Margot Mifflin
August 26, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a “fevered dream of asexual, asocial human reproduction and its disastrous consequences”) to Dr. Frank N. Furter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, (who illustrates “the mad scientist’s perennial need to appropriate women’s bodies”), Skal explains how fictional scientists play on society’s fears about the uses and abuses of medical research. Wide ranging and elegantly written (if occasionally too digressive), Screams of Reason boasts plenty of intriguing theories, like Skal’s belief that alien-abduction paranoia is “a folk critique of intrusive science.” It’s smart, it’s provocative, and because of the suitably subversive humor Skal brings to his subject, it’s a scream.

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