kathleen ann goonan


Unlike Frankenstein's creature, Goonan's readers do not witness the birth of her monster, a teenage girl named Verity. But much like Shelley, Goonan holds that human creators, especially male scientists, do not completely plan for the results of their creations. This may be attributed to the creator's poorly developed sense of morality, which erodes his accountability to himself and others. An examination of the creators in Goonan's novel makes clear her stand on the ethics of creation.

Abe Durancy is Goonan's Victor Frankenstein. He is the "mad" scientist whose intentions are not evil but whose actions are cause disaster nonetheless. Abe creates imperfectly, and his flawed creations become dangerous both to themselves and to those around them. Here, Goonan clearly draws upon and extends Shelley. Victor's creature has an unrequited desire to create; more specifically, he desires to tell his story and, in doing so, to be accepted into human community. In the City of Cincinnati, Abe's creatures constantly tell stories, but not of their own making; instead, they are trapped in a pseudo-aesthetic community, enacting over and over again those songs, stories, and performances created by artists other than themselves.

The tragedy of Cincinnati is directly linked to Abe's most problematic creation: the City copy of his mother, India. When Abe first learns of India's impending death, he transcribes her personality into the City database. The new India is created to create. She is Queen of the Flower City of Cincinnati and her brilliance allows her absolute authority. The India copy knows that Cincinnati, and all its inhabitants, are hers and that she "can wipe it clean if [she] likes" (421). As ruler of the Hive-that is, the City and all the bioengineered Bees that are used to transport information around it-India is allowed to manipulate the City to feed her addiction to artistic creation. However, India has been improperly transcribed into the City database, and her copy is not as mature or moral as the original. Thus she employs her Bees to force the City people to live the aesthetic experiences that she loves most dearly. Cincinnati, then, becomes a prison for its inhabitants' minds: after death they are reabsorbed and then reallocated into bodies and stories that please India the most, rather than released into the Hive to create new stories of their own.

In opposition to Abe (and India) stands Rose, Abe's beautiful cousin and quiet surveyor of all his creations. Like Shelley's Elizabeth, Rose is not aware all the horrors in her cousin's laboratory, yet she does notice Abe's manic desire to create something new. As his innovations begin to take control of his morality, Rose worries that Abe "doesn't have a conscious anymore" (447). Significantly, although their lives are similarly cut short, Rose is able to take the kind of action that Elizabeth cannot. She inserts her own creation into Abe's City: a moral simulation of Abe, named Dennis, who exists to help Verity save the City. Rose's intentions differ from Abe's in that she is specifically creating for good-a fact underscored by Dennis and Verity's ultimate success at liberating the City.




  ethics of creation


bodies and identity


domesticity, morality,
and motherhood




  interview with
kathleen ann goonan