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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

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The Dead Zone
Stephen King
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross
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Piper Kerman
The Cuckoo's Calling
Robert Galbraith
Dr. Franklin's Island - Ann Halam Let's take a moment to talk briefly on the subject of the Mad Scientist archetype, and his blood brother, the Mad Surgeon. Both of these archetypes, when done well, scare the hell out of me. I don't know quite why, but I suspect it has something to do with seeing a horrible part of The Dentist when I was a wee little thing, and having nightmares for months afterwards.But... this stereotype does have the potential to go horribly wrong. The surgeon guy in the first Human Centipede film? Sure, he was a sick bastard, but the performance always came across as really stilted and stupid to me, like some awkward, bumbling fool who is like: “Hi, girls, I know you're lost in a foreign country and I live in the middle of nowhere and I'm giving off really creepy vibes but hey! Can I fix you a drink? You're drinking it? YAAAAY let me drag you down to the basement with the poor Japanese tourist who suffered the same fate as you! You're awake? Sehr gute! Now listen to my lecture about a tripartite digestive system! Oh no, one of you is escaping? You've dived into the pool to get away from me? Well, I'll press a button to close the cover and make you drown – oh dear, the electricity's gone out. Anyway, let's drag you back to the lab, ja? Muahahahaha.”Why do I bring this up? Because I was suckered in by the promise of an 'insane scientist' on the blurb of this book, and I didn't really get what I came for. He wasn't as much of an idiot as Doktor Dumbkopf in The Human Centipede, but he didn't live up to my expectations at all. Dr. Franklin's Island is a story based on the H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic The Island of Doctor Moreau. I haven't read it yet so I can't make a fair comparison, but I do know it's about some crazy scientist who is working on combining new animal-human hybrids.We start Dr. Franklin's with our heroine Semirah, also known as 'Semi' boarding a plane with a TV crew and several other young conservationists, en route to a jungle in South America. The plane crashes, and there are only three survivors who manage to make it to a nearby desert island: Semi, Miranda, and Arnie. Miranda's a sweet girl, and manages to make friends with Semi, whereas Arnie is a bit more aggressive and rather repulsive. Arnie breaks away from the group, and Semi and Miranda see hide nor hair of him for ages, until they are arrested on the grounds of the island's secret laboratory. They wake up, get put into an office with the supposedly-insane Dr. Franklin, who announces that he wants their bodies for research into 'transgenics'. Basically, what happens when you implant foreign DNA into an animal. Will you turn into the animal, gain traits of the animal, or just reject it completely? So far, Dr. Franklin's test results have been somewhat unsuccessful – for example, he has capybaras with human feet and lips, pigs with hands, and a jungle cat who won't stop screaming. The human to animal transfusions come seemingly at random, so he wants to try animal to human transfusion.Semi and Miranda are terrified at first, and to its credit, this scene does ooze quite a bit of creepiness. Especially when the good doctor happily announces that both girls are missing presumed dead, and this gives him every right to use them in his experiments. Escape is also not an option here. Even if the girls could make it out of the lab and to the nearest island, Dr. Franklin has enough influence with the locals to get the girls brought back posthaste, no questions asked.As the story goes on, Miranda and Semi try to remain optimistic. After all, Dr. Franklin has promised them that they're furthering SCIENCE, and they're going to go down in history as the first successful superhumans slash human transgenic experiments. I'd be way more freaked out than Miranda and Semi are, but hey. Let's just go with it.So the girls are injected and operated on, and from then on it's a slow burn to see how the animal DNA is affecting their human make-up. Miranda starts losing her teeth, her jaw starts pointing forward as a beak grows in, and her breast bone starts increasing in size until it cuts out of her chest, and yeah, it's pretty chilling to read Semi being unable to hold her hand after however many days because 'she didn't have hands any more.'The experiments turn out to be a success – Miranda turns into this giant eagle/human abomination with the ability to fly, and Semi winds up turning into a manta ray. A manta ray which we are reminded, several times, is the size of a 'squashed/flattened teenager', and is, of course, 'delta-shaped'. For those of you unfamiliar with the Greek alphabet, as a capital letter, Delta looks like an equilateral triangle, and in its lowercase form, it looks like a tadpole (or if I may be so uncouth, a sperm) with its tail up in the air. I'm guessing the author was going for the equilateral triangle bit, because that's what comes to my mind when I think of a manta ray.As a manta ray, Semi is kept in an aquarium and fed plankton, and she tends to swim about aimlessly for most of the day. Miranda, on the other hand, keeps trying to fly out of the boundary. Then it's discovered that both girls have a chip implanted in their brains. By 'flipping some mental switches' (another phrase this book likes to use quite a bit), they can access a 'white place', where they have human avatars and can speak to each other without being recorded by the scientists. Okay... nice little plot device considering that they can't physically speak in their animal forms.Then, Arnie comes into their white place. But OMG, hadn't he disappeared? All will come in due time, my friends. Also around this time, Semi keeps getting this treatment capsule dropped into her tank, and it's supposed to be the antidote to turn her human again.Miranda, however, begins losing her human mind to the animal she now is, and while she's gone, Semi discovers the side of her aquarium is loose. With the help of the sympathetic aide Dr. Skinner, she and Miranda manage to escape, along with Arnie, who it turns out has been turned into a snake and kept wired up in a room so he can monitor Semi and Miranda's telepathic conversations. Okay then!Et voilà, Dr. Franklin dies, and they all manage to turn human again and get in touch with the British Embassy.One of my main problems with this novel is that everything comes a bit too easy, writing-wise. They don't ever have any qualms about being unwilling test subjects, Miranda manages to work out the code on this door before they escape and tell Semi so that she (in her human form) can bust them all out... How did Miranda do that? She lined up the code by collecting a number of seed pods and twigs and leaves and leaving them out in the open for Semi to see. How Semi would remember such a specific amount so perfectly is never really explained. Dr. Franklin doesn't get much of a backstory, besides Miranda telling Semi that she remembers a conversation her anthropologist parents had a long time ago, in which they described him as the ultimate mad scientist, fired from a government research team, but wealthy enough to fund his own research and laboratories. Got to love selective memory, eh?I also had an issue with the character of Dr. Skinner. He tries to bust Miranda and Semi out two or three times, but... despite almost always failing to begin with, he never seems to get in any trouble for it.If I may, I'll bring up a rather unrelated series, well, kind of related since it does also feature a mad scientist with no ethics whatsoever: Final Fantasy VII. One of the main villains of the game, besides JENOVA and Sephiroth, is his father Professor Hojo. The man has tainted the lives of pretty much everybody in that game. Let's do a head-count.- Used his own son as an experiment, not caring that his wife went mad from the visions of what her child would become.- His wife was also injected with so much of the planet's life force that she cannot die, if I remember correctly.- Shot his wife's bodyguard (Vincent Valentine) when he objected to how he was treating her, then used his body for lots of experiments.- Experimented on Cloud and Zack, causing Cloud a world of psychological trauma.- Tries to experiment on Aeris, the cute-as-a-button heroine as a child. Then when she is kidnapped as an adult, he tries to get her to mate with Red XIII/Nanaki, a wolf/lion creature who is also the last of his race.- After the Nibelheim Incident, he was probably instrumental in getting that town nearly wiped off the map, then rebuilt and populated by actors. That is Cloud and Tifa's hometown, and Tifa barely escaped before it was 'depopulated'.And that's just off the top of my head. The crime Hojo did which I want to talk about is his murder of Professor Gast, a kindly researcher in his team, who tried to run off with one of Hojo's test subjects (who Gast had now had a child with). Hojo and some soldiers tracked him down and killed him.But Skinner seems to get off... scot-free, almost, despite two or three incidents of trying to free Semi and Miranda. He's still allowed to work with Dr. Franklin, still there to help the main characters with their escape plans, and manages to actually help them out towards the climax. Seriously? No, that just doesn't work for me.The novel also begins really slowly as well. You'd think a plane crash and having to survive on this mysterious desert island would add some excitement to proceedings, but nope, nothing really happens until Semi and Miranda break away from Arnie and come across the lab.All in all, this is a pretty creepy science fiction story for young adults, but I find that it was executed in a fair to middling kind of way. More could have been done on the psychological aspect, and there were a few characterisation issues here and there. It starts off slow, but then kicks into gear, plumbing a few quite bone-chilling, body horror scenes right out of your worst nightmares. 3.5/5.(This review is also available on my blog: http://book-wyrm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/dr-franklins-island-by-ann-halam.html)