I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Our Hideous Progeny by C. E. McGill. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Our Hideous Progeny, Mary Saville and her husband Henry are scientists enamored with paleontology. They’re down on their luck, now, as Henry has just lost his job and has gambled away most of their savings in an effort to keep them afloat. One day, however, Mary finds a collection of papers in her home that points to the disappearance of her great-uncle, whom she never met. It turns out this great-uncle was called Victor Frankenstein, who was brought to ruin by his creation of a monster. Desperate, and certain she can do better, Mary suggests to Henry that they attempt a similar endeavor, only instead of a man, they decide to make a plesiosaurus. If they succeed, Mary is sure that the scientific community will finally respect them—but the more progress they make, the more she desires instead to protect this strange creature.
To be honest, I barely read the description of this book before starting it, so all I knew was it was a novel revisiting Frankenstein.
And to be honest, parts of it were really interesting. I enjoyed seeing how paleontology, and really science in general, was studied and talked about in Victorian England, and how far we have come. The debates about ancient animals, especially sauropods and the like, are interesting from a modern perspective, as we see these scientists debate about if they are reptiles, and discuss the term “dinosaur” before it’s fully established.
I also liked the scenes that dealt with the obstacles facing women who wanted to study science. At the time of this book, the word “scientist” didn’t even exist, because all those who pursued this field were “men of science.” So to see Mary’s struggles to be accepted is frustrating and makes you root for her to succeed.
However, I think the parts of the plot that dealt more directly with the Frankenstein-ness weren’t as good. I did like the creation of the plesiosaurus, as a fun twist on making a man, and the scenes after it’s brought to life (uh, spoilers, I guess) were cool too. You can really feel Mary’s delight and awe as she interacts with it. But I think there wasn’t nearly enough character development with this new creature, compared to Shelley’s original, so I wasn’t as invested in its fate as I probably should have been. And the other character who helped Mary and Henry build the creature was so slimy and awful. I know he’s supposed to be that way, and the climax involving him was pretty good, it just felt as if it took away from focusing on the creature.
There was also a slight queer romantic subplot that I wish had been explored much more. It ends on a kind of ambiguous note, when I wanted more of a resolution. But hey, that’s just personal preference.
In the end, Our Hideous Progeny was fine. It had some intriguing insights into the original novel it’s inspired by, and a decent twist on the creature itself. The historical parts about scientists was cool, but the science-fiction elements were a little weaker. This is not the worst book, but it’s also not nearly the best Frankenstein-inspired book that I’ve read, and I wish it had gone in a slightly different direction.
Our Hideous Progeny is available now!