Thanks to a strange coincidence, as noted before, I was able to review a book which concerns itself with a topic related to my essay in the issue 15 of the Gatehouse Gazette.
The book in question is
Man-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Soldiers, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures
Quite a long title and the book contains everything the title promises.
Dr. Bob Curran, the author, is an expert in the field of modern myths and has authored books like The Dark Spirit in the past. Being an anthropologist myself I felt more than just a little honored being offered the opportunity to review this book.
Dr. Curran covers a lot of ground, both historically and geographically. The created beings he studies range from Frankenstein to the Golem to homunculi and tulpa to robots and finally to clones. He visits the lands of Europe, the Near and the Far East and shows the reader the various traditions and legends surrounding man-made monsters, or simply created beings, of the various regions. He focuses on both the creations and their creators. Through this, we meet a lot of historically significant people, like Dr. John Dee. I was quite amazed to find so many illustrious names connected to the study of alchemy and the creation of life. The less-known, and often more extreme, examples of men dabbling in weird and sometimes forbidden arts, were more fascinating, though.
The history of electric reanimation in particular and the people involved in it were at the same time morbidly fascinating and rather chilling.
Here, the book becomes bot a celebration of human couriousness, scientific thinking and ingenuity as well as a warning against the evils men are capable of in persuit of a goal.
The next thing that struck me are the connections Dr. Curran demonstrates. The “knowledge” of creating artificial life was wide-spread even in the Middle Ages, when there was hardly any infrastructure in Europe, and connected Europe to the Near East and Asia. Alchemy especially was not a European but a Eurasian phenomenon, although the philosophical background was slightly different.
He also demonstrates clearely, how deep the stories, myths and legends go in human society and the psyche of the society. In an interesting dichotomy, the power to create life was at the same time be viewed as a devine favour granted to pious men (i.e. the famous Rabbi Löw, Creator of the original Golem) and as a diabolic act connected to the black arts (especially the creation of homunculi).
Towards the end of the book, when robots are discussed, Dr. Curran is using a little too many mays and mights and so, if one is inclined to believe such things, the case could be constructed of Dr. Curran supporting the idea of the ancient Chinese being in possession of automated metal dragons. All he does is connect ideas to certain ancient Chinese myths, nothing else. But the way he makes these connections could be taken as a hint towards flying dragonships in ancient China.
But this is the only complaint I have. Dr. Curran gives an excellent and in-depth view of the myths sourrounding created beings, the scientific reality of earlier days and the present and a lot of useful backgrond information on the life and times of the real, supposed or mythical creators of artificial beings.
This review would not be complete without mention of the excellent artwork provided by Ian Daniels. His images of the created beings are hauntingly beautiful and give the myths and stories Dr. Curran writes about a visual manifestation. I am especially enchanted by the clockwork lady on the back-cover.
All in all, Man-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Solders, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures is an excellent book. It is both enlightning and entertaining. No gentleman or lady researcher into the weirder aspects of science and the human mind should be without.
On the Zeppelin scale it gets nine out of ten!