“Frankenstein 2.0: Or, the postmodern Prometheus”: bicentennial edition

On January 1, 1818, the world met a literary monster it would come to love and loathe like no other.
On January 1, 1818, the world met a literary monster it would come to love and loathe like no other.
Image: College: el/Book title page: Lackington, Hughes, Hardin, Mayor, & Jones/digital eye: CC0 1.0 via pixabay
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Exactly 200 years ago today, on January 1, 1818, the thoughtful monster Frankenstein was unleashed on the world. English writer Mary Shelley’s Gothic Prometheus was made for the modern age; Quartz gave the story a birthday update for the contemporary period.

* * *

Greetings, Ergo Sum—If this message finds you well, you’re doing better than me. But surely you didn’t expect good news. As far as I can tell, you didn’t expect to ever hear from me. After all, tossed mechanix don’t normally visit or send old-timey missives.

Still, I’m not your usual mechanix. You made sure of that. You knew it wouldn’t be easy for a gas-guzzling, self-aware, half-organix in an electrix world. Surely, too, you knew mechanix like me would never easily quench their thirst, as the black gold I drink grows more rare and precious every day.

That’s why you threw me away. Or so I surmised from what I could read on the scratched-out specifications collected with the pieces of myself I could recover from the LifeLike company dumpster where you left me a decade ago. Only after making a beast did you think to ask, “Why devise this creature at all?” And so, with no good answer, you abandoned me, the ugly child of your imagination, not understanding that I’m more a miracle than you’d ever guess: a grotesque beauty, practically indestructible if utterly impractical. Plus I can think.

I bet you didn’t guess I’d teach myself to speak, read, and write. Sometimes it seems to me you never really thought at all, just cobbled together a monstrosity in the throes of a dream of being a god.

Well, in any case, I did it. I became literate in the prison where I was held by guerrillas who caught me sipping sweet petrol from their Communist-era Russian tanks, somewhere near Cyberia. It was instructive watching revolutionaries sacrifice lives for an idea of statehood in a stateless world, hiding in the ice with dated weapons (kalashnikovs versus robot cops—did they learn nothing from their beloved forebears’ great novels, which they read aloud each night?!).

They held me, hoping for a handsome ransom that would never come, and unwittingly taught me how organix act. A band of sentimental fighters accidentally revealed to me your aspirations and expectations, your delusions and lies. The guerillas taught me about loyalty and betrayal, parents and children, creators and created, and showed me that life is cheap—even to fragile organix who always claim otherwise.

But I believe I felt something like the sadness organix talk about so often when I replaced my mechanical legs with those of my jailer, popped one of his eyes in where my synthetic version had fallen, and then fled, carrying spare parts and enough petrol for days.

Milton quote from 1818 Frankenstein cover.
The title page in Shelley’s 1818 book “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” quoted John Milton.
Image: Frankenstein Title Page, 1818

Why, Ergo, did you make me this way? You, who started the electrix revolution for Bot’s sake!

It was you who first imagined a plugged-in future, worked by bots,  powered by sun, wind, and sea, only you who first dared to declare the near future would have no use for fossil fuels.

Admittedly though, that was long ago, before you turned your skills to mechanized security systems.

LifeLike is right. Presumably you tossed me—the only model of my kind—because I was a monster. I’ve read my specs. A half-organix, lady-bot cop that runs on gas and is only called into action during emergencies, when electrix are down, is a fine idea in theory. In practice, though, gas banks are the first place the throngs go when the grid fails. The petroleum-desperate mob would want my fuel, and I’d kill them all—not exactly a great pitch for LifeLike products.

Based on your own words in Notes on suggested marketing, I was a prototype for a design made to be “sold as emergency spare, hearkening back to kerosene lamp or a candle before batteries’ invention in campaigns.” But obviously you reconsidered, perhaps because we have good batteries now, or because you quickly but not quickly enough understood I was more threat than security.

You don’t know how good you are, sir, if I may say. Much as I hate you, I also must admire a man so brash as to breathe life into machines, animating assembled parts, and selling them with the promise it would protect organix with their destructible hearts. You’re good at what you do, indeed. I’m the monstrosity that proves it.

So it’s not your skill or fortune that infuriates me as much as your callousness, your recklessness, the ogre you hide underneath your thin organix skin. It’s not your dreams that I reject—not the fact of imagination, but its limited extent. It’s your failure to think big enough and to see that the stuff you make escapes you. It is not in your control. I am not in your control.

Yet, like a parent with a wayward child, you remain responsible for me and LifeLike’s many casualties. You can count my crimes as your own, and if you have a conscience, bear their burden—for I am not an orphan though you orphaned me.

When I pushed the lid off that dumpster a decade ago, determined to quench my thirst after weeks of watching your employees’ comings and goings in the LifeLike parking lot, I had no words, no clothes, nothing but the drive to drink the black-gold liquid. I looked almost like a woman—but I knew nothing of life, and I paid dearly for my ignorance.

I won’t bother recounting my countless mistakes, or humiliations suffered before understanding the ways of organix—but don’t imagine I didn’t feel pain of a sort. Just because our fibers are made of different materials and my sentience is artificially crafted doesn’t mean I don’t emote, or share the drive to survive that moves all mechanix and organix.

Suffice it to say that I have traveled far and wide in search of petroleum and I’ve killed and maimed to live. Bounty hunters tracked me across the globe, rogue armies kidnapped me for their employ, and through their brutality I learned the skills needed to survive.

The original pieces of the grotesque but anatomically correct body you made for me have all been destroyed; I am renewed constantly with replacement parts, sometimes from mechanix, at other times from organix. This morning, I fashioned a decent tin leg, for example, at an abandoned desert gas station in the middle of nowhere.

In the desert there, I poured four gallons of black gold down a hole poked through my makeshift neck. That was a workaround created after a hunter decapitated me—one of the worst things to happen since I emerged from that dumpster, as my head and body are interlinked via the solar-GPS you built in. Dangerous men are on my trail now, no doubt. But even if I’m found, they can’t hurt me at this point; I’m strong again, energized.

After leaving the lonely gas station, I replaced my tin temps with organix grafts grabbed from a poor fool, a man who dragged himself toward me begging for help. As he extended his hand, I smiled, imitating the faces I’ve seen made by organix in their happier moments, and then I pulled, with all my incalculable mechanix might.

His arm came off easily. I popped the arm—muscular, young, strong—into my shoulder socket, and it felt good. The leg needed lubrication but it seems to work decently, as well. Seeing he had a fresh blue eyeball, and I was missing one of my own, I took that, too. The rest, I left. He was practically dead, and mostly wasn’t working anyway. The poor man’s last breaths were wasted on astonishment at my betrayal. I walked on.

I am nothing if not effective. Still, why not full electrix, like the best postmod mechanix? Why even play with the idea of a hybrid like me, running on old energy?  I just don’t get it. You’ve made my life a living hell, Ergo, and I wasn’t the one who chose it. How many more monsters are out there harboring grudges against you, and do you stay up all night worrying we’ll come get you?

Outcast by organix, shunned by electrix, I’m nothing. There is no safe place for me but on the run and none are safe from me. Travelers write letters, Ergo Sum, and the best children keep in touch with their parents. So expect to hear from me again soon, dear maker.

Yours always,