The latest anthology of Victorian genre fiction from Sims (Arthur and Sherlock, 2017, etc.) focuses on historically significant science fiction and includes tales from Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Fueled by thrilling advances in science—from Herschel’s discovery of Uranus to Darwin’s breakthroughs in evolutionary biology—the 19th century brought about sweeping changes in the way humankind looked at the world. “New ways of thinking required new ways of writing,” Sims explains in the introduction. A highly entertaining fusion of visionary speculation and primordial terror, the stories included within merged cutting-edge science with fiction and essentially created a new category that explored what it means to be human in a world irrevocably changed by technological innovations and conceptual advancements. But although it’s excerpts from longer, iconic stories that will initially attract readers—like Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Stevenson’s Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde—it’s the lesser-known short stories that make this anthology so thematically compelling. Memorable selections include Florence McLandburgh’s surreal “The Automaton Ear,” which chronicles the consequences of inventing a device capable of hearing all the sounds that ever existed; “The Hall Bedroom,” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, which is set in a boardinghouse with a portal into the fifth dimension; and Alice W. Fuller’s “A Wife Manufactured to Order,” a story about finding the perfect spouse in the form of a robot—or not. Also of note is “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie” by Wardon Allan Curtis, a Hollow Earth story about a pair of researchers who find a plesiosaur living in a lake in a remote part of Wyoming. Utilizing concepts explored in Frankenstein, the tale takes a decidedly disturbing turn when one of the explorers dies.
Although the science in these stories is dated, the thematic profundity and historical context make this anthology a thought-provoking and undeniably entertaining read.