In 1841, small-town parish clerk William Hinton got his first look at an English locomotive in action. Writer Julian Young recorded Hinton’s breathless reaction: “Well Sir, that was a sight to have seen; but one I never care to see again! How awful! I tremble to think of it! I don’t know what to compare it to, unless it be to a messenger … with a commission to spread desolation and destruction over this fair land! How much longer shall knowledge be allowed to go on increasing?”

It’s a sketch of parochial panic; by 1871 when Young’s journal was published, trains were indispensable to Britain, and Hinton’s dismay was useless terror in the face of a foregone future. But Hinton was asking a question that preoccupied the 19th century, not to mention the centuries since. And should he have dared to read Frankenstein, maybe he’d have been comforted to know that his worries were shared by one of the most influential works of speculative fiction ever written.

I wrote about the legacy of Frankenstein for NPR Books.