Books: Frankenstein: Prodigal Son

Having read the fourth book in Koontz’s Frankenstein series, I decided to back up and start with the first book, Prodigal Son. I had assumed – incorrectly – that it would start with Victor Frankenstein assembling his creature from assorted body parts and then animating it with lightning.

Instead, the book starts with Deucalion (the name the creature gave itself) in a Tibetan monastery. I thought that at least it was some time in the past, until Deucalion mentioned Cheez-Its. Well, a book in which Frankenstein’s monster likes both Cheez-Its, and discussing the meaning of life with monks, is the kind of unusual “horror” book that Koontz writes and that I enjoy reading.

I’m actually not sure to whom the title refers. I assumed at first that it would be Deucalion, who in the two hundred years since Victor created him has changed from a homicidal monster to a wise and compassionate man, and who is now trying to stop the monstrous evils Victor is ready to visit upon the world.

But Deucalion appears only from time to time in the novel. There are other, more recent creations of Victor (now using the surname Helios), who have been programmed to see themselves as superior to human beings, but who find themselves unhappily lacking. One is desperately searching for happiness, cutting up human beings to find their “happiness gland.”

Another reads human literature and admires human art and seems to be developing a capacity for hope and compassion. One who has been assigned to act as a Catholic priest (so he can learn secrets told in the confessional, and pass information on to his maker) wonders if perhaps there is something to religion after all. One has reached the point of despair and longs only to die.

Victor has told his creations that the soul does not exist. They seem convinced that it is true, at least as far as they are concerned, because even if God exists they are not His children. But it is hard for the reader to believe this, as some of them seem to have more of a soul than their maker does.

I know when it comes to human cloning, sometimes the question arises as to how a human created by cloning rather than procreation would acquire a soul. I don’t know how or when a human being comes to have a soul, but I’m sure that if cloning results in a living human being, that being will have a soul.

Victor’s creations are not human – he has made significant changes to their physiology (such as two hearts) as well as programming what they are able to think and feel. But in Koontz’s version of the story, at least some of them have the same need for meaning and purpose to their lives, the same desire to be free rather than slaves of Victor Helios, and the same sense of guilt and remorse, despite Victor’s belief that he made them without such “weaknesses.”

Of particular interest to me is one of these people, named Randall Six (because there were five previous Randalls), who was intentionally created with autism. Having succeeded in making him autistic, Victor now wants to make him normal, but he has so far been unsuccessful. Randall, meanwhile, has learned of an autistic human who appears to know the secret of happiness, and Randall is determined to find this human and get the secret from him.

Having read this book, I can see now why many readers were disappointed with the fourth book. The creations of the Victor in that book (a clone of the original Victor) are indeed soulless. I enjoyed it because of the human characters in the novel, but in comparison with the earlier speculations into what it means to be human, the later book offers relatively little.

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