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Science fiction, one is told, was created by Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley. It is in, after all, Frankenstein,that the world meets the beginning of a trope: that of the “mad scientist.” Of course, during that time period, the hard sciences were just in their infancies, and retrospectively, a lot of scientists, like Johann Conrad Dippel, came off as rather ghoulish. Of course, when one knows next to little about the human body, one does literally have to open one up and look around. Hence, the whole idea of the grave-robbing, learned mad man, stitching together body parts while looking for a way to defeat death.

There’s also another very common take on the mad scientist trope, one that can be found in Nathaniel Hawthorne and his short story “The Birthmark.” Instead of trying to defeat death, Aylmer wants to perfect humanity, and one specimen in particular, his wife Georgiana. She’s beautiful, save for one blemish: a birthmark. However, instead of accepting his wife as she is, he ultimately destroys her. Sure, he’s able to remove the birthmark, but kills his wife in the process.

Both Shelley and Hawthorne’s stories are still relevant to today. In a world where science and computers are quickly redefining everything, bio-ethicists certainly have had their hands full. After all, when cloning sheep has become science fact and not science fiction anymore, the murky boundaries take on a new immediacy.

This is why Kim Paffenroth’s “Orpheus and the Pearl” is a fascinating read. As a work of horror and science fiction, it’s more in the spirit of Shelley and Hawthorne than, say, Cory Doctorow. This is partly due to the more antiquated and nearly gothic setting — there is a mansion, after all.

The plot is thus: a scientist has reanimated the corpse of his wife. She’s different, changed — preferring liquor, raw meat, and so on. The scientist brings in a female psychologist to sort the mess out. Of course, things don’t end the way a reader might expect.

Given that horror is sometimes dominated by trends, just like every other nook and cranny of the publishing world, Paffenroth’s tale is refreshingly new. His writing here, just like in his excellent zombie novel “Dying to Live,” seems more focused on character development and psychology rather than the pyrotechnics of violence and gore. Most importantly, despite the bizarre situations that his characters may find themselves in, sometimes, there is always a sense of heart at work.

“Orpheus and the Pearl” is a limited edition signed chapbook, but Magus Press also has a few unsigned reserve copies left. Recently, Magus also marked down the prices on both. So, now may be a perfect time to snap one up. After they’re gone, they’ll be no other printings.

–Rich Ristow


  1. Great review, Rich! 🙂 I agree with the Frankenstein comparison, and I loved the atmosphere and emotion Kim poured into this tale. Mind if I x-post the link for this to my blogs later?

    Take care,


  2. Go right ahead!

  3. I love your blog…really. Did you already hear about water on mars? 🙂

  4. Thanks. I’m flattered. Yeah,I did hear about that. It’s exciting. But I didn’t post about it because I’ve been working on something Bermuda related, and so a lot of my poking around and posting about NASA history has been limited to Cooper Island lately.

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