‘I wonder if you know that when Turing first used the word, the term, computer he wasn’t referring to a machine at all — but to a person. The person would be the computer…’
Jeanette Winterson’s novel Frankissstein opens in 1816. Mary Shelley is roaming the hillside, exploring the world in wonder, much like Frankenstein’s monster — a character she’s yet to write. She’s naked, as if she is the only person on Earth. She notes: ‘My skin is covered in beads of clear water as though I have been embroidered with water.’
And thus begins this fluid novel, where characters and stories bleed into one another, are stitched through the centuries. ‘Reality is water-soluble,’ Mary states. Time is a painting. Later, her husband Percy Shelley concurs: ‘We are like the drowned,’ he says. We are all shipwrecked stories. But who came first: the teller or the tale?
Katie Hale’s debut novel My Name is Monster opens with a shipwreck. Monster has fled Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault, where she worked before the Sickness, before the War, maintaining Earth’s back up plan: a collection of more than 980,000 seeds, originating from almost every country in the world. Now she has landed in a Scotland empty of humans, heading for home, whatever that may mean. She knows she cannot save the world, but she can try to save herself. She plants this new world back into herself. She evolves. She survives.
Both of these novels centre on the time-old question: what makes us human? Frankissstein is split into two main narratives. The first of these is about Mary and Percy Shelley, the second is set in the present day and focuses on Ry, a young transgender doctor who has fallen in love with Victor Stein, a professor leading the public debate around AI. The modern-day scenes, set mostly at a sexbot convention, tiptoe a little into the ridiculous but, at its heart, this book shines.