Frankenstein, Motherhood, And Phyllis Gotlieb's O Master Caliban! By Extrapolation

Frankenstein, Motherhood, And Phyllis Gotlieb's O Master Caliban!

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2005-03-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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Phyllis Gotlieb's first published SF story, "A Grain of Manhood" (1959), deals with a woman impregnated by an alien and with the ramifications of that procreative act. Though her first sale was in fact "Phantom Foot" (the first GalFed story and therefore also an important early work), "A Grain of Manhood" is especially appropriate as Gotlieb's first publication, as it is also the first story to manifest what is surely one of Gotlieb's primary thematic interests. Issues of procreation, ranging from the "natural" process of sexual reproduction to various alternative procreative modes, such as the creation of artificial intelligences (notably the ergs and mod Dahlgren in O Master Caliban and Heart of Red Iron, or the robot O/G in "Tauf Aleph," or, more recently, Spartakos in Gotlieb's latest trilogy) or the construction of new species through genetic manipulation are central to Gotlieb's canon. Genetically modified humans figure prominently in all of Gotlieb's SF novels but Sunburst, and even that book explores the effects of mutation caused by radioactivity on children. In addition to such literal invocations of procreation, procreative or generative metaphors frequently serve as the heart of Gotlieb's novels and stories. Significantly, these metaphors involve not only human (or biological) creators but also the synthetic creations themselves coming to terms with reproductive function. The robot O/G in "Tauf Aleph," for instance, "mothers" both the human protagonist and his alien converts to Judaism, while Spartakos in Violent Stars has a Lyhhrt embryo in a "small globe" that one might "think of as a gold Easter egg" (234) inserted in his metallic body. He serves thereby as an even more overtly maternal robot than O/G, by taking the embryo into his metaphoric womb. By contrast, the erg leader in O Master Caliban!, a robotic "queen" and "hive mother," functions in grotesquely maternal terms, though we are told that "her ambience was not female: only her shape suggested gender" (209), an important qualification. Indeed, however optimistic are the implications of biological mothering in Gotlieb, from "A Grain of Manhood" forward, mothering becomes a Frankensteinian and therefore complex metaphor in many of her works. Many of Gotlieb's characters are at least implicitly Frankenstein figures, and some of their progeny share traits with Frankenstein's creature. However, Gotlieb's most extended exploration of Frankensteinian motifs (though there is no explicit reference to Frankenstein in the novel) is in her novel O Master Caliban!. While no simple or single conclusion can be reached about Gotlieb's invocation of mothering in Frankensteinian terms throughout her career in the space available here, this paper will attempt to explore the Frankensteinian parameters of the maternal metaphor in O Master Caliban! and to identify some of her key thematic uses of that metaphor in that book. Specifically, the scientist Edvard Dahlgren can be compared to Frankenstein, and the ramifications of his experiments resonate with Shelley's explorations of the parental implications of creation. Dahlgren and his creations must come to terms with the fact that creating life differs radically from creating a life. There are no direct references to Frankenstein in O Master Caliban! despite numerous other intertextual references (as even the echo of Shakespeare in the title suggests), (1) though when Dahlgren first sees erg-Dahlgren lying on his table awaiting animation, "he had one weird thought, a wisp from old stories of Gothic horror: brain exchange" (39). Though no such exchange occurs in the novel Frankenstein, the idea has been imbedded into the Frankenstein mythos by innumerable film versions, so this passage can be taken as an indirect reference to the Frankensteinian tradition. Nevertheless, explicit references to Frankenstein are rare in Gotlieb's work. Consequently, some consideration of the broader context of Gotlieb's work is perhaps in order t