Praise for FRANKENSTEIN 1918

An informed mix of fiction, history and politics. A book that reads like a private diary, like a secret and a discovery, where characters from history and fiction mingle.

Livresque78, 05 October 2018


“Frankenstein was really hard science before its time”, says author Johan Heliot. “You could almost say that this book is the predecessor of modern science fiction. The novel questions the nature of life and of man, questions ever present in this genre.” Frankenstein 1918, by the French specialist in historical uchronia, came out on 20th September, published by L’Atalante. This excellent narrative imagines Frankenstein’s research being used to create super soldiers in the trenches. Using the same epistolary approach as Shelley in the form of memoirs and war reports, Heliot portrays Winston Churchill in a post- apocalyptic Europe, tracking one of his monsters who has managed to escape. Both original and effective, this uchronia reminds us that Shelley’s work spans several genres.

Le Point, Lloyd Chéry


Johan Heliot has written an engaging uchronia, in homage to Mary Shelley’s pioneering work and also in homage to the complex and extraordinary character she created. The initial idea is quite ambitious: to create a uchronia about the 1914 – 18 war where the Prussians win the war, with anticipatory allusions to the Gestapo and the nuclear bomb, all the while resurrecting the myth of Frankenstein to give it another dimension. The author rises to the challenge with this rich and well-worked novel.

The character of Frankenstein’s monster is explored in as much detail as the historical context. A being, called by the name of Victor, appears fairly early on in the novel, without our knowing exactly who he is: Victor Frankenstein, the scientist? The monster he created? Someone else? The author plays on the ambiguity of the name Frankenstein that for many tends to mean not the creator but his creature. There are many twists and turns before his identity is revealed...

But the main theme of the non-born is well-exploited. We watch the awakening of the creatures, of their first feelings, their first thoughts, the way they function and their abilities. This marks the arrival in the world of other creatures, different in the most absolute sense of the term. They are dead humans, reborn to be radically monstrous. And yet isn’t the most monstrous aspect of all what humans can subject one another to, and the way they treat these creatures that they have brought into the world?

A really beautiful novel, written in a finely-honed nineteenth century style. It’s a pleasure to read, making you both ponder and dream.

ActuSF, Anaelle Weiss, September 2018


Frankenstein 1918 is the perfect book to continue an excellent homage to Mary Shelley. This uchronia, which portrays an alternative reality from the beginning of the First World War, is unusual, engaging and full of twists and turns.
The first viable non-born is called Victor and his journey becomes the underlying theme of this novel - a really enjoyable read.

A riveting development for Victor and a fall from grace for Churchill.
Johan Heliot takes us right up to 1958 with the two young historians who see their lives turned upside down by the discovery of part of the manuscripts concerning the non-born. My favourite part of the novel is when the Curie family meet up with Victor and hear the story of his “history”.
Winston Churchill (the real one) said:
“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
It’s also difficult to know for certain who the fools are in this must-read book.
I’m delighted to have discovered this fine work. Thank you, L’Atalante I know I can count on you!

L'Horizon et l'Infini, 16 October 2018


Two hundred years after the publication of the eponymous novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein is getting talked about again. Including, between 1818 and our sad times, a First World War that plays a central part in Johan Heliot’s novel.
Severely challenged in the Great War, the British play their last card by applying the principles of Victor Frankenstein. Objective: create a troop of creatures (named “non- born” and nicknamed “Frankies”, like the nickname “Tommies”) super-muscled and trained to kill, but lacking any sense of fatigue, pain and morality. At the head of Operation Frankenstein: Winston Churchill, no less. He accepts his deletion from official historical records in order to change the face of world conflict.

Churchill is evidently not the hero of the Second World War we know, since that war never took place. His “secret memoirs” of the Great War and of Operation Frankenstein are partly reproduced here, interwoven with a narrative by the historian Edmond Laroche- Voisin, and that of Victor, “a descendant” (with a lot of inverted commas) as much of the eponymous scientist as of his Creature (and renamed as such by Churchill in homage to his illustrious “ancestor”). This interweaving of narrative really works well, since we can get on with the story at the same time as getting to grips with its multiple dimensions. Johan Heliot may have based his work on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s ultra-classic novel, but he uses it more like a springboard to reach a new (hitherto unseen) cultural dimension. His central theme: The First World War with its violence and penury, but also with its scientific discoveries. Marie Curie is never far away – she even specifically appears in the story, notably through the intermediary of her daughter Irene, a character in her own right. Radiation also gets a mention, used as a therapeutic tool during the war and subsequently as a tool of death.

As a personification of this conflict, Victor is a super-powered fighter, created from several bodies. Treated as a beast born to kill, he first of all has to hide the fact that his conscience has been awakened, that his memories are coming to the surface and he finds himself able to think. The ID number he receives is reminiscent of concentration camp tattoos. And when the “good” guys adopt “bad” ways to re-direct the course of a conflict...

The central chapter of this novel, which is the most effective, describes the awakening of Victor, from his own point of view. The reader is invited to get inside his head and listen to the story of his conscience. “Who does this brain belong to?” wonders Victor. For everything in him seems foreign to him at first – which is effectively the case. Then his memory comes back, but he realises that he’s no longer what he was before he died. Impossible for him to get back to his own people. He’s changed too much. This is yet another way of being a victim of war.

Johan Heliot forges well-observed links between certain associated elements. The facially disfigured servicemen aligned with the “Frankies”. The children playing at war and, once “killed”, get up and start playing again, compared with the Creatures that always get up again to fight, because they feel no pain.

The mutism of Mary Shelley’s Creature becomes here a simple problem of communication, Victor being English-speaking and Irene French-speaking. It’s thanks to radiography, and thus to Irene, that Victor fully recovers his memory (and realises in the meantime that he can speak French). Which, in a certain way, has just given him back his life more surely than all of Churchill’s electricity and recreates him a second time by preventing him from killing anymore. How ironic for such a soulless machine of destruction! Created, re-created, Victor continues to develop, to the point of becoming Churchill’s prison guard in the ruins of an irradiated London, plunged into an era of eternal winter.

When he meets Marie Curie, Irene’s mother, she seems to look into his heart as assuredly as radiation penetrates deep into the centre of the body – like natural x rays. Curie, mother and daughter, portray a feminist dimension dear to Mary Shelley herself, through the questions these remarkable women ask in a world dominated by men. Incidentally this aspect brings to an end the present novel, answering the most crucial question: if a world peopled with sterile “Frankies” is doomed to become extinct, what would the female “non- born” be capable of? Does “regeneration”, a noun meaning the resurrection of a person, remove from them also the ability to procreate? The answer is richly absorbing.

Daily Mars, Vincent Degrez, 9 September 2018


I liked Frankenstein 1918. I liked the mix of genres, Victor, Edmond and Churchill and the uchronia created by the author which is really plausible!

Jenni, 12 November 2018


An intensely gripping book which is hard-going but nevertheless interesting. The context will please all history lovers, even if you don’t need to know a lot about the subject. The science fiction element is light. Johan Heliot succeeds his tour de force of anchoring the supernatural to the real, so that we are on shifting sands right from the start and unable to discern between what is true and what is not. I had difficulty in getting into it for the first seventy pages but it was worth it! A story with basic truth in it to send shivers up your spine, as you search to discover who is the man and who is the monster.

La rivière des mots, 10 October 2018


This book contains three strong themes. The work of recollection, symbolised by the research into manuscripts of Victor, Dr Frankenstein’s creature, the works of the scientist and Winston Churchill’s memoirs. Add to that Victor’s oral narrative which becomes more and more precise as he gradually recovers his intelligence and his memories. Then comes a denunciation of violence whose detailed appearances hide the sad reality of a flaw embedded in the human genome which has no problem in manifesting itself. Lastly the writer, through the revenant, initiates reflection on Power and on the wrongs inflicted by a minority on the populations they are responsible for.

The portrayal of historical characters can be counted amongst the successes of the novel. Churchill, Irene and Marie Curie are not here just as a hook for the narrative but are active beings – with the notable exception of Hemingway. As for Victor, his slow moral regeneration following that of his body, is the high point of the story as well as being a message for the reader. The indisputable conclusion of Frankenstein 1918 exceeds its uchronic framework to attain the universal : “Never forget the sacrifice of the generations preceding you and remember the lessons of history, for it is the only way of not repeating the errors of your elders.”

Soleil Vert, 05 October 2018


“Non-born” troops in the British forces...
After years of combat, the First World War was won by the Prussians in 1933. Chancellor Goering is occupying the whole of Europe, and the south of England has become uninhabitable since the beginning of the era of winter following the German bombardments. In the sixties, a young French researcher discovers the memoirs of Winston Churchill, an obscure English politician, who, it would seem, thought up a plan to win the war at the start of the conflict: using the work of a certain Victor Frankenstein, a scientist from the late 18th century, to create an army of “non-born”. But this is nothing in comparison to the journal of a soldier number 15-006, called Victor, the first viable non- born created by the English in 1915...
Now, when uchronia is all the rage, Johan Heliot is perhaps the greatest purveyor. Using just a simple idea, he has constructed an original uchronia (no Nazis) with a bold story line: giving us the catastrophic result of the First World War and then gradually revealing the reasons for this fiasco in the story. Perhaps the narrative is a bit laborious in the first few chapters, but it takes off when we get to Victor’s point of view, the first non-born, on which the war depends. Heliot thus develops an anti-militarist point of view, where the means, if they are detestable, do not justify the ends. He also portrays the dark side of the human soul that plays at being God and enjoys throwing its toys about.
A continuation of Mary Shelley’s novel. Fascinating and remarkable ... but all too short!

Lanfeust Mag, Loïc Nicoloff and Lyla Calypso, November 2018

Beyond patriotic accents or consensual memorial ceremonial, the French author imagines a uchronia of disillusionment, appealing to the ethical sense of future generations not to make the same mistakes of the past. Loyal in his taste for history and written like a serial, he prolongs the conflict, all the while inversing its perspectives. Germany thus comes out the winner, after having forced France to agree to an armistice and wiped out London in a deluge of radiating bombs, dropped by massive zeppelin raids. If 1933 marks the end of the “Final War”, it opens up a period of peace leading to German hegemony. Through the main theme, we follow the investigations of a young French intellectual who, from 1958, attempts to unearth the hidden story of a secret but abandoned experiment led by Winston Churchill in the first years of the conflict. An experiment based on the works of Victor Frankenstein that could have changed the course of the war. [...]

Johan Heliot maintains his reputation as a story teller. He puts his knowledge of history to use in the narrative where historical characters (Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Adolf Hitler, Irene and Marie Curie) and fictional characters (Victor Frankenstein) mingle, rather reminiscent of the work of René Reouven. The most notable character amongst them is Victor. The monstrous creature, the non-born, regenerated from several corpses, rises above his condition as cannon fodder, to gain in humanity during the story, to the point of personifying the guilty conscience of inadequate humanity. Also not to be forgotten are the female characters that are not just part of a decorative background, but quite the opposite. They appear as one of the motivating forces of the story.

Light, but not without certain depth, Frankenstein 1918 fortunately avoids the pitfall of naivety. Alongside the narrative involving a non-official secret story, runs a theme dealing with the indispensable nature of the work of a historian. This task is a million miles from the easily digested memory of institutional commemorations. Johan Heliot sets in motion a train of thought about transgressions of power and the transformation of combatants into machines, as dehumanised cannon fodder, made to measure and sacrificed at will.

Sous le galets la plage, Yossarian, 11 November 2018


Frankenstein 1918 has everything a great novel needs. As well as the sharing of memories, there are also warnings against human folly and its beliefs and cruelty. Not everything is gloomy, however. Heliot conveys a message of optimism and benevolence. Lying low in the shadows love is waiting to reassert itself. The ending is a perfect example.

Les miss chocolatine bouquinent, Esmeralada, 14 November 2018


As can be guessed from its title, the novel mixes literary and historical references (but also scientific!) since Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel is at the centre of the plot. Johan Heliot in fact gives us an alternative version of history where Dr Frankenstein’s experiments have been used to produce exceptional soldiers during the Great War.

One of the really successful parts of the novel is the very literary manner in which Johan Heliot sets out his plot, in a rather 19th century style, I think. Thus the novel is set out in the form of different notebooks and journals – which are interwoven and relate to each other. The characters that we come across are sometimes narrators, sometimes characters and I really liked this aspect that makes for such good reading.

The most convincing part for me in the novel is the powerful feel of the uchronia that Johan Heliot has created. The world he has constructed is well-rounded and seems completely believable. Moreover it’s not only a uchronia, but also an absolutely specific type of uchronia. In fact we can compare history with the alternative events in the novel, but the characters in the plot clearly aren’t able to. Moreover, the novel plunges us not into a well-documented step in this alternative history, but into a secret fringe of the latter that the characters discover – at the same time as the reader – only through reading the notebooks. Everything in this story is then absolutely believable, as much as from the reader’s point of view as from the character’s. (...)

NineHank, Aurore, 18 November 2018

Published at April 18, 2019