Brother, Frankenstein - Michael Bunker

"In 1951, after reading War & Peace for the twelfth time, the Russian writer Mikhail Prishvin (1873-1954) noted in his diary that he felt, at last, that he understood his life."*

I've read War & Peace three times by now, and am none the wiser, but there is always hope. Some books can change the understanding of one's life, like War & Peace, and maybe Brother, Frankenstein can too. Once upon a time I was on the lookout for a more contemporary Tolstoy, somehow attracted to the oftentimes bleakness and stoicism, in a general sense, of the Russian soul. Bunker for me is the one I was looking for, and yes, I've certainly said once or twice that I'm a fan of his writing. It may be his Amish background and plain life style tends towards this Russian soul more than anything else. At least in my understanding I see the similarities.

The, for the most parts first person, narrative of Brother, Frankenstein is a bit tough at times, and it took me a bit to get used to it, since Dr.Alexander is the posterchild of the unreliable narrator, a borderline sociopath/genius. He contradicts himself, and he also knows he is not exactly doing his pro-bono work for humanity's sake but for his own benefits, ethnically and morally challenged that he is. Which makes it not easy to fully relate to him, but that is part of the process, the transformation.

Dr.Alexander leads a top-secret government funded weapon program to develop an experimental killer robot called HADroid. He is also doing pro-bono work for a nearby Amish community, but admits it's just for tax purposes. However, stranger things have happened as Dr Alexander getting attached to a dying autistic boy with multiple conditions from the Amish community, Frank. Until the government stops last minute the weapon program and Dr.Alexander went rogue and decides on his own to transplant the brain and heart of Frank into the so-called HADroid roboter. An oddly selfish, but also lovingly act. He wants Frank to live, and the HADroid is the only chance Frank has, even neither he or his parents can or obviously would give consent. This act forces Dr.Alexander together with Frank on the run, after having spend millions of dollars, and the HADroid as a weapon should be rather destroyed now than be a threat to those who created it/him.

My only complaint is the part when the operation takes place, and Frank's brain and heart are transfered into the HADroid, who/which - I dont know what is more appropriate here - *apparently* looks almost human, or at a minimum human enough. Bunker is a bit fuzzy on the details, and I had to read that part more than once carefully.

Frank, one moment a dying 11-year old autistic boy, the next a 6-feet-tall robot/human hybrid, is not easy to swallow, for more than one reason. It certainly made me uneasy, and the fear of ever more intelligent A.I taking over the world is almost always in this day and age a topic for discussion. Even Frank, in a moment of another, the real, transformation to a 10-feet-tall killer machine, and clarity, understands that the lines are blurred now. I felt pity for him, and in an undefined way felt scared. Less so about the killer robot that he has become, but that he knows he is still Frank, but not Frank anymore. I cannot even fathom what this must do for one's sanity, and yes, I do see Frank as the little boy that deep inside the robot he still is. I cannot do anything else but care for him. It really boils down to the question of humanity.

Admittedly I was a bit wary a first to learn that the main protagonist is a little autistic boy, since that could have gone awfully wrong, but I have to give Michael Bunker credit for how he dealt with it. It seems obvious that he has done his research and/or has someone close by who shared their experience with autistic children. From behavior issues to how a child like Frank gets stimulated by their parents/caregivers or therapies used, pretty much every topic of interest Bunker has included. Which makes Frank's dying and rebirth even more heartbreaking. This is not just simply a character in a story, he is touchingly real, especially since Frank is no Rain Man, but a child that has the misfortune of suffering no one has any control over.

As always Michael Bunker doesn't think all that much of the often repeated mantra, "show, don't tell", but he takes himself out more than ever of the narrative. It could be that his editor reigned him in more than usual, but it certainly does the story itself good to simply run its course. I am a firm believer that the author is the least important person but the book itself is what matters. Brother, Frankenstein is in this regards the most promising of those I've read so far by him. Of course he has still his moments :-) where he throws in a, what I feel like, is a redudant phrase or one explanation too many, but that's what I love about his writing too. Bunker is an entertainer and storyteller, but as much a teacher and it shows. Should I say now ironically? He can wrap up his insights in the human condition and his own worldview without letting go of the bigger picture which he has meticiously crafted.

Brother, Frankenstein is as much a philosophical tale as it is a social commentary on technology and humanity, and me would think it succeeds on all levels. And as many often forget, Frankenstein in the original tale by Mary Shelley was the creator, not the monster. Dr.Alexander undergoes a transformation as much as Frank does, even in a different way, and by the end of the book redemption seems, no, is possible.

Will Brother, Frankenstein in a hundred years and more receive the status War & Peace has today? I don't know and have obviously no way of knowing, but I do believe that Bunker is up to something. The question of what makes us human. Smarter people than myself have argued about it during the centuries, and I don't think for a minute there is a definite answer, but maybe he is getting close. Or at least a little closer.

*quote by Orlando Figgs, War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Penguin edition 2005, translated by Anthony Briggs

(Legal disclaimer: I received a free complimentary copy of Brother, Frankenstein pre-publication from Michael Bunker but also purchased a copy on my own)