send in Dresser, a mildly psychopathic operative to retrieve it. In its normal state, the HADroid looks like an ordinary man, but is capable of transforming into a virtually indestructible killing machine.
As Frank tries to come to terms with his new state, Alexander brings him to an Amish community to hide, hoping familiar territory will keep him calm and prevent him from transforming. Dresser however, is nothing if not persistent and inevitably a showdown is on the cards. Meanwhile, the massive computing power in Frank’s new body is having a profound effect on his condition.
Sounds like a blockbuster? It is.
Brother, Frankenstein moves at a blistering pace, each set piece expertly interwoven with steady character development during the quieter moments. Alexander, deeply flawed – and a borderline sociopath – battles with the consequences of his decisions throughout, often declaring that he himself is the real monster and to large extent he is, but as he spends more time with Frank we see him become more understanding and less selfish.
Although Frank has such a huge capacity for destruction, he never feels like the monster in this story. His autism is dealt with brilliantly, and it’s a credit to the author that he not only did the research, but uses what he’s learned to give a valuable insight into the treatment of the condition. Bunker’s lifestyle also lends a distinct air of authenticity to the Amish element of the story. He himself lives in a ‘plain’ community similar to the Amish, although less strict (hence sci-fi!) and while people may draw similarities to Brother, Frankenstein and a certain 80’s movie starring Harrison Ford, the depiction of the community here seems much more grounded.
Fans of Michael Bunker’s other work, especially Pennsylvania will delight at some familiar names that pop up, hinting that there may indeed be some connection between the two stories.
Brother, Frankenstein finally cements Michael Bunker’s position as one of the most interesting and dynamic sci-fi writers emerging from today’s vibrant indie scene. It’s a tense, exciting, often violent actioner that like it’s protagonist, benefits greatly from a still-beating heart underneath all the technological bells and whistles.
Five out of five Nerds