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Hard to kill ...
Simon Clark's new novel starts off with a child witnessing death. The child is quite young, can barely talk, though his age is undetermined. What is apparent is that soldiers are lining up the doctors and the nurses where the child is, dropping a "red necklace" over their heads, which explodes, blowing their heads off. The bodies are then carted away. What is even stranger is how the doctors and nurses meekly accept their fate, offering not the slightest bit of resistance.
The child knows that somehow this is wrong and escapes into the early morning.
We soon discover though, that the child is a hulking giant and is only a child in a psychological sense. This child doesn't know who he is or much of anything else. His brain connections are still growing.
Welcome to Simon Clark's new imagining of Mary Shelly's THE MODERN PROMETHEUS or FRANKENSTEIN.
Mary Shelly is considered the mother of both the first Science Fiction novel as well as the first Horror novel, and FRANKENSTEIN is that same novel. Mary, at the young age of 16, was so focused on getting the science right that she kept a letter contact with the renown scientist, Charles Darwin. Darwin, for his part, couldn't imagine how bringing the dead back to life could be scientifically possible, but couldn't rule out what possible technological advances the future might hold. So instead he instructed Mary to not divulge Doctor Victor Frankenstein's secret for bringing the dead back to life, and she never did. This in fact, became a joke in Mel Brooks retelling of the tale in his movie YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN where Victor's grandson discovers Victor's book: HOW I DID IT.
In DEATH'S DOMINION Simon Clark chooses to follow the same path, never divulging just how it is that we have a future where the recently deceased can be returned to life after a stay in a regenerator. The chemical agents that bring a dead human back to better than new are not revealed, it is only established that the ingredients are technology, not wizardry.
We soon learn that the Reborn, as they are called (they have many nicknames - some odd, some ugly) are programmed, in a sense, with two of Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.
1. Do not harm, or through inaction, allow any harm to befall any human
So those who come out of the regenerators are a second class of citizen in every sense of the word. A slave race whose only crime was that they died.
That is, until the child appeared. In no time the child, all seven plus feet of him (exact height is never made clear), kills some soldiers who were trying to kill him. This frightens the hell not only out of the humans, but out of the Reborns, who are unable to fathom such an act by a Reborn. The Reborns don't want to be killed a second time, so they must flee not only humans, but even the voice of the humans, calling them to their doom.
Soon a straggling band of bickering Reborns are gathered like sheep, following the Child, who is remembering. His name is Dominion, and he is here for a reason. But he has no idea what that reason is. Dominion soon attacks a town, ordering the Reborns to follow him to a safehouse of sorts: an old abandoned castle on a cliff.
From then on, the rest of the novel concerns itself with the course of the rest of the week as time runs out on the Reborns and Dominion.
What Simon has wrote is one intriguing novel brimming with fascinating characters. Some have tried to compare it to modern times and even as an allegory for the Holocaust or 9/11. But DEATH'S DOMINION is every bit the rebirth of Mary Shelley's book. From the giant undead who kills to the village of poverty stricken frightened peasents to the castle on the cliff, Simon Clark gives a fine retelling of Shelly's old tale without resorting to tropes, plot devices, or formula. It's hommage without the frommage.
DEATH'S DOMINION takes Shelly's book to an alternate fictional history where Victor Frankenstein's technological future, if such an experiment had worked instead of failed, is real.
What would the world be like if we could expand our population with reanimated dead people: Former humans who were physically superior to us in every way?
In Simon's hands the results are horrific and brutal, yet beautiful and exhilarating. The brutality is largely in the hands of the frightened humans who find pleasure in overcoming their fear, even if that means torturing and butchering a fellow human that is clearly alive and feeling. The beauty and exhilaration is in those stolen moments, like all beauty, wherever we may find it.
Simon's allegory is every bit of Mary Shelly's, with layers of mystery and unexpected turns and, like the technology they both envisioned, Simon breathes new life into an old tale.
This review copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.