The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein by Thomas Ligotti

One of the advantages of picking up twenty books for about twenty bucks in a Humble Bundle is the chance to get to know new authors at low cost. (I’m a long way from a good lending library in English, so no-cost is not much of an option for me.) The Bundle that I picked up and have read about half of the books contained therein introduced me to Ted Chiang, to Elizabeth Bear, and Peter V. Brett. I read Tim Powers for the first time in a quarter century, possibly the first time ever. I’m looking forward to reading more from all three. That’s in addition to getting an omnibus edition of Barry Hughart’s stories of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, as well as a humongous trove of Jack Vance’s work. On balance, the Bundle was a huge win, and I would buy more if not for the matter of the time it takes to actually read the lovely books.

One of the disadvantages, though, is that not every book will be to every person’s taste. I’m afraid that’s what happened with The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein by Thomas Ligotti. The conceit of the book is interesting: take well-known horror classics, and then go further with them. As he writes in his preface, “Why not take Wells’s story [‘The Island of Dr Moreau’] another step or two down the path of pain? … But once this revamping or disfigurement of Wells’s original hair-raiser has been performed, the horror writer may begin to wonder how similar treatments might be applied to other well-known works of the genre. Is the literary artist any less curious or fixed upon an ideal than Dr Moreau?”

Ligotti groups his short stories that answer these questions. There are three scientists, two immortals, leading men, Gothic heroines, loners, and shut-ins. There is a Poe anthology, followed by “The Works and Death of H.P. Lovecraft.” Knowing most of the originals, I enjoyed speculating about where Ligotti might take them. His pastiches capture the style of the originals, as far as I am familiar with them. For my taste, though, they’re just too short, too slight. The stories sketch the ideas, but Ligotti glides past so quickly into the next story that there wasn’t enough time for me to settle in, for the stories to have much emotional heft apart from what they borrowed from their sources. In the end, I found these stories clever (and quick — a mere 128 pages in the phone’s electronic format), but not really any more than that. Perhaps I missed something; perhaps that’s all Ligotti was aiming for; perhaps it’s just as well there were another 19 books in the Bundle.

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